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Hopes for Mideast Synod

The future of Catholics in the Middle East, such as Elias Khader, praying during Mass at St. Justin Church the West Bank town of Nablus, will be a topic of discussion at the synod. (Photo: CNS/Debbie Hill)  (photo: CNS/Debbie Hill) 

22 Sep 2010 – By Doreen Abi Raad

BEIRUT (CNS) — Catholic Church leaders, anticipating the Synod of Bishops for the Middle East, view it as an opportunity to call attention to the problems facing Christians in the region.

The synod, to be held at the Vatican Oct. 10-24, will focus on “communion and witness.”

Chaldean Archbishop Louis Sako of Kirkuk, Iraq, who had asked the pope in January 2008 to convene such a synod, said the meeting “is an opportunity to revise the whole situation for Christians in the Middle East.”

He said it is a pastoral and practical synod, and not a dogmatic one.

Archbishop Sako stressed that because there are so many crucial issues to tackle — liturgical reform; formation of clergy and other religious; dialogue among the churches; and particularly the political status of Christians — he hopes this synod will be highly productive.

Chaldean Auxiliary Bishop Shlemon Warduni of Baghdad said the synod represents “a big grace for the Middle East.”

“We need it because our faithful are leaving their countries,” he told Catholic News Service. “If we have peace and security, our people would not leave.”

The Middle East has many Catholic rites, and there is some division among them, Bishop Warduni said, “but like the first Christians, we must have one spirit and one heart, as when the Holy Spirit descended upon them.”

For those participating in the synod, he said, the Holy Spirit “will guide us to do what we must do for ecumenism and dialogue with other religions.”

“We ask the Lord to give us the wisdom to guide each of us, so we can arrive at some solutions that will be good for the glory of the Lord, the good of the church and the good of the faithful,” Bishop Warduni said.

In Israel, Melkite Catholic Archbishop Elias Chacour of Haifa said local church leaders would like the synod to articulate why Christians should remain in the Middle East.

He said he hopes the synod will “define the reason why we need to stay in this country, which is not very favorable to our presence. ... What reason is there for our presence here as Christians? To propagate and introduce the value of reconciliation, which is not on the political agenda in this country?”

“We expect better understanding of our mission in this country, our role in the Catholic Church and more attention to our human presence than to that of the presence of the holy shrines,” he said.

“We are hoping for very simple things. We don’t want miracles,” he added.

Though Catholics’ role in the Holy Land is recognized by the Holy See, Archbishop Chacour said they would like to see more consciousness of what they should do as a Christian minority within two large majorities “facing the challenge of meeting every day thousands of pilgrims who come not only to walk on the dirt and see artifacts but also to see what remains of Jesus Christ, the ’living stones.’”

Archbishop Chacour said he would like to see the Holy See “encourage the local Christians here so they can really be aware of their role.”

“We need the Catholic communion to become more real,” he said.

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