The Synod of the Bishops for the Middle East : Presentation of the Synod

Source: FSSPX News

The first Special Assembly for the Middle East of the Synod of Bishops, held at the Vatican from October 10-24, was a meeting of representatives from the seven Eastern Catholic Churches on the topic: The Catholic Church in the Middle East: Communion and Witness. “Now the company of those who believed were of one heart and soul(Acts 4:32).  Besides the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, there are six Oriental Catholic Churches sui juris, each led by a patriarch:  the Coptic Church, the Syriac Church, the Melkite Church, the Maronite Church, the Chaldean Church, and the Armenian Church.  The Special Assembly for the Middle East holds the distinction of being the first synodal session to gather almost all the bishops of the Middle East around the Supreme Pontiff.

Presentation of the Synod

During the presentation of the Synod to the press on October 8, Archbishop Nikola Eterovic, General Secretary of the Synod of Bishops, noted that 185 synod fathers—cardinals, bishops and priests—would participate in the special assembly;  of these 101 were ordinaries of ecclesiastical districts in the region, 23 were bishops from the diaspora in charge of Catholics who have emigrated to different parts of the world;  also attending would be 36 experts (32 priests and religious and 4 laymen, including Annie Laurent, a journalist who reports on the Middle East) and 34 auditors (10 priests and religious and 24 laypeople).  The business of the Synod consists of the interventions in the Synod Hall and the small-group discussions on specific topics, in which the Synod Fathers, the experts and the auditors meet to draft propositions.  The final propositions, voted on by the Synod Fathers, would be sent to the pope as material for the Apostolic Exhortation that is usually published a year after the session.

“The Middle East is likewise the home of our Jewish and Muslim brothers and sisters, because it is also the birthplace of these two monotheistic religions,” Archbishop Eterovic added.  For this reason, three of the special guests of the Holy Father would speak:  Rabbi David Rosen, Director of the Department for Interreligious Affairs of the American Jewish Committee and also Director of the Heilbrunn Institute for International Interreligious Understanding (Israel) on October 13 in the afternoon, while Muhammad al-Sammak—Secretary of the Lebanese National Committee for Islamo-Christian Dialogue and political counselor of the Sunni Grand Mufti and of the Prime Minister of Lebanon—and the Shiite ayatollah Seyed Mostafa Mohaghegh Ahmadabadi—professor of law in Tehran and member of the Iranian Academy of Sciences—would take the floor on October 14 in the afternoon.

This is the first time that a Jew and Muslims participated in the same synod.  Rabbi David Rosen, who held the hand of Benedict XVI in May 2009 during a prayer for peace at the conclusion of an interreligious meeting at Nazareth in Galilee (Israel), follows the Rabbi of Haifa, Shear-Yashuv Cohen, who was the first Jew invited to speak during a synod at the Vatican on October 6, 2008.  He had taken advantage of that forum to mention in the presence of Benedict XVI and the bishops “the silence” of some “great religious authorities” with regard to the Holocaust, in an explicit allusion to Pius XII.  Similarly, a Muslim had already been invited to the Synod of Bishops at the Vatican on two occasions (the Synod for Lebanon in December 1995, and the Synod on Africa in October 2009).

Speaking to the press, Archbishop Eterovic was anxious to explain that the term Middle East comprises—besides Jerusalem and the Palestinian Territories—Cyprus, Iraq, Iran, Israel, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Egypt, Syria, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Yemen.  This region covers more than 7 million square kilometers [2.7 million square miles] with 356 million inhabitants, of whom 5.7 million are Catholic, making up 1.6% of the population.  Almost 20 million Christians live in the Middle East, representing 5.6% of the population.

Without ignoring the social and political context in the region, this session of the Synod had above all an ecclesiastical purpose, the Secretary General of the Synod explained, that of reviving communion among the Eastern Catholic Churches so that they can offer an authentic and welcoming testimony of Christian life.  “This special assembly offers an excellent opportunity to present to the world the spiritual wealth found in the Eastern Catholic Churches, especially to Christians, so that they might better support, both spiritually and materially, their brothers and sisters in the Middle East, particularly those who are living in difficult situations because of violence—including terrorism—emigration and discrimination.”

Special Synod of the Bishops for the Middle East :

An ayatollah at the Synod
Opening of the Synod
Report from Rabbi David Rosen
Intervention of the Shiite ayatollah Seyyed Mostafa Mohaghegh Damad
A Lebanese bishop vigorously denounces the Koran
The final message of the Synod Fathers
The synod’s final propositions
The close of the Synod