Synod message and recommendations – Dr. Bernard Sabella
At a time when our East in general and our Holy Land in particular face many challenges, the call for a Synod on the Middle East comes as a reminder for us of the need for renewal for both our Church and our Christian community. The patriarchs and bishops of the Eastern Churches came to Rome bringing with them the concerns and aspirations of their people.
They reflected on the core issues from the reality of the Church and its pastoral affairs to the relationship with the others and the concerns for justice, peace and stability of our societies. The Synod Fathers came out with a list of proposals along with the various documents of the Synod and presented them to the Supreme Pontiff. (Recommendation No. 1: Documentation Presented to the Supreme Pontiff: The synod fathers humbly ask the Holy Father to consider the possibility of issuing a document on the Communion and Witness of the Church in Middle East).
If the experience of Pentecost and the propagation of faith, which started right here in our land, was the motive for the venerable Synod Fathers to face the many challenges of our Churches and our communities, they call upon us to apply our beliefs in the whole of our lives. They stress the importance of strengthening the communion within each and every church, as well as the communion between the Catholic churches of various traditions and also thrive to achieve the unity among all Christians. (Recommendation No. 2 Word of God: that every family would own a Bible and the perseverance to read and reflect on it, in addition to the organization of Bible study groups and the creation of a website about the Bible). (Recommendation No. 16 Communion within the Catholic Church: proposals for cooperation between the bishops and the organization of regular meetings between the various Catholic Church authorities).
The church Fathers, of course, are well aware of the various political, security and religious pluralism in our societies. In particular: the situation in Palestine with the continuing Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the outcome of the occupation and what is happening in Jerusalem; the pain and suffering of the Iraqi Church and people, and the thousands of displaced Iraqis around the world and the need to safeguard their return to their respective countries. (Recommendation No. 5 Sharing in the Cross: commitment to support and insist on international law and respect for all people and all peoples. Call upon the attention of the whole world should be focused on the tragic situation of certain Christian communities of the Middle East. National and international bodies should also be called upon to make a special effort to bring an end to this situation of tension by re-establishing justice and peace).
As for relations with believers of all religions, the Synod confirms that we are Christians for our communities and with our communities, and that we establish relations with Muslims and with all citizens in the light of love and the power of the Holy Spirit. We are part and parcel of our societies, and like the rest of the citizens, we contribute in the building and preservation of our communities, regardless in which community we exist. There is no doubt that the church-related civil service institutions, with their contributions towards the various aspects of life, reflect one side of the interaction of the church and its faithful in their respective societies. (Recommendation No. 40 Interreligious dialogue: drawn up a formation plan which helps people to be more open, for use in teaching establishments as well as in seminaries and novitiates. This will help build a culture of dialogue based on human and religious solidarity. Christians of the Middle East are invited to work to fortify interreligious dialogue, to strive for the purification of memory through the forgiveness for the events of the past, and to seek a better future and to build a new society in which fanaticism and extremism have no place). (Recommendation No. 41 Judaism: Reading the Old Testament and getting to know Jewish traditions lead to a better understanding of the Jewish religion). (Recommendation No. 42 Islam: pursue a fruitful dialogue of life with Muslims, discover their respective religious values and together, build up society).
It is the priests, monks and nuns, and all consecrated men and women that carry the duty of carrying forward the Gospel and the Church traditions, and to encourage the faithful to live by the spirit of the new life that brings them together in unity and love. (Recommendation No. 20 Vocations: calling on priests and consecrated men and women to witness by the coherence of what they say and do in their lives). (Recommendation No. 26 the Consecrated Life: The Synod fathers ask that the consecrated life, be welcomed, encouraged, and integrated ever more closely into the life and mission of the Church in the Middle East. They recognize the importance of the place of consecrated women and women religious in society, by virtue of their witness of faith, their disinterested service and their precious contribution to “the dialogue of life” with Muslims and Jews). (Recommendation No. 30 of Formation: Homilies are to be well prepared, based on the Word of God and linked to real life. It is important that formation includes learning about modern technology and communication science).
