Reflection of the General Secretary of the Synod of Bishops
Archbishop Nikola Eterović

New Vigour to Christian Witness in the Middle East

On Monday morning, 11 October [2010], in the presence of the Holy Father, the First General Congregation of the Special Assembly for the Middle East took place in the Synod Hall. After the President Delegate, Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, had welcomed the Holy Father, Archbishop Nikola Eterović, General Secretary of the Synod of Bishops, gave a report in Italian. The following is a translation of his discourse.

Holy Father,
Your Eminences and Your Excellencies,
Dear Brothers and Sisters,

"Go from your country and your kindred and your father's house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing" (Gen 12:1, 2). Abram, born in Ur of the Chaldeans, heard these words addressed to him by God in Haran. He passed through the region and settled near the Oak of Moreh (cf. Gen 12:6). He then pitched his tent in Negeb (cf. Gen 12:9), went down into Egypt (cf. Gen 12: 10-20), returned to Negeb, went to Bethel (cf. Gen 13:1, 2) and then to the land of Canaan (cf. Gen 12:12), where he came and dwelt by the Oaks of Mamre, at Hebron (cf. Gen 13:18). God made a covenant with his servant Abram, who became Abraham, because he was given a special mission: "Behold, my covenant is with you, and you shall be the father of a multitude of nations. No longer shall your name be Abram, but your name shall be Abraham; for I have nade you the father of a multitude of nations" (Gen 17:4, 5). Knowing the faith and righteousness of Abram (cf. Gen 15:6), God made him a threefold promise: a son, a numerous people and land. The God of Israel will never fail, to keep his promise as moreover, St Paul attests (cf. Rom 9:1-11, 36).

"I am who I am!" (Ex 3:14), are the holy words of the Lord God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, who appeared on Mount Horeb in the burning bush which burnt but was not consumed. They were addressed to Moses to reveal his holy name and to entrust Moses with the mission of freeing his people from slavery in Egypt: "I have seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt, and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters; I know their sufferings.... Come, I will send you to Pharaoh that you may bring forth my people, the sons of Israel, out of Egypt" (Ex 3:7-10). Strong with the support of the God of the Fathers, Moses, surmounting numerous difficulties, guided the Jewish people through the Red Sea and the desert to the Promised Land. He could only see it from "Mount Nebo, which is in the land of Moab, opposite Jericho" (Dt 32:49), where he died and was buried "opposite Beth-pe'or" (Dt 34:6). Through Moses, his friend (cf. Ex 33:11), God established a covenant with the Chosen People on Mount Sinai. If the people will hear the voice of Yahweh and observe his law, they will be for him "a kingdom of priests and a holy nation" (Ex 19:6). God entrusted to the Chosen People the "Ten Words" [Decalogue], the Ten Commandments, which were the terms and basis of the covenant (cf. Ex 20-24).

"Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am" (Jn 8:58). In his discussion with the Jews in the temple of Jerusalem Jesus alluded to the divine name revealed to Moses (cf. Ex 33:14), implicitly declaring himself to be God, born in Bethlehem to save humanity (cf. Lk 1:4-4). "Your father Abraham rejoiced that he was to see my day; he saw it and was glad" (Jn 8:56). Jesus Christ, "Son of David, Son of Abraham" (Mt 1: 1), also makes his own the expression "Day of the Lord", which in the Old Testament was reserved for God alone, thereby designating himself as the true object of the promise made to Abraham and of the joy he experiences in the birth of his son, Isaac (cf. Gen 12:1-3).

After 30 years of hidden life in Nazareth, Jesus, as he preached throughout Galilee (cf. Mt 4:23) and went about "all the cities and villages" (Mt 9:35), had also to indicate his relationship to the great prophet, Moses. At the beginning of his public life, by the Sea of Tiberias, he called the disciples who were convinced that they had found "him of whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph" (Jn 1:45). Their conviction was confirmed on Mount Tabor, when "two men talked with him, Moses and Elijah, who appeared in glory and spoke of his departure, which he was to accomplish at Jerusalem" (Lk 9:30, 31). In his discussion with his fellow Jews in the temple of Jerusalem, Jesus again refers to the testimony of Moses: "If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote of me" (Jn 5:46). John the Evangelist sums up in the following words the different contribution of both in salvation history: "For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ" (Jn 1:17).

These brief citations from the Old and New Testaments show the importance of the biblical geography of the Middle East for all Christians and in particular for those who live in the Holy Land, the land which Jesus sanctified with his birth in Bethlehem, his flight into Egypt, his hidden life in Nazareth and his preaching in Galilee, Samaria and Judea, which was accompanied by signs and miracles and above all by his Passion, death and Resurrection in the holy city of Jerusalem. The memory of the history of salvation, which took place in the Middle East, lives on in the hearts of the inhabitants of the region and particularly of Christians. They are a continuation of the biblical peoples.

