Highlighting the special consideration of the Middle East in the eyes of God, Pope Benedict XVI inaugurated the activities of the two-week synod. The Holy Father remembered the region for its role in the history of salvation and called all to bring peace and justice to the Middle East today.
On Sunday morning, the Holy Father opened the Synod of Bishops' Special Assembly for the Middle East with Mass at St. Peter's Basilica. Benedict XVI concelebrated in Latin with 177 Synod Fathers and 69 priests who are collaborating in synod activities.
The synod is taking place at the Vatican from Oct. 10-24 under the theme: "The Catholic Church in the Middle East: Communion and Witness."
During his homily, he noted that an "extraordinary motive" marked the Mass, that of the grace of the first Synodal Assembly for the Middle East for which region bishops had all gathered together with "the Bishop of Rome and Universal shepherd."
"Such a singular event demonstrates the interest of the entire Church for the precious and loved portion of the people of God who live in the Holy Land and in all the Middle East," said the Pope.
He gave thanks for the continued presence of Christians in the area since the times of Jesus, "in spite of often difficult and troubling events."
Meditating on Sunday's readings which recount the healings of lepers, regardless of their backgrounds, he pointed out that it is here that the theme of the synod is found. It is in the idea that "salvation is universal, but it passes though a determined, historical mediation: the mediation of the people of Israel, who become then that of Jesus Christ and of the Church," he explained.
The Middle East, he said, makes up these specific "coordinates" of the time and place the Lord chose to build the "'land' of liberty and peace" with men, for men and in men. Pope Benedict went on to say that God saw the region from "a different perspective," noting that "it is the land of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob; the land of the exodus and the return from exile; the land of the temple and the prophets; the land in which the only begotten Son was born of Mary, where he lived, died and rose; the cradle of the Church, constituted to bring the Gospel of Christ to the ends of the earth."
"And," he observed, "we also, as believers look to the Middle East with this gaze, in the perspective of the history of salvation."
This, he said, was the reason for his trips to the Middle East and the reason he accepted the proposal of Middle Eastern prelates to hold the assembly. During the two weeks, the prelates will examine the present and future of the population of the Middle East "in the light of Sacred Scripture and Church tradition."
Saying that the synod will focus on communion, "without (which) there cannot be testimony," he labeled the gathering "a privileged moment in which the grace of Pentecost can be renewed in the path of the Church, so that the Good News is proclaimed with frankness and might be accepted by all people."
In a largely pastoral scope, he added, the synod will concentrate on the Church's mission in the Middle East and also exist as a "propitious" occasion to continue a constructive dialogue with Jews and Muslims.
Delegates from both realities as well as the Orthodox Church are participating in synod activities.
Pope Benedict highlighted that the synod's events are also oriented to the personal, familial and social witness of Christians in the area, which require "a reinforcement of their Christian identity through the Word of God and the Sacraments."
He added that, "in spite of the difficulties, the Christians of the Holy Land are called to revive the consciousness of being 'living rocks' of the Church in the Middle East, in the holy places of our salvation."
In what is sure to be a central idea of the synod's work, Pope Benedict concluded by calling all realities active in the area and in the international community to contribute to creating conditions of peace and justice, which "must be promoted, (as they are) indispensable for a harmonious development of all the inhabitants of the region."