VATICAN CITY, JUNE 9, 2010 (Zenit.org).- Here is a translation of the unofficial synthesis of the “instrumentum laboris” (working document) of the Special Assembly for the Middle East of the Synod of Bishops, which will take place in October in Rome. This unofficial summary was published Saturday by the Vatican press office.
Benedict XVI delivered the “instrumentum laboris” to the seven patriarchs and two archbishops of the Middle East on Sunday, the last day of his apostolic journey to Cyprus. The full text of the document can be found here: http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/synod/documents/rc_synod_doc_20100606_instrumentum-mo_en.pdf
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The “instrumentum laboris” of the Synod for the Middle East, that is, the working document for the Synodal meeting, was published in four languages: Arabic, French, English and Italian. Benedict XVI gave it to the representatives of the episcopate of the Middle East in the course of his apostolic visit to Cyprus. The Special Assembly will take place from Oct. 10-24 on the topic: “The Catholic Church in the Middle East: Communion and Testimony. ‘Now the company of those who believed were of one heart and soul'” (Acts 4:32). The document, of some 40 pages, was produced from the numerous answers to the Questionnaire of the Lineamenta, given by the Synods of Bishops of the sui iuris Oriental Churches, by the Episcopal Conferences, by the Dicasteries of the Roman Curia, by the Union of Superiors General, as well as by many individual persons and ecclesial groups.
In the Preface, the secretary general of the Synod of Bishops, archbishop Nikola Eterovic, stresses that “the present situation of the Middle East is, in not a few aspects, similar to that experienced by the primitive Christian community in the Holy Land” in the midst of difficulties and persecutions. “The first Christians acted in very adverse situations. They met with the opposition and enmity of the religious powers of their own people …their homeland was occupied, inserted within the powerful Roman empire.” Despite this “they proclaimed the Word of God integrally,” including love of enemies, witnessing “with martyrdom fidelity to the Lord of life.”
Recalled in the Introduction is that Benedict XVI wished to announce this event personally on Sept. 19, 2009, thus taking up “the petition of numerous brothers in the episcopate, who in face of the present delicate ecclesial and social situation” proposed the convocation of a Synodal Assembly (1). The Synod has two main objectives: first of all, to “confirm and reinforce Christians in their identity through the Word of God and the Sacraments”; in the second place, to “revive ecclesial communion between the sui iuris Churches, so that they can give witness of authentic, joyful and attractive Christian life” (3). Energetically stressed also are ecumenical commitment and dialogue with Jews and Muslims “for the good of the whole of society” and so that “religion, above all that of those who profess one God” will become “ever more a motive of peace” (4). The Synod hopes “to give Christians the reasons for their presence in a predominantly Muslim society, whether Arab, Turkish, Iranian or Jewish in the State of Israel” (6). The reflection is guided by the Sacred Scriptures (7-12).
The first chapter is about the Catholic Church of the Middle East recalling that all Churches worldwide “go back to the Church of Jerusalem” (14). It states that the divisions between Christians (Councils of Ephesus and Chalcedon, in the 5th century, and separation of Rome and Constantinople in the 11th century) were due above all to political-cultural motives.” However, “the Spirit works in all of the Churches to bring them closer and to remove the obstacles to visible unity desired by Christ.” In the Middle East, the one Catholic Church is present in several Traditions, in different sui iuris Catholic Eastern Churches. In addition to the Church of Latin tradition, there are six patriarchal Churches each with its rich spiritual, theological liturgical patrimony. “These traditions are, at the same time, a richness for the universal Church” (15-18). It reminds that the Churches of the Middle East are of apostolic origin and that “it would be a loss for the universal Church if Christianity is weakened or disappears precisely where it was born.” Hence, there is the “grave responsibility” to “maintain the Christian faith in these holy lands” (19).
