BY SCO Admin | October 22 2010 | comments icon 0 COMMENTS     print icon print


Concern for Christians in the Middle East

— Vatican Synod of Bishops outlines anxieties over threat of disappearance from the region

CONCERN over the real threat of the disappearance of Christians from the Middle East has been a recurrent theme at the Synod of Bishops focusing on the region at the Vatican.

The synod—which ends on Sunday—also heard there was a need for a common date for Easter among different denominations.

Concern for Christians

Christians, who were present in the region long before Islam, ‘are presently facing a deadly dilemma: to choose between disappearance and isolation, which would bring an end to their historical role and their mission,’ said Hares Chehab, secretary general of Lebanon’s National Committee for Islamic-Christian Dialogue.

Mr Chehab, a Papal observer at the synod, addressed the gathering on October 12 and echoed concerns voiced by a variety of bishops who spoke before him.

The region is gradually emptying itself of Christians, ‘who had contributed so much to the elaboration of its civilisation, and were always the pioneers in the battle for its freedom, its ascent to modernity,’ he said.

The emigration of Christians cannot be attributed only to economic difficulties, ‘otherwise the whole region would have been depopulated,’ Mr Chehab added. He pointed instead to ‘discrimination, persecution in certain areas, fear in others, the lack of freedom (and) inequality of rights’ as the leading motives for leaving.

A key to addressing the problem is to strengthen Christian-Muslim dialogue, he said. But while dialogue is taking place in many countries throughout the region, too often it never gets beyond the common belief in one God and values like the importance of family, which Christians and Muslims share, he said.

The standard dialogue style ‘should give way from now on to another form where the language of complaisance would be banned, to focus especially on truth, no matter how hard it is, but with love and sincerity,” Mr Chehab added.

Muslim scholars

The synod was also addressed by Muslim scholars who said the Middle East needed Christians.

Pope Benedict XVI had invited two Muslim religious scholars to address the synod the Sunni, Muhammad al-Sammak, adviser to the chief mufti of Lebanon and secretary general of Lebanon’s Christian-Muslim Committee for Dialogue; and the Shi’ite, Ayatollah Seyed Mostafa Mohaghegh Damad Ahmadabadi, a professor at Shahid Beheshti University in Tehran.

Mr Al-Sammak told the synod that Christians are not the only people suffering in the Middle East and they are not the only segment of the population tempted to emigrate.

“We share our sufferings. We live them in our social and political delays, in our economic and developmental regression, in our religious and confessional tension,” he said.

At the same time, the Lebanese scholar told the synod, the ‘new and accidental phenomenon’ of Christians being targeted because of their faith is dangerous, and not just for Christians.

By attacking Christians, he said, misguided, fundamentalist, politically manipulated Muslims are tearing apart the fabric of Middle Eastern societies where Jews, Christians and Muslims lived side by side for centuries.

Eyes on Easter

The bishops at the synod also discussed the need for a common Easter Date among the Catholic, Protestant, Anglicans and Orthodox churches.

“We truly hope for the unification of the Easter holiday with the Orthodox churches,” Latin-rite Auxiliary Bishop William H Shomali of Jerusalem told the Synod of Bishops.

Celebrating Easter on the same day also implies observing Lent together, he said, which would give Catholics of the East and West an opportunity to witness together to their disciplines of Lenten fasting and abstinence.

“Just as fasting is a respected aspect of Islam and Judaism, we hope that Catholics of the Eastern and Latin Rites unify their way of fasting,” Bishop Shomali said. “This would be a positive sign for Christians and also for non-Christians.”

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