The Laity are invited to establish an authentic Christian life based on conscious religious practice and in the imitation of Christ. They are to inspire patience and draw strength from the cross, especially in difficult times that cause pain. The Synod Fathers look to the Christian family as a living cell of society and as a natural school of virtues and values. The family is the “Domus Ecclesia/Domestic Church) that teaches prayer and transmits the faith. This is why there is a serious commitment by the Church Fathers to preserve the family through pastoral care and support it and its members in good and in bad. (Recommendation No. 24 the Laity: The Second Vatican Ecumenical Council recognized the role and mission of the laity. The fathers want lay people to share in a greater degree of responsibility in the Church, encouraging them to be apostles in their workplace and to witness to Christ in the world in which they live). (Recommendation No. 35 the Family: Support the centers for marriage preparation, counseling and guidance centers, spiritual and human guidance of young families, and their on-going pastoral support).
The Synod blesses the activities of women and their contributions and looks forward to giving more responsibility to women in public life, recalling the leading role of women in education, in apostolic life, in service and in humanitarian issues. (Recommendation No. 27 Women and Children: foster and reinforce the respect, dignity, role and rights of women. Every effort must be made to safeguard and promote the respect of their natural human rights, and to provide them with healthcare and Christian education).
The Synod looks at the young people with love because the youth are the future of the Church, of society and of the nation. As the Synod shares its concerns, it invites them to maintain Christian values and to draft a life project through Christ’s loving care. (Recommendation No. 36 – The youth: building bridges of dialogue with the youth and benefit from their creativity and skills).
The Synod sends a note of appreciation to the officials working in the educational institutions and invites them to focus on the Christian spirit and the culture of living together and to care for the poor and for those with special needs. It also greatly values the activities of male and female workers in the social field who perform a social and developmental mission in the light of the teaching of the Church. As for prayer groups and apostolic movements, the Synod considers them schools that help increase the Christian faith in the family and in society, and often they result in many priestly and religious vocations. (Recommendation No. 17 New Ecclesial Movements: these movements are asked without delay to start working in union with the bishop and in solidarity with the spirituality of the local Church). (Recommendation No. 30 of Formation: the establishment of centers for Christian education, highlights the importance of on-going formation, and properly prepares catechists. The importance of the role of Catholic schools in providing religious education and social formation, which leads to mutual understanding of all members of society.
At the university level, we encourage the foundation of an association of institutions of higher education with particular attention to the social doctrine of the Church). (Recommendation No. 32 Catholic schools and Educational Institutions: to continue to be faithful to their mission in Christ’s spirit, in human and Gospel values. Promote a culture of openness, conviviality, care and concern for the poor and for those who suffer from disability. Adhere to educational mission of the Church and to further the development of competencies of young people). (Recommendation No. 38 Social Doctrine: the diffusion of the social doctrine of the Church, the formation of an Episcopal commission to prepare and propagate the Church’s social discourse, take care of the elderly, of immigrants and refugees with their many different social needs; and protect nature and the environment and call upon all men and women of good will to unite their efforts to safeguard creation).
While the Synod appreciates the role of the media, he calls upon them to continue to enlighten public opinion and nourish the faith and service Christian unity and the Christian presence in the Middle East, as well as reinforce interfaith dialogue and communication with immigrants around the world. The Synod addresses the issue of migration, which affects everyone regardless of their religion or their nationality, demanding Christians to remain steadfast and to preserve their land and property; for land is part of the identity and it is a common legacy which goes beyond the individual and private interests. The Synod Fathers call upon those who left their countries to continue to hold their homes and their churches in their hearts and to work for the development and growth of their original communities and to pray for them, visit and share with them in carrying their concerns and explore the future. The Synod does not forget as well immigrants to our countries and who need spiritual services but who also have humanitarian issues that must be pursued, especially if their rights and dignity are exposed to abuse. (Recommendation No. 33 and the media: the importance of new means of communication networks which hold out the promise of special opportunities for the spreading of the Church’s teaching. the synod fathers advocate the aid and maintenance of the existing structures in this area and to support the creation of a media city). (Recommendation No. 6 of the Land: Christians should not give in to the temptation to sell off their real estate, to help Christians retain possession of their lands or to acquire new ones, the creation of projects responsible for making them prosper, and running an in-depth examination of the meaning of the Christian presence and vocation in the Middle East). (Recommendation No. 10 Consolidating the presence of Christians: the establishment of an office or a committee to study the phenomenon of migration and of the factors behind it so as to find ways of stopping it. Plan and execute developmental projects to reduce migration). (Recommendation No. 12 of Emigration and Solidarity: To awaken and reinforce a sense of solidarity and of sharing with the country of origin, to remain faithful to the tradition of their origins, to strengthen bonds of communion between emigrants and the Churches in their native countries). (Recommendation No. 14 immigration to the Middle East: to respect the fundamental rights of immigrants and to assist them in the humanitarian and legal fields, and provide the spiritual help they need).