Unfortunately, one sees that today “the evangelical push often seems stopped and the flame of the Spirit seems to have weakened” (20). “If the Church does not work for vocations, it is destined to disappear” (21). The crisis of vocations is due to several causes: emigration of families, decrease in births, an environment that is increasingly opposed to evangelical values. In addition “the lack of unity among the members of the clergy” is “an anti-witness” while “the human and spiritual formation of priests, men and women religious, perhaps leaves much to be desired” (22). Also “contemplative life, pillar of all true consecration … is absent in the majority of congregations” (23).
Affirmed, hence, is that Christians, despite their “meager number,” “belong fully to the social fabric and to the very identity” of these countries. Their disappearance would be a loss for the pluralism of the Middle East (24). Catholics are called to promote the concept of “positive laicism” of the State to “alleviate the theocratic character of the government” and allow “greater equality between the citizens of different religions, thus fostering the promotion of a healthy, positively lay democracy, which fully recognizes the role of religion, also in public life, in full respect of the distinction between the religious and temporal orders” (25).
Christians should be an active minority, without falling back on themselves, “in a ghetto attitude” (28). The Church encourages the forming of numerous families and promotes education, “which continues to be the greatest investment” (29): Catholic schools and universities receive thousands of persons of all religions, as do hospital centers and the social services (40). However, the Churches and Catholic schools “could help the less fortunate more” (29). It is, “above all, thanks to the charitable activities directed not only to Christians but also to Muslims and Jews, that the action of the … Churches in favor of the common good is particularly tangible” (30). There is also a “call to transparency in the management of the Church’s money, above all on the part of Priests and bishops, to distinguish what is given for personal use from what belongs to the Church (31).
Hence, the document stresses that regional conflicts make the situation of Christians even more fragile. “The Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories makes daily life difficult for the liberty of movement, the economy and social and religious life (access to the Holy Places, conditioned by military permits granted to some and refused to others, for security reasons). Moreover, some fundamentalist Christian groups, basing themselves on the Sacred Scriptures, justify the political injustice imposed on Palestinians, which makes the position of Arab Christians even more delicate” (32).
Christians are among the principal victims of the war in Iraq. “Still today, world politics does not take them sufficiently into account” (33). “In the Lebanon, Christians are divided on the political and confessional plane.” “In Egypt, the growth of political Islam on one hand, and the lack of commitment, in part necessary, of Christians to civil society, makes their life exposed to serious difficulties.” “In other countries, authoritarianism, that is, dictatorship, pushes the population, including Christians, to endure everything in silence to save the essential. In Turkey, the present concept of laicism still poses problems to the full religious liberty of the country” (34).
Christians are exhorted not to be indifferent to their commitment in society despite temptations to discouragement (35). “In the East liberty of religion means only liberty of worship,” but not “liberty of conscience, that is, the liberty to believe or not to believe, to practice a religion alone or in public without any impediment and, hence, the liberty to change one’s religion. In the East, religion is, in general, a social and even a national choice, not an individual one. To change religion is regarded as a betrayal of the society, culture and nation built primarily on a religious tradition,” it explains (37). Because of this “conversion to the Christian faith is seen as the fruit of biased proselytism, not of an authentic religious conviction. For a Muslim the latter is often prohibited by the laws of the State.”
On the other hand, as regards Christians, “in some cases, conversion to Islam does not happen out of religious conviction, but out of personal interests. Sometimes it can be produced also under the pressure of Muslim proselytism.” Some answers to the Lineamenta “state the firm rejection of Christian proselytism, though pointing out that it is openly practiced by some ‘evangelical’ communities. In fact, the question of proclamation needs a more profound reflection” to be able to affirm “the right of every person and his complete liberty of conscience” (38).
At the same time, Islamic extremism continues to grow throughout the area, constituting “a threat for all, Christians, Jews and Muslims” (41-42). In this context of tensions and disputes, economic difficulties and political and religious limitations, Christians continue to emigrate: “often ignored in the game of international politics is the existence of Christians, who are the first victims; this is one of the main causes of emigration (43-44). Churches in the West are invited to sensitize the governments of their countries on this situation (45). Perceived, moreover, is the growing immigration in the Middle East of African and Asian workers, among them many Christians “often the object of social injustice … exploitation and sexual abuses” (49). In this context Catholics are called “ever more” to be “authentic witnesses of the resurrection in society,” it stresses (52).
