Synod: the interim report
[ROME] The Mid-East Synod has concluded its "post-discussion report", an interim summary of the key themes which this historic gathering of more than 180 bishops from the region believe should dictate the Church's future policies. The view from the Vatican press office is that the relatio post-disceptationem, compiled by the Synod's relator, the Patriarch of Alexandria, Antonius Naguib, is a fair summary of the synod interventions so far.
It contains the themes which for the remaining days of the meeting will form the basis of discussion in the 10 "working groups" in English, French and Arabic. On Thursday and Friday the final working document will be voted on and handed to Pope Benedict XVI for the close of the Synod Saturday.
What follows are 12 highlights of the document.
1. The duty of mission. The Church in the Middle East is the result of the historic mission to preach the Gospel. "Proclamation done in peace and respect," says the document, "is not proselytism".
2. Claiming citizenship. The Christians of the Middle East are "indigeneous citizens" who must be allowed freedom in their homelands. The kind of freedom the Synod envisages has been summed up as "positive secularity", although because of the anti-religious connotations of the terms "secularism" and laicite" some prefer the term "civic state", based on a respect for the intrinsic dignity of all and a healthy distinction between the religious and civil spheres. "This system recognizes and guarantees religious freedom, freedom of worship and freedom of conscience", Patriarch Haguib notes, adding that "Religion must not be politicised nor the State take precedence over religion". Christians need to be educated who can articulate this vision of society. Key to this formation are the Church's schools, where people learn to value the faiths of others as well as their own.
3. Solidarity, notably "with the Palestinian people, whose current situation encourages fundamentalism", and with Christians in Iraq, "the main victims of the war and its effects".
4. Freedom of conscience and religion. Religious freedom includes the right to confess one's faith, which is different from proselytism, which the Church condemns as the use of fraudulent or dishonest means, or the use of power and wealth, to attract followers. Confession of faith, in contrast, "is the serene and peaceful proclamation and presentation of faith in Jesus Christ".
5. Rise of political Islam. The attempt "to impose an Islamic way of life on all citizens, sometimes by violence" must be resisted.
6. Emigration. The reasons why so many Christians are leaving the Middle East is "a good subject for a sincere and frank dialogue with Muslims". Although emigration is a natural right, the Church should encourage people to remain "as witnesses, apostles and builders of peace". It is important for the Church to "avoid defeatist talk" and instead to "foster the conditions that encourage the decision to stay".
7. Middle East Christians abroad. The host churches abroad should know and respect Eastern traditions. The synod fathers are "eager" to extend the authority of the Patriarchs of the Eastern Churches to their diaspora flocks, "to move from the territorial concept" of patriarchal authority "to the personal concept".
8. Needs of immigrants in Gulf states. African and Asian migrant workers resident in the Gulf states face abuse, mistreatment, injustice and discrimination, and require more dedicated pastoral care.
9. Deepen communion between the Catholic churches of the region. There should be an "inter-ritual" (ie including the different Eastern rites) seminary in each country, and common pastoral work undertaken by the different sui iuris churches, through inter-ritual pastoral councils The bishops of the different rites should meet periodically as a group. Communion between the Eastern rite and Latin churches should be encouraged, in two ways: (a) the Latin clergy of the West "need to be given a basic knowledge of the sacramental and ecclesiological theology of the Eastern Churches"; (b) the Eastern Patriarchs should be able to elect the next pope in conclave. Priests, religious and lay people of one Church should be made available to the others.
10. Ecumenism. Deepening the relationship with other Christian churches should be a greater priority, starting with the Council of Eastern Catholic Patriarchs creating an ecumenical commission. We should work towards unifying the dates of Christmas and Easter between Catholics and Orthodox, and the creation of a single Arabic text of the 'Our Father' and other primary prayers. Ecumenical dialogue must involve frank discussion of what causes hurt, not least the baptism of Catholics by the Orthodox. The Pope could also create a commission to look at new ways of exercising papal authority which "draw on the ecclesial forms of the first millennium".
11. Relations with Jews. The Church rejects antisemitism and anti-Judaism; "the Israeli-Palestinian conflict affects relations between Christians and Jews". The Church will continue to work for a lasting peace based on security and justice. The presence of Hebrew-speaking Catholics in Israel offers an opportunity for deepening understanding.
12. Relations with Muslims. Local commissions of interreligious dialogue should be created, and shared initiatives should be multiplied. Contact with Muslims can bring Christians to a deeper understanding of their own faith. "A true relationship with God does not need noisy religiosity but authentic holiness". Religious freedom is fundamental to developing this relationship. Christian charities and civil soceity institutions which serve all people regardless of faith "contribute to breaking down walls of suspicion and rejection". "Although we differ in our understanding of man, of his rights and his freedoms, we can together find a clear, definite foundation for joint action, for the good of our societies and our countries".