The Vatican Press Office presented on Tuesday the "Lineamenta" document in preparation for the convocation of the Special Assembly of the Synod of Middle Eastern Bishops. The document aims to stimulate discussion for the creation of a "working document" that will provide guidelines for the upcoming synod, which will be held in the Vatican from Oct. 10 - 24 of this year.
"The initiative concerns the 'anxiety' of the successor of St. Peter 'for all the Churches' and is an important event demonstrating the interest of the Universal Church in the Churches of God in the Middle East," reads the introduction of the document.
To ensure that the synod is based on current issues and addresses the needs of the Middle Eastern Churches, the Pre-Synodal Council for the Middle East composed the "Lineamenta," which provides draft guidelines for the meeting.
Between the introduction, three chapters and conclusion, the document provides participating dioceses with 32 questions regarding themes based on personal religious practice, church life, ecclesial communion and Christian witness.
Answers to these questions will be gathered by the general secretariat of the synod by Easter to be compiled into an "Instrumentum laboris," or working document to be presented by Pope Benedict XVI to the Eastern Catholic Churches when he visits Cyprus at the beginning of June.
One question sure to draw attention is the interaction between Christianity and Islam.
The bishops plan to look at the role of the internet in spreading radical branches of the region's religions. "In response to this situation (growth of the Internet), Islamic fundamentalist groups are becoming widespread," the preparatory document stated.
Governments that abide by Sharia law were also mentioned as creating a situation that "always constitutes discrimination and, therefore a violation of a person's human rights."
In a press conference at noon on Tuesday at the Holy See Press Office, Secretary General of the Synod of Bishops, Archbishop Nikola Eterovic, gave an overview of specific issues included in the document.
The first chapter covers "The Catholic Churches in the Middle East," which offers a brief history of the Eastern Churches and current challenges they face, such as "political conflicts in the region (Israel-Palestine, Iraq, Lebanon); ... and freedom of worship and of conscience, lamenting the considerable number of obstacles to exercising this fundamental right of individuals and of all religious communities."
"Ecclesial communion" is the theme of the second chapter, which touches on Eucharistic communion with the Universal Church, communion with the Successor of Peter and communion among bishops, clergy and lay-faithful. Chapter three looks at the "Christian witness" to the Gospel through faith and works and relations with other religions. This section also looks at the contribution of Christians in each region.
Touching on the theme brought up in the final chapter of dialogue between Churches and Christians in the Middle East, the archbishop said that it exists, "but it needs to be increased." He also commented that some Christian-Jewish dialogue exists between Palestine and Israel through various associations, but that their rapport is still conditioned by politics.
Regarding Muslims, the document proposes the "need to promote dialogue, also in order to know one another better, ... and as the best way to resolve problems."
The conclusion of the "Lineamenta," added Archbishop Eterovic, "re-proposes the reasons - not so much political reasons as those of faith - why it is essential that Christians remain in the Middle East and continue to make their specific contribution for a more just, peaceful and prosperous society."