.- The Instrumentum laboris, consigned to participants in October's Special Assembly for the Middle East by Pope Benedict XVI, addresses concerns of a decrease in Christian presence in the region, the "vital" nature of Muslim-Christian relations and the need to maintain cohesion between the Churches of the Middle East.
It also insists that the Churches defend their place in the region.
Patriarchs and bishops of the Middle Eastern Churches were on hand in Nicosia, Cyprus on Sunday morning to receive the Instrumentum laboris, or working document, directly from the Pope.
Among other elements the document proposes about the current situation in the Middle East, tradition as a "source of richness" is highlighted as is the importance of the existence of a Christian influence in the region. Their disappearance would be a "great loss" to all people in the Middle East, reads the document, and "here lies the 'grave responsibility'... to maintain the Christian faith in these holy lands."
The document makes note of the decreased "evangelical ardor" and diminished "flame of the spirit" in the Church today. Without vocations, it claims, "the Church will disappear" (...) and the disappearance of Christians "would mean a loss in the pluralism of the Middle East."
According to the document, regional conflicts make the situation of Christians in the area more fragile, however, "Christians are exhorted to remain strong in their commitment in society, despite being tempted towards discouragement."
Noting the general lack of freedom of conscience in the area, the document observes that "clearly the question of public proclamation requires serious reflection" to achieve respect for this right.
It also examines an increase in Islamic extremism which is "a threat to everyone, Christians and Muslims alike," defining relations with Muslims as a "vital necessity, on which a large measure of our future depends."
"Oftentimes, relations between Christians and Muslims are difficult, because Muslims make no distinction between religion and politics thereby relegating Christians to the precarious position of being considered non-citizens, despite the fact that they were citizens of their countries long before the rise of Islam," it reads.
"The key to harmonious living between Christians and Muslims is to recognize religious freedom and human rights."
The document also refers to dialogue with the Jewish community as "essential." It goes on to propose that Christians are called to see themselves not just as members of a particularly-defined Church, but as members of the "Church of the Middle East."
According to the Instrumentum laboris, they must realize that they belong to the Middle East they must see themselves as an "essential part of it," using also peaceful means "to insist that the rights of Christians be acknowledged by civil authorities."
As for ecclesial communion, the document principally manifests points of communion between the many individually-recognized Churches are highlighted as present "through Baptism and the Eucharist" and "through communion with the Successor of St. Peter."
The document, 40 pages in all, was composed from the answers to the Lineamenta questionnaire sent out by the Holy See in January to gain an idea of the current situation in the Middle East in order to prepare participants for October's Special Assembly.
In addition to addressing the Christian identity, fostering communion between Churches and inviting ecumenical commitment and inter-religious dialogue, the synod aims to "supply Christians with the basis for their existence in a predominantly Muslim society, be it Arab, Turkish, Iranian or a Jewish society in the State of Israel."