CWNews.com - The challenge of maintaining an active Christian presence in the Middle East, despite a increasingly assertive Muslim majority, emerged as a key theme during the first full day of discussions of the Middle East Synod.
Armenian Catholic Archbishop Boutros Marayati of Aleppo, Syria, posed the question in dramatic fashion during the October 12 discussions: “Are we waiting for the day when the world-- as a spectator amidst the indifference of the Western churches-- will sit back and watch the death of the Christians of the East?”
Melkite Archbishop Elias Chacour of Akka, Israel issued an impassioned call for help: “I insistently invite you and plead with the Holy Father to give even more attention to the living stones of the Holy Land.”
The Tuesday session began with reports from each of the continents. Representing Africa, Cardinal Polycarp Pengo of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, made the observation that Christians have been able to coexist with Muslims in some regions. “Today, no Christian on the coasts of Eastern Africa feels obliged to hide his Christian identity despite the fact that Islam continues to be the religion of the majority,” he reported. Cardinal Pengo said that the experiences of sub-Saharan Africa could offer some guidance to the Christians of the Middle East.
The report from North America was delivered by Cardinal Roger Mahony of Los Angeles, who devoted most of his attention to questions of immigration. He observed that many Catholics of the Eastern churches have arrived in America (as well as Europe and Australia), posing new challenges for the Church there. Roman Catholics should help the Eastern churches to maintain their traditions, rather than pressing them to conform to the Western model, he said. A distinct pastoral challenge, he added, is to encourage the immigrants in “forgiving those enemies who quite often are the principal reason for their leaving their homeland to find peace and justice on our shores.”
Archbishop Orlando Quevedo of Cotabato, the Philippines, voiced his sympathy for the Christians living as a religious minority in the Middle East. Christians are a “little flock” in Asia, too, he said. “In light of rising religious suspicions and extremism, sometimes erupting in violence and death, we can surely be afraid or timid.”
Cardinal Peter Erdo of Budapest, Hungary, took a different approach in offering a European perspective. “Europe is in debt to the Middle East,” where the faith arose, he said. Now Europe should examine its conscience and ask whether the legacy of faith is being properly nurtured there. Moreover, he added, European Christians should ask themselves whether they are showing true charity toward their brothers in the Middle East: “Do we pay enough attention to the reasons that force thousands if not millions of Christians to leave the land where their ancestors lived for almost two thousand years?”
Representing Oceania and Latin America, Archbishops John Dew of Wellington, New Zealand; and Raymundo Damasceno Assis of Aparecida, Brazil took note of the ties between their regions and the Middle East: the immigrant Christians from the Eastern churches now living in the diaspora, the pilgrims from their own nations that travel to the Middle East, the charitable programs founded there.
After these reports, the Synod turned to general discussion, with a number of prelates and a few experts making their observations. The theme of the endangered Christian presence in the Middle East continued to arise. Chaldean Catholic Archbishop Louis Sako of Kirkuk, Iraq, posed the problem simply, saying that “emigration is the biggest challenge which threatens our presence.”
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