The second chapter is dedicated to ecclesial communion. The document states that the faithful of the Middle East “are aware of the fact that Christian communion has as its foundation the model of divine life in the mystery of the Most Holy Trinity. God is love (cf. 1 John 4:8), and relations between the divine persons are relations of love.” So it is necessary that, at the heart of each Church, each member live “the communion itself of the Most Holy Trinity. The life of the Church and of the Churches of the East must be communion of life in love, on the model of the union of the Son with the Father and the Spirit. Each one is a member of the Body whose head is Christ” (54). “This communion at the heart of the Catholic Church — we read in the text — is manifested through two main signs: Baptism and the Eucharist in communion with the Bishop of Rome, Successor of Peter, spokesman of the Apostles (hamat ar-Rusul), principle and perpetual and visible foundation of the unity of faith and of communion'” (55).
“To promote unity in diversity, it is necessary to surmount confessionalism in what it might have as limited or exaggerated, encourage the spirit of cooperation between the different communities, coordinate pastoral activity and stimulate spiritual emulation, not rivalry” (56). “Communion among the different members of a same Church or Patriarchate — one reads in the “instrumentum laboris” — happens according to the model of communion with the universal Church and with the Successor of Peter, the Bishop of Rome. At the level of the Patriarchal Church, communion is expressed through the synod that brings together the bishops of a whole community around the Patriarch, Father and head of his church. At the level of the eparchy/diocese, it is around the bishop where the communion of the clergy, of men and women religious, as well as of the laity, takes place” (57).
Christians are invited to feel themselves “members of the Catholic Church in the Middle East, and not just members of a particular Church.” The ministers of Christ and the consecrated are called a “be a model and example to others … for their part, many faithful wish for greater simplicity of life, real detachment in relation to money and the comforts of the world, an edifying practice of chastity and a transparent purity of customs” (58). “The Synod must encourage the faithful to assume largely their role as baptized promoting pastoral initiatives, especially in regard to the social commitment, in communion with the pastors of the Church” (60).
The third chapter addresses the topic of Christian witness. Reaffirmed, first of all, is “the importance of catechesis to know and transmit the faith,” eliminating “detachment from the truth believed and the life lived”: some methods of catechesis are enumerated (62-69). In regard to the liturgy, the document takes up the desire of many for “an effort of renovation, which, though remaining firmly rooted in tradition, takes into account modern sensitivity and present-day spiritual and pastoral needs.” “The most important aspect of the liturgical renovation carried out to date consists in the translation into the vernacular, primarily in Arabic, of the liturgical texts” (70-75).
Reaffirmed is the urgency of ecumenism, overcoming prejudices and mistrust through dialogue and collaboration: contributing in this regard also will be “the celebration of the sacraments of Confession, of the Eucharist, of the Anointing of the Sick in a Church different from one’s own, in cases foreseen by canonical legislation.” “Two signs are of particular importance: the unification of Christian feasts (Christmas and Easter) and the joint management of places in the Holy Land … in mutual love and respect.” “Proselytism that uses means that do not conform to the Gospel are roundly” condemned (76-84).
Also reviewed are relations with Judaism, which find “in Vatican Council II a fundamental point of reference.” The dialogue with Jews is described as “essential, though not easy,” resented because of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. The Church hopes that “both peoples will be able to live in peace in a homeland that is their own, within secure and internationally recognized borders.” Reaffirmed is the condemnation of anti-Semitism, stressing that “the present negative attitudes between the Arab and Jewish peoples seem to be, rather, of a political character”; hence, foreign to any ecclesial discourse.
Christians are called to “take a spirit of reconciliation based on justice and equity on both sides. On one hand, the Churches of the Middle East invite to maintain the distinction between the religious and the political reality” (85-94). Also the Catholic Church’s relations with Muslims are based on Vatican Council II. Benedict XVI’s words are reaffirmed: “The inter-religious and intercultural dialogue between Christians and Muslims cannot be reduced to a temporary decision. It is, in fact, a vital need, on which our future depends to a large extent.” It shows that “it is important on one hand to have bilateral dialogues — with the Jews and with Islam — and afterwards also a trilateral dialogue.”
