Presenting the working document for the Special Synod of Bishops on the Middle East, Pope Benedict XVI prayed for “just and lasting solutions” to the region’s conflicts, which cause so much hardship. “I reiterate my personal appeal for an urgent and concerted international effort to resolve the ongoing tensions in the Middle East, especially in the Holy Land, before such conflicts lead to greater bloodshed,” the pope said June 6 at the end of a Mass in a sports arena in Nicosia, Cyprus.
The pope gave the document to representatives from the Latin-rite, Maronite, Melkite, Armenian, Coptic, Chaldean and Assyrian Catholic churches living in countries from Egypt to Iran. The synod will be held at the Vatican from Oct. 10 to Oct. 24 and will focus on “communion and witness” in the region where Christianity was born but where Christians are now a minority. Pope Benedict said that the synod would be an occasion “to highlight the important value of the Christian presence and witness in the biblical lands.” Recognized for their work in education, health care and other charitable activities, Catholics still face discrimination and limits on their rights, particularly their right to religious freedom, he said.
The synod’s working document was prepared by a committee of patriarchs and bishops from the Middle East and representatives of Vatican offices. Surrounded by war and sometimes treated like outsiders, Christians in the Middle East need faith and outside support so that they can stay in the region and contribute to peacemaking, the document said. “History has made us a little flock. However, through what we do, we can still become a presence which has great value.” According to the document, the region’s Christians are in a unique position to serve as peacemakers. “Although efforts on behalf of peace can be rebuffed, they also have the possibility of being accepted, considering that the path to violence, taken by both the strong and the weak, has led in the Middle East to nothing but failure and a general stalemate.”
Life often can be difficult for Christians in the Middle East, especially because of “the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the resulting instability throughout the region,” said the document, which was prepared on the basis of responses to a questionnaire sent to church leaders in the region. “The menacing social situation in Iraq and the political instability of Lebanon further intensify the phenomenon,” it said.
“The Israeli occupation of Palestinian Territories is creating difficulties in everyday life, inhibiting freedom of movement, the economy and religious life—access to the holy places is dependent on military permission, which is granted to some and denied to others on security grounds,” the document reported.
Despite the tensions emerging in the region because of the continuing conflict between Israelis and Palestinians, the document said its survey respondents clearly rejected anti-Semitism, while “the actual animosity between Arabs and Jews seems to be political in character due to the situation of conflict and the resulting political hostility.”
Relations between Christians and Muslims are difficult in the region, since Muslim states often relegate Christians to “the precarious position of being considered non-citizens,” the document said. “The key to harmonious living between Christians and Muslims is to recognize religious freedom and human rights,” it said.