[ROME] The excellent New York-based Catholic Near East Welfare Assocation (CNEWA) yesterday organised a fringe press meeting to consider some of the North-American dimensions of the Synod discussions.
It was hosted by CNEWA's secretary-general, Msgr (also Archimandrite of the Greek-Catholic patriarchy of Jerusalem) Robert Stern, and included three archbishops: Allen Vigneron of Detroit (pictured), whose diocese contains the largest Arab-speaking community outside the Middle East; Thomas Collins of Toronto, which has large numbers of Maronites, Melkites and Chaldeans among others; and Terrence Prendergast of Ottowa, not a synod participant (he's in town for the canonization Sunday of the 'miracle man of Montreal', Brother André Bessette, C.S.C.) but, like the others, with a large Mid East presence in his diocese, especially of Iraqi Chaldeans. The fourth member of the panel was the Maronite bishop of Brooklyn, NY, Gregory Mansour, a native of the US.
Before tackling some of the thorny questions, there was consensus around the table about he way that in North America the Latin and Eastern bishops work so well together; it was an example of a "beautiful mosaic", said Bishop Gregory, in which diversity and harmony co-existed. The North-American experience, said Mgr Stern, offered an example to the rest of the world -- not least the Middle East itself.
Preventing the tiny Eastern churches from being swallowed up, in the US and Canada, by the Latin Church, meant making sure that the Eastern churches offered dedicated and loving pastoral care, said Bishop Gregory, who likened the Eastern churches in the US to a small grocery store in the same block as a very large grocery store. "The small store knows they really have to look after their customers", he said.
John Allen of NCR asked the panel to comment on proposals in synod speeches for the authority of the Eastern patriarchs to be extended to their diaspora communities, while I asked them to comment on other proposals for a "bank" of priests who could be made available to the Middle East for short periods. Allen has their answers to both here.
While many of the Synod participants seem to be preoccupied, above all, with how to maintain the presence of Catholics in the Middle East, the view around this table was that, while you can address some of the causes of that emigration, mostly they were out of the Church's hands; and anyway, you can't stop people moving. The US and Canada, as nations built on immigrants, understand this, and are less threatened by it. Toronto, Archbishop Collins pointed out, began welcoming refugees in the 1840s.
So that while the "critical mass" of Catholics in the Middle East was now sharply reduced, said Msgr Stern, in another part of the world -- North America -- it was increasing. Many of the Eastern Churches now have more members in North America than in the Middle East.
One of the consequences of that is that the plight of Mid East Christianity has a greater chance of getting the attention of the Church worldwide.
A very important consequence of the Synod, said Archbishop Vigneron, is for pastors to speak to all people of good will and invite them to take a stand on behalf of human rights in the region. The Synod, he said, was a "moment for the Christian community to invite other communities to stand with us".