As for the relations with the Orthodox and Evangelical churches, the Synod confirms that the journey is one and that through our journey and common witness, we can fulfill the message that God has entrusted to us all. The Synod stresses the importance to continue the work of the Middle East Council of Churches and to activate its role and objective which offers a common witness to the faithful. The Synod offers thanks to the Ecumenical dialogue committees and highly appreciates the World Council of Churches and the various institutions working for unity. (Recommendation No. 28 of Ecumenism: Support Council of Churches of the Middle East. Provide our parishes, schools and seminaries with formation in an ecumenical spirit. Organize meetings of the faithful and pastors for prayer. Adopt a standard Arabic translation of the Our Father and the Nicene Creed, work for a common date for the celebrations of Christmas and Easter).
The Synod addresses the Jewish citizens and reminds them that the Bible, through its Old Testament, brings us together. The Synod calls on the Second Vatican Council declaration on the Church’s relations with non-Christian religions as a basis for dialogue with Judaism and Islam as well as other religions. The Synod hopes that the continued dialogue with Judaism would end the political conflict and bring about the commitment of both parties to make a sincere, just and everlasting peace. (Recommendation No. 9 of Peace: The implementation the resolutions of the United Nations concerning the region, particularly the return of refugees and the status of Jerusalem and the Holy Places). (Recommendation No. 40 Interreligious dialogue – quoted above). (Recommendation No. 41 Judaism – quoted above).
In its letter to the Moslems, the Synod reminds them that faith in the One God is common between Christians and Moslems who worship the One God, the Ever-Living, the Sustainer of existence, the merciful, and who spoke to the people.
The Synod calls upon the Muslim brothers to a common life, to a union in faith in loving our neighbor and to work together to build civil societies based on citizenship and freedom of religion and belief. For we all have mutual responsibility towards building nations, achieving justice and peace, and preserving human rights and common values. (Recommendation No. 40 of Interreligious dialogue) (Recommendation No. 42 Islam).
In his address to the governments and political leaders, the Synod emphasizes on their role and duty to maintain the public good and insinuates the importance of the principle of equal citizenship in society. The leaders are required to persevere in their endeavors to work for a just and lasting peace and the reduction of the arms race which would preserve all citizens in their respective countries and stop migration. (Recommendation No. 9 Peace).
The Synod also addresses the international community and United Nations for the achievement of just peace through the implementation of the Security Council Resolutions, and to actively work on ending the occupation in the various Arab countries. The Synod condemns violence and terrorism and resents all forms of fanaticism, anti-Semitism, anti-Christianism and Islam phobia. The Synod insists on the role and responsibility of religions in fostering dialogue among cultures and civilizations.
The Synod concludes in the letter, that it will continue to witness for Jesus Christ through our communion with the Father and with the Holy Spirit. The Synod states that its letter and its recommendations need to be examined in depth in order to be realized in every Church, and we must work together in ecumenical spirit for this purpose. (Recommendation No. 16: Communion within the Catholic Church).
In conclusion, the Synod Fathers submit this letter to the Most Holy Virgin Mary Mother of the Church and Queen of Peace, under which protection, the work of the Synod was confined, She continues to help us in this mission. Ending with the words of the Revelation: “Behold, I Make all things new.” (Revelation 5:21). (Recommendation No. 44 of the Virgin Mary: Aware of the special bonds which, by God’s design, unite us to the Mother of Jesus, we propose that our Churches come together and jointly entrust the entire Middle East to the protection of the Virgin Mary).
By Dr. Bernard Sabella, Jerusalem, 8 February 2011