Through them the events that happened centuries ago remain alive, not only through the power of the Word of God, always living and effective (cf. Heb 4:12), but also through their vital link with this land that was sanctified by the special presence of God, who revealed himself in the fullness of time (cf. Heb 9:26) in his Only-Begotten Son, Jesus Christ. As these peoples of the Bible exist today, so too we may speak of Bishops of the Bible, with reference to the places where they exercise their pastoral activity.

There are many such Pastors at this Synodal Assembly which gathers all the Ordinaries of the 101 Ecclesiastical Circumscriptions of the Middle East, to whom I address a quite special greeting. We should add to these Pastors the 23 Ordinaries from the Diaspora who with their pastoral care accompany the faithful who have emigrated from the Middle East to various parts of the world.

In a certain way all Bishops are Bishops of the Bible. In addition to the Bishops of the biblical geography, there are also Bishops of biblical communion. The presence of representatives of all the five continents clearly shows the interest of Christians across the world in the Catholic Church on pilgrimage in the Middle East. To them should be added 19 Bishops from neighbouring countries or from countries particularly involved in the spiritual and material assistance of their brothers and sisters in the Holy Land.

The total number of Synod Fathers at this Special Assembly for the Middle East is 185, 159 of whom are participating ex officio, and 17 by Papal appointment. The Synod Fathers include nine Patriarchs, 19 Cardinals, 65 Archbishops, 10 Titular Archbishops, 53 Bishops, 21 Auxiliary Bishops, 87 religious, four of whom are elected by the Union of Superiors General. As for the offices they hold, nine are Heads of Synods of Bishops of the Eastern Catholic Churches sui iuris, five are Presidents of International Assemblies of Episcopal Conferences, six are Presidents of Episcopal Conferences, 14 are Heads of Dicasteries of the Roman Curia, one is a Coadjutor Archbishop, four are emeritus, two of whom are Cardinals, and then there is the Latin Patriarch emeritus of Jerusalem.

The Holy Land is dear to all Christians. I have the honour of extending a special greeting to the Fraternal Delegates of 13 Churches and Ecclesial Communities.

The Middle East is also home to our Jewish and Muslim brothers and sisters, because it is the place where these two monotheistic religions were born. I am therefore glad to announce that in the course of the Synod we shall have the joy of listening to presentations by a Rabbi and by two eminent representatives of Islam, a Sunni and a Shiite.

I also greet 36 experts and 34 Auditors, who willingly accepted their nomination and have come to enrich the reflection of the Synod with their witness and their rich pastoral experiences, which matured mainly in the Middle East. Included in this group are also several representatives of organizations which give practical help to the Churches in the region.

I am very grateful to the assistants, translators and technicians, as well as to the generous staff members of the General Secretariat of the Synod of Bishops, for their valuable assistance, fully aware that without their skill and generous efforts this Synodal gathering would not have been be possible.

This report is in five sections:

I) Cyprus: An inauguration in spirit of the Special Assembly;
II) Some statistical data;
III) The convocation of the Special Assembly for the Middle East;
IV) Preparations for the Special Assembly for the Middle East; and
V) Notes on methodology and procedures
VI) Conclusion

I) Cyprus: An inauguration in Spirit of the Special Assembly

Most Holy Father,

In the name of the Synod Fathers and of all the participants at this Synodal Assembly and in anticipation of the remarks to be given by Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, President-Delegate, Prefect of the Congregation for the Eastern Churches, I have the honour of expressing once again my cordial greeting and thanks to him for convoking this Synodal Assembly and for launching it in spirit at Nicosia, Cyprus, during your Apostolic Visit from 4 to 7 June 2010.

The Special Assembly for the Middle East was not planned long in advance. Holy Father, you accepted with exemplary promptness the proposal of various Bishops from the Middle East to summon them to Rome to listen to their joys and sorrows, their hopes and anxieties for Christians and for all people of good will in the Middle East, an especially important region for the Church and for the whole world. Your Holiness, this is the Fourth Synodal Assembly to be held in the five years of your Pontificate. The Venerable Servant of God Pope John Paul II once said that given the number of Synods at which he had presided, he would be remembered as the Pope of the Synods, the "Synodal Pope".1 Your Holiness, it seems that you might be following a similar path in your concern as Bishop of Rome, in communion with your Brother Bishops in the Episcopate and at the service of the faithful entrusted to their pastoral care.

