On the occasion of the 10th anniversary of Churches in the Middle East, Cyprus hosted the “Rooted in Hope” symposium, from April 20-23. The Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, Bishop Pizzaballa, recalled the vocation of the Jerusalem Church in a context of violence, wars, and divisions.
The Churches of the Middle East symposium is the fruit of an initiative of ROACO (Riunione delle Opere di Aiuto alle Chiese Orientali), with the support of the Dicastery of the Oriental Churches, for the tenth anniversary of the September 14, 2012 post-synodal apostolic exhortation Ecclesia in Medio Oriente [The Church in the Middle East].
The event took place from April 20 to 23 in Nicosia, the capital of Cyprus, and brought together the region's Catholic patriarchs, as well as nuncios, bishops, priests, men and women religious, laity, ambassadors, and diplomatic representatives.
Among the various speeches, that of Patriarch Pierbattista Pizzaballa, who gave the closing speech, stood out. The Latin primate stressed that Christians cannot remain in the Middle East by “right,” as this would make them “fragile in conflict and war.” They must assert their presence by responding to a “vocation” and on the basis of a “choice.”
Criticism of Christianity
“We know well how politics is engulfing ordinary life in all its aspects in the Middle East,” he warned. The prelate highlighted some more positive aspects, such as the signing of the Document on Human Fraternity in 2019, the apostolic visits of Pope Francis to the region, from Iraq to Bahrain, and the pontiff's commitment to ecumenical and interreligious dialogue.
Finally, Patriarch Pizzaballa is wary of an alliance with political power: “It will be more and more difficult to maintain, as Churches, a prophetic role in our communities and in society in general, as long as the populations, Christian or not, consider us as allies of the political and economic powers of the moment.… The alliance between throne and altar has never done any good, neither to the throne nor to the altar.”
An Ill-timed Criticism
As the InfoCatolica site very rightly points out, on the one hand this is completely forgetting that the presence of Latin Rite Catholics in Jerusalem was only made possible by the action of the Christian kingdoms during the Crusades.
On the other hand, Catholic doctrine has always stressed the need for a distinction between the Church and the political power, but not their separation, which, on the contrary, has been clearly condemned. Thus, the encyclical Quas Primas of Pius XI recalls the royal power of Christ which encompasses the temporal sphere.
Before him, Pope Leo XIII devoted the encyclical Immortale Dei to the question of the Christian constitution of states, in which he quotes the encyclical Mirari Vos by Gregory XVI:
“On the question of the separation of Church and State, the same Pontiff writes as follows: ‘Nor can we hope for happier results either for religion of for the civil government from the wishes of those who desire that the Church be separated from the State, and the concord between the secular and ecclesiastical authority be dissolved. It is clear that these men, who yearn for a shameless liberty, live in dread of an agreement which has always been fraught with good, and advantageous alike to sacred and civil interests.’”
And Pope Pius IX condemned this separation in proposition 77 of the Syllabus of Errors Condemned: “In the present day it is no longer expedient that the Catholic religion should be held as the only religion of the State, to the exclusion of all other forms of worship. -- Allocution "Nemo vestrum," July 26, 1855 (condemned proposal).