By Bishop Béchara Raï
VATICAN CITY, OCT. 12, 2010 (Zenit.org).- The synod began Monday with a meditation by Benedict XVI in which he spoke about the mystery of Christ, who is the Lord of history and the Lord of the world. This meditation injected us with a large portion of Christian hope.
Then we had two interventions — the first was the speech of the secretary-general, Archbishop Nikola Eterović, in which he explained how the idea of the synod was born after the Pope visited the Arab world, and saw what he saw. Then he emphasized the synod’s theme that the Pope chose from the Acts of the Apostles: “The Community of Believers was of One Heart.” This is the theme of the synod, to be all one Christian believing community, which lives in full communion to protect its testimony.
The second intervention was the speech of the general relator of the synod, Patriarch Antonios Naguib (Coptic patriarch of Alexandria), who spoke on the “Instrumentum Laboris,” emphasizing all that which is related to hope. We as Christians in the Middle Eastern countries have a mission and a vocation from Christ himself, we, men and women of this East.
Of course, he reiterated the goals of the synod. First, that Christians could acknowledge again their identity, their mission, and the importance of their presence in this East, and the providence who planted them in this land, in this day and age. Second, that they will live their unity that is communion and give witness on all levels — spiritual, economic, political, and social.
Today, we are more and more aware of the challenges that are awaiting us in the Middle East: the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the Iraqi war, the conflicts between Sunni and Shia in the region, immigration, the relationship with Islam, fundamentalism, violence, Christian immigration, religious freedom — and all these are challenges that affect the presence of Christians economically and politically, and their security. And this requires a work plan that the general relator outlined in this report.
We came out of the meeting with great joy, as if we were coming out, and we will, with a new Pentecost in which the spirit speaks to the churches of the Middle East and inspires the Christians to be aware that they are safeguarding a mission and a vocation that cannot be neglected, and that the Middle East is awaiting them to contribute to the building of this society of peace, this society of respect for the human person and for religions, a society in which we build a common and safe life.
And as Lebanese, when we hear all this, we realize how important Lebanon is, because it is the sign of conviviality among Christians and Muslims. It is a civil society, empty of any theocratic regime and it reminds us of the words of John Paul II: “Lebanon is more than a county, it is a mission.” With all the internal problems in Lebanon, the value of the Lebanese is still great and Lebanon is asked to play a large role in the Arabic world like it has in the past, on the levels of Arabic, cultural and political renaissance.
In the midst of this international conflict between cultures and religions, Lebanon must be a witness. We are happy to participate and show the face and value and civilization of Lebanon. Through you, we would like to greet the entire Arab world, all the countries where our people live with our brothers, Muslims, Jews, Iranians, and Turks, like the “Instrumentum Laborum” mentions, so we can really build bridges and be a community that promotes dialogue.
Our Christian culture is a culture of openness, a culture of peace, like Christ wants. We are happy today that we have begun on the right foot with this great portion of hope and knowledge of the value of our presence in the East.
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Bishop Béchara Raï is the Catholic Maronite bishop of Jbeil, Lebanon, and the president of the episcopal commission for communications in Lebanon. He is currently a participant in the Special Assembly for the Middle East of the Synod of Bishops, and is writing a daily briefing for ZENIT’s Arabic edition.[Translated from the original Arabic by ZENIT]