Pope Benedict XVI closed a two-week Synod of Bishops for the Middle East Oct. 24 with a strong plea for peace in the region.
In his homily to the synod fathers in St. Peter’s Basilica, the Pope called on Christians of the Middle East to do “their part in the spirit of the beatitudes” and be “builders of peace and apostles of reconciliation” for the benefit of society.
Also in his homily, Benedict XVI said evangelization was a recurring theme during the synod’s deliberations, and announced that the next synod for bishops, to take place in 2012, will focus on the New Evangelization.
“We must never resign ourselves to the absence of peace,” he said. “Peace is possible. Peace is urgent. Peace is the indispensable condition for a life of dignity for human beings and society. Peace is also the best remedy to avoid emigration from the Middle East.”
The Holy Father said “conflicts, wars, violence and terrorism” have gone on “for too long” in the Middle East, adding that peace is a gift of God and the result of efforts from people of good will. He highlighted the need for greater religious freedom, stressing it should become a subject of dialogue between Christians and Muslims, a dialogue whose urgency and usefulness was stressed by the synod participants.
In their final message, released Oct. 23, the synod fathers issued a rallying call to strengthen communion and witness within the Eastern Churches as well as with the Orthodox and Protestants. They also called for greater cooperation and dialogue with Muslims and Jews, and appealed to political leaders to work harder to build peace.
The synod fathers said the special assembly of bishops was a “new Pentecost,” a time of “hope, strength and resolution” that they will bring back to their Churches in the region. “The primary aim of the synod is pastoral,” the message reaffirmed. “Thus, we have carried in our hearts the life, the pains and the hopes of our people, as well as the challenges they need to confront each day.”
The message recalled the vital origins of the faith, which began in the Middle East, stressing that “we are now at a turning point in our history: The God who has given us the faith in our Eastern lands 2,000 years ago calls us today to persevere with courage, strength and steadfastness.”
They focused on the hardships facing both Palestinians and Israelis, and expressed “solidarity” with Iraqi Christians coupled with a desire that emigrants forced to leave the country return to their homeland. The message had many passages of gratitude and appreciation: to priests, religious and the laity; emigrants from the region were urged to “keep alive” the memory of their countries and their Churches.
To the Orthodox and Protestant communities in the Middle East, the synod fathers stressed the challenges and the future they face are the same as for the Eastern Churches. “The commandment of love unites us,” the message stated, “even if the road towards full communion is still distant for us.” They underlined the importance of cooperation and interreligious dialogue with Jews, and warned that “recourse to theological and biblical positions which use the word of God to wrongly justify injustices is not acceptable.”
The message said that Christian-Muslim relations were “extensively treated” in the synod and that to live as Christians and Muslims together is a mission and vocation. Dialogue, it said, is a “vital necessity” that will help avoid “imbalances and misunderstandings.”
The synod fathers appealed to governments and political leaders to ensure all people enjoy rights of citizenship and freedom of conscience, worship, education, teaching and use of the mass media. It called on them to “redouble” their efforts in establishing a just and lasting peace throughout the region. This will lead to security and economic prosperity, which will halt emigration, they said.
To the international community, the synod fathers called on leaders and the United Nations to work “conscientiously” towards peace. They advocated a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, a solution which they hope “becomes a reality and not a dream only.” The message also strongly condemned all violence, terrorism and religious extremism, as well as racism, anti-Semitism, anti-Christianism and Islamophobia.
In conclusion, the synod fathers stressed the importance of conversion, confessing they had not done what is possible, or enough, “to better live communion in our communities” in the past.
“Today we return to you full of hope, strength and resolution, bearing with us the message of the synod and its recommendations in order to study them together and to put them into practice in our Churches, each one according to the Church’s states of life,” the message read.
The synod fathers also published a list of 44 propositions to be implemented in the coming years.
Speaking at the end of the two-week meeting, Bishop Antoine Audo, the Chaldean Catholic bishop of Aleppo, said the experience of “communion and mutual respect” had been “very important for us,” as was the opportunity to express ideas “with freedom and without any fear or hesitation.” Only the Pope, he said, was able to gather all the Eastern Churches together.
Edward Pentin writes from Rome.