“Relations between Christians and Muslims are, more or less frequently, difficult — one reads in the document — above all because of the fact that Muslims do not make the distinction between religion and politics, which places Christians in the delicate situation of non-citizens, while the latter have been citizens of these countries well before the arrival of Islam. The key to the success of coexistence between Christians and Muslims depends on the recognition of religious liberty and of the rights of man.” “Christians are called … not to isolate themselves in ghettos, in defensive attitudes, withdrawn in themselves, typical of minorities. Many faithful insist on the fact that Christians and Muslims are called to work together to promote social justice, peace and liberty, and to defend human rights and the values of life and of the family.” Suggested is “the revision of school books and especially of religious education, so that they are free of all prejudice and stereotypes about the other” and it invites to dialogue of the “truth in charity” (95-99).
In the conflictive situation of the region Christians are exhorted to promote “the pedagogy of peace”: it is a “realistic” way, “although it runs the risk of being rejected by the majority; it also has more possibilities to be accepted, given that violence, both of the strong as well as of the weak, has led in the Middle East region only to failures and a general blockade.” It is a situation “taken advantage of by the most radical world terrorism.” The contribution of Christians,” which calls for much courage, is indispensable” although “too often” the countries of the Middle East “identify the West with Christianity” causing great harm to the Christian Churches (100-102).
The document also analyzes the strong impact of modernity, which appears to the believing Muslim “with an atheist and immoral face. He regards it as a cultural invasion that threatens him, disturbing his system of values.” “Modernity, however, is also a struggle for justice and equality, and the defense of rights.” Catholic schools attempt to “form persons capable of discerning the positive from the negative, to take only the best.” However, “modernity is also a risk for Christians”: the societies of the region are also threatened by the absence of God, by atheism and materialism, and even more so by relativism and indifference … Such risks, as well as extremism, can easily destroy … families, societies and Churches (103-105). “From this point of view, Muslims and Christians must follow a common path.”
For their part, Christians must be aware of belonging to the Middle East and of being in it “an essential component as citizens”: on the contrary, “they have been the pioneers of the rebirth of the Arab nation” and “their role is recognized in the society” (106-108) although “with the growth of Muslim fundamentalism, attacks on Christians increase to a degree everywhere” (110). “The Christian has a special contribution to make in the realm of justice and peace”; he has the duty to “denounce violence with courage, wherever it comes from, and to suggest a solution, which can only pass through dialogue,” reconciliation and forgiveness. However, Christians must insist “with peaceful means” that their rights also “be recognized by the civil authorities” (111-114).
The document also addresses the topic of evangelization in a Muslim society, which can only come through witness: but “it is requested that it also be guaranteed by timely foreign interventions.” In any case, the charitable activity of Catholic communities “towards the poorest and the excluded, without discrimination, represents the most evident way of the diffusion of Christian teaching.” These services are often ensured only by ecclesial institutions (115-116).
In the Conclusion, the document shows “concern over the difficulties of the present moment but, at the same time, hope founded on the Christian faith.” “History — one reads — has made us become a small flock. But we, with our behavior, can again be a presence that counts. For decades, the lack of resolution of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, the lack of respect for international law and human rights, and the egoism of the great powers has destabilized the balance of the region and imposed a violence on the populations that runs the risk of bringing them near to despair. The consequence of all this is emigration, especially of Christians.
“In face of this challenge and supported by the universal Christian community, the Christian of the Middle East is called to accept his vocation, at the service of society.”
The invitation to believers is that “they be witnesses, conscious of giving witness of the truth that can lead to their being persecuted.” “To the Christians of the Middle East — concludes the “instrumentum laboris” — one can still repeat today: ‘Fear not, little flock’ (Luke 12:32), you have a mission, on you will depend the growth of your country and the vitality of your Church, and this will happen only with peace, justice and equality for all its citizens” (118-123).
[Translation by ZENIT]