The Vatican's upcoming Synod for the Middle East aims to give "maximum visibility" to the situation of the Church and Christians in the region, said the synod's organizer in an interview this week. He spoke of some of the main issues up for discussion, emphasizing that trust in God's presence in the Holy Land reassures the Church that the region will not become a mere "archeological dig" for Christianity.
Archbishop Nikola Eterovic, the secretary general of the Synod of Bishops and organizer of October's Special Assembly for Middle Eastern bishops, described the background and expectations for the upcoming synod to Terrasanta.net. In an article published in its most recent newsletter, the archbishop said that the event in itself is the highlight.
Because of the "special place" the Holy Land holds for the universal Church, he explained, the two-week synod is important for everyone, not just people in the Middle East. This universality will be evident in the synod, in which, in addition to patriarchs and bishops from the Middle East, delegates from bishops' conferences that have the most active presence in the region, Orthodox Christians, Muslim and Jewish representatives will also be participating.
Three hundred people, including 150 bishops and patriarchs from Middle Eastern countries are expected to take part in the synod. Pope Benedict XVI himself will join deliberations during the morning and afternoon general congregations.
Based on his observation, the involvement and "very diligent" way Middle East Church leaders have added their contributions to shedding light on the current environment in the region, Archbishop Eterovic said that results of preparations going into the Oct. 10-24 synod are "promising."
The foundations of synod discussion are based on the answers to the Lineamenta document sent to Rome by patriarchs and bishops. This was a questionnaire meant to gain an educated, on the ground idea of the current panorama in the region. The results were published in the "Instrumentum laboris" (working document) the Holy Father consigned personally to participants in Cyprus last June which will guide the synod.
The aim of October's synod is to give "maximum visibility" to the current issues in the cradle of Christianity, explained Archbishop Eterovic in the interview with Terrasanta.net. He stressed that the "very fact that despite the unfavorable (historical) situations millions of Christians have remained in their lands" is proof of the Holy Spirit's continued strength and presence in the region.
"And," he added, "it is this trust in the Providence of God to reassure us of the fact that this area, so dear to all Chrstians, will not be reduced to an archeological dig but will always be populated by Christian 'living rocks'."
Among other themes during the sessions, he said, participants will speak in four official languages, including Arabic, about the traditional role of Christianity in the region, Arabic Christian communities as a "natural bridge" with Islam, and the importance of young people being educated in the faith. He said that this Biblical formation is also important to aiding relations with Judaism and "difficult but necessary" dialogue with Islam.
Of lasting peace in the Middle East, which is to be a major theme of the encounter, he said that a "change of heart" is needed. Specifying that the synod is of pastoral, not political nature, he said that they "will also not be able to avoid speaking of how to concretely improve the difficult situation in which Christians in many countries live."
Archbishop Eterovic himself will give journalists a comprehensive briefing on the significance of the synod next Friday in the Vatican.