Concluding two weeks of meetings on the future of the Church in the Middle East, close to 200 bishops issued a communique appealing to the world’s Catholics “to safeguard the faith, based on the Word of God, to collaboration in unity and to communion in the witness of love in every aspect of life."
The special Synod for the Middle East held at the Vatican Oct. 10-24 concluded with a "Message to the People of God."
According to the bishops, Christians in the Middle East are at "a turning point" in their history. "The God who has given us the faith in our Eastern lands 2,000 years ago, calls us today to persevere with courage, strength and steadfastness in bearing the message of Christ and witnessing to his Gospel, the Gospel of love and peace."
The message highlighted four of the "many challenges" Christians face to preserving the faith in the Middle East which came to the fore in the two weeks of discussion.
First among the challenges facing the Church is the question of communion between the various Catholic rites and traditions present in the Middle East. This theme came to light often during the synod sessions, especially concerning the realities of the Catholic communities in Iraq, which are suffering violence and discrimination. Elsewhere in the region, relationships among various Eastern Catholic Churches appear to be fractured. In some countries, multiple archbishops serve local Christians depending on their historical tradition.
The bishops listed the second challenge as one "from the outside, namely, political conditions, security in our countries and religious pluralism." During the talks, much time was spent evaluating the social situation and public security in the region. Many referred to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as a source of unrest for the entire Middle East.
Talks focused on Palestinian suffering from "Israeli occupation" and Israelis suffering from “an insecurity." They are "anxious about the unilateral initiatives that threaten its composition and risk to change its demographic balance. With all this in mind, we see that a just and lasting peace is the only salvation for everyone and for the good of the region and its peoples."
A further challenge they listed is the continued suffering of the Church in Iraq, marked by killings and displacement. The bishops expressed their solidarity with Iraqis and their Catholic communities and hoped that those who have emigrated will receive support to one day return to a secure nation.
Finally, the challenge of the interactions between Christians and Muslims in the region was highlighted. The bishops said they extensively examined the situation during their talks. The idea of the "common citizenship" which is shared by all people was emphasized.
They continued by explaining, "God wants us to be Christians in and for our Middle Eastern societies. This is God’s plan for us. This is our mission and vocation - to live as Christians and Muslims together. Our actions in this area will be guided by the commandment of love and by the power of the Spirit within us."
As an integral part of society, Christians, they explained, just as Jews and Muslims, are obliged to contribute to the construction of the Middle East.
The message went on to address individual cross-sections of Middle Eastern Christianity, urging each to work for a better Church. The bishops also called for greater cooperation and fraternity with other Christians, Jews and Muslims alike to achieve a lasting peace in the region. The synod fathers asked local governments for the same efforts for peace and a halt to the arms race, which, they said, "will lead to security and economic prosperity and stop the hemorrhage of emigration which empties our countries of its vital forces."
They also called the international community to action to support the communities of the Middle East and take action on their behalf.
The bishops themselves confessed that they "have not done what is possible" or "enough" to better live communion in and among their communities. "We have not done everything possible to confirm you in your faith and to give you the spiritual nourishment you need in your difficulties," they told their faithful.
"The Lord invites us to a conversion as individuals and communities," they underscored.
As they returned to their communities to put the synod's lessons into practice, they made a "humble and sincere appeal" to people in the region that "together we might embark on the road of conversion, allowing ourselves to be renewed through the grace of the Holy Spirit and again draw close to God."