The Eleventh General Congregation of the Special Assembly for the Middle East of the Synod of Bishops held on Monday morning in the presence of the Holy Father issued a report 'Relatio post disceptationem', following their wide-ranging discussions. The document was read by His Beatitude Antonios Naguib, Patriarch of Alexandria of the Copts, Egypt. Extracts are given below:
THE SITUATION OF CHRISTIANS IN THE MIDDLE EAST
"The proclamation of the Gospel and the proclamation of Christ to all peoples is the supreme duty of our Churches and all Churches. Our Churches need to reawaken our missionary zeal and to renew in us the meaning, significance, ardour, enthusiasm and dynamism of our being missionary. ... Missionary formation is necessary for our faithful, especially those in leadership positions in the life of the Church".
"Religion must not be politicised nor the State take precedence over religion. ... Modern media (texts, website, internet, television, radio) have an important place in this field. They provide a powerful and valuable means for spreading the Christian message, for meeting the challenges it faces, and for communicating with the faithful of the diaspora. People in key positions need formation to achieve these ends. Eastern Christians must commit themselves to working for the common good, in all its aspects, as they have always done".
"The socio-political situations in our countries have a direct impact on Christians, who feel their negative consequences more strongly. While condemning the violence whatever its origin and calling for a just and lasting solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, we express our solidarity with the Palestinian people, whose current situation encourages fundamentalism. We also call upon the political world to pay sufficient attention to the tragic situation of Christians in Iraq who are the main victims of the war and its effects".
"Religious freedom is an essential component of human rights. The lack of religious freedom is most often associated with deprivation of fundamental rights. Freedom of worship is an aspect of religious freedom. In most of our countries freedom of worship is guaranteed by the constitution. But even then, in some countries, certain acts or practices limit its application.
... Religious freedom is not a relativism that treats all faiths equally. Rather it is the result of the duty of every person to adhere to the truth by a firm choice of conscience, while respecting the dignity of each person.
... Religious freedom also includes the right to confess one's faith, which is a right and duty for every religion".
"One of the major challenges threatening the presence of Christians in some countries in the Middle East is emigration. ... The main causes of this troubling phenomenon are economic and political situations, the rise of fundamentalism, and the restriction of freedoms and equality, strongly exacerbated by the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the war in Iraq.
... Emigration is a natural right which falls to the free choice of individuals and families, especially those living in harsh conditions. But the Church has the duty to encourage her faithful to remain as witnesses, apostles and builders of peace and wellbeing in their countries".
"The danger threatening Christians in the Middle East comes not only from their minority status, or external threats, but above all from their being distanced from the truth of the Gospel, from their faith and their mission. This divided life is more dangerous to Christianity than any other threat.
The true tragedy of man is not when he suffers because of his mission, but when he no longer has a mission and thereby loses the meaning and purpose of his life".
"We need a better appreciation, understanding and experience of the unity of the Church. It is essential that we teach the Church as a 'communion' in catechesis, homilies, and in the formation of clergy, religious and laity.
Communion must first be affective before becoming effective. It is important for us to cultivate a deep sense of spiritual communion, of belonging to one and the same Church".
"'Communion' among Churches is the first goal and first task of this Synod. ... Pastors must help the faithful to know, appreciate, love and live the beautiful variety of the Church in unity. ... Inter-ecclesial relations must be encouraged, not only among the 'sui iuris' Churches in the Middle East, but also with the Eastern Churches and with the Latin Church in the diaspora, in close unity with the Holy Father, the Holy See and pontifical representatives".
"It is of vital importance to appreciate the role of lay men and women and their participation in the life and mission of the Church. In order for this Synod to become, for them and for the entire Church, a true spiritual, pastoral and social springtime, we need to reinforce the commitment of the laity to the joint pastoral work of the Church. Women, both consecrated and lay, need to find their proper place and mission in this field".
"Mission and ecumenism are closely linked. The Catholic and Orthodox Churches have much in common. ... A sincere effort is necessary to overcome prejudices, to better understand one another, and to aim for the fullness of communion in the faith, the Sacraments and hierarchical service. This Synod should help towards further communion and unity with our sister Orthodox Churches and the ecclesial communities".
"It has been pointed out that ecumenism is going through a crisis today.
... It is vital to make ecumenism a primary goal in episcopal meetings and conferences. The creation of an ecumenical commission in the Council of Eastern Catholic Patriarchs has been proposed. The media should be used to reinforce and vivify ecumenism".
CHRISTIAN WITNESS. WITNESSES OF RESURRECTION AND LOVE
"We must encourage all the faithful, but especially priests, religious, consecrated persons and those responsible for pastoral activity and the apostolate to follow the Church's teachings and to study the documents of the Magisterium".
"Special attention must be given to the family, which risks being torn apart and undermined by Western relativism and the predominantly non-Christian outlook in our region. Families of mixed religions must be the subject of special pastoral care. The catechetical manuals must make up for shortcomings and correct errors which are to be found elsewhere".
"It was suggested that a commission be formed for the vitalisation and co-ordination of the communications media in the Middle East. ... The media and communication are a powerful means to consolidate communion".
"In our Eastern Churches, the divine liturgy is the centre of religious life. It has an important role in safeguarding Christian identity, in strengthening membership of the Church and in animating the life of faith. We must preserve and cultivate the sense of the sacred, of symbols and of popular religiosity, which needs to be purified and deepened".
"The Israeli-Palestinian conflict affects relations between Christians and Jews. The Holy See has clearly and repeatedly expressed its position, appealing for both peoples to be able to live in peace, each in its own homeland, with secure and internationally recognised borders. ... Our Churches reject anti-Semitism and anti-Judaism".
"For a fruitful dialogue, Christians and Muslims must know one another better. ... Numerous initiatives prove that it is possible to come together and work on the basis of shared values (peace, solidarity, non-violence).
... The Eastern Churches are the most qualified to promote inter-religious dialogue with Islam. This duty is theirs because of their history, their presence and their mission. ... It is necessary to avoid any provocative, offensive, humiliating action and any anti-Islamic attitude. To be authentic, dialogue must take place in truth".
"The West tends to be identified with Christianity and the choices of States are often attributed to the Church. In reality, however, the governments of the West are secular and increasingly opposed to the Christian faith. It is important to explain this reality as well as the positive significance of the secular State, which distinguishes politics from religion. Within this context Christians have an obligation and a mission to live out Gospel values.
.. It is by our lives that we must testify constantly, without syncretism or relativism, but with humility, respect, sincerity, and love".
"What does the future hold for Christians in the Middle East? 'Do not be afraid, O little flock!'".
"Together we must work to prepare a new dawn for the Middle East. We are strengthened by the prayers, understanding and love of our brothers and sisters around the world. We are not alone. This Synod has made that very clear".