In your Pontificate, Your Holiness, you have already visited the Middle East three times. Your First Apostolic Visit (28 November – 1 December 2006) was to Turkey. We still have vivid memories of your Pilgrimage to Jordan, Israel and Palestine (8 – 15 May 2009). The high point of your above-mentioned Visit to Cyprus was the consignment of the Instrumentum Laboris to the Catholic Bishops of the Middle East, represented by seven Patriarchs and by the President of the Bishops' Conference of Iran. Unfortunately, Bishop Luigi Padovese, OFM cap, Apostolic Vicar of Anatolia and President of the Bishops' Conference of Turkey was absent; he had been brutally killed on the eve of the Papal Visit. During the consignment of the Instrumentum Laboris, Your Holiness spoke of him with affection, expressing your gratitude for his contribution to drafting the Documents in preparation for the Synod, the Lineamenta and the Instrumentum Laboris. We pray the Lord to welcome his faithful servant into his Kingdom of life, happiness and peace, so that from Heaven he may intercede for the success of this Synodal Assembly. May his sacrifice open new paths of mutual understanding and collaboration in respect for religious freedom in all the countries of the Middle East and of the world. At the same time, we pray that those who were involved in his tragic death will have a change of heart.

At the presentation of the Instrumentum Laboris, Your Holiness drew attention to the biblical motto of the Synodal Assembly: "Now the company of those who believed were of one heart and soul" (Acts 4:32), stressing the timeliness of communion and witness in the Christian life. You then summed up in two points the purpose of our gathering: 1) "to deepen the bonds of communion between the members of your local Churches, as well as the communion of the Churches themselves with each other and with the universal Church"; and 2) "to encourage you in the witness of faith in Christ that you are bearing in the countries where this faith was born and developed".2 As well as these main goals, the Special Assembly for the Middle East was also convoked for other reasons. It is a propitious opportunity, "for Christians in the rest of the world to offer spiritual support and solidarity to their brothers and sisters in the Middle East"3 and above all to those who are enduring great trials as a result of the difficulties in the region today.

Furthermore, the Special Assembly affords an opportunity to "bring out the important value of the presence and witness of Christians in the countries of the Bible, not only for the Christian community on a global scale but also for your neighbours and your fellow-citizens".4 Christians, who have lived in the Middle East for almost 2,000 years, want to live in peace and harmony with their Jewish and Muslim neighbours. Christians deserve recognition for the invaluable role they play, frequently "as peacemakers in the difficult process of reconciliation".5 Consequently, all their rights should always be respected, including those of freedom of worship and of religion.

II) Some statistical data

Let us thank the good and merciful Lord together for the abundant gifts which the Church in the Middle East has received in the almost 2,000 years of her existence. The Lord Jesus' disciples, often in adverse circumstances, bore witness to a living faith, an ardent hope and fruitful charity, even to the point of martyrdom. Thanks to the help of the Holy Spirit, the continuous presence of Christians in the Holy Land is also an effective cause for hope, for their present situation and for their future in this important region. The Holy Land is their native land, their homeland to whose construction in democratic and prosperous States they desire to make a precious and unique contribution, willing to collaborate with all peoples of good will and especially with the faithful of Judaism and of Islam.

In this regard, it would seem useful to provide some statistics on the Middle East. In the preparatory Documents of the Synodal Assembly, namely the Lineamenta and the Instrumentum Laboris, the name "Middle East" means, in addition to Jerusalem and the Palestinian Territories, the following 16 States: Bahrain, Cyprus, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates and Yemen.

This vast region covers more than 7,180,912 square kilometres. The tables given here show that 356,174,000 people live in the Middle East, including 5,707,000 Catholics, who account for 1.6% of the population. This information comes from the most recent edition (2010) of the Annuarium Statisticum Ecclesiae 2008. But it was not easy to obtain reliable data on the number of Christians in the Middle East. The approximate number of Christians is 20,101,866, that is, 5.9% of the population. The information, even if approximate, gives some idea of the presence of the Christian minority in a predominatly Muslim region, with the exception of Israel, where Jews account for 75.6% of the population, Muslims, 16.7%, Christians, 2.1%, Druse, 1.6% and others, 4%.6

The Catholic Presence in Middle Eastern Countries
Source: Annuarium Statisticum Ecclesiae
Countries
Surface area
(km2)
1980
Catholics
Population  
%
Cyprus
9,251
630,000
8,000
1.27
Egypt
1,1001,449
41,990,000
158,000
0.38
Jordan
89,324
3,190,000
76,000
2.38
Iran
1,648,195
37,450,000
19,000
0.05
Iraq
438,317
13,080,000
378,000
2.89
Israel
20,770
3,870,000
147,000
3.80
Lebanon
10,400
3,160,000
1,215,000
38.45
Syria
185,180
8,980,000
227,000
2.53
Turkey
774,815
44,920,000
17,000
0.04
TOTAL
4,177,701
157,270,000
2,245,000
1.43
Saudi Arabia
2,149,690
8,370,000
135,000
1.61
Bahrain
678
350,000
6,000
1.71
United Arab Emirates
83,600
800,000
25,000
3.13
Kuwait
17,818
1,360,000
49,000
3.60
Oman
212,457
890,000
4,000
0.45
Qatar
11,000
220,000
5,000
2.27
Yemen
527,968
7,900,000
2,500
0.03
TOTAL
3,003,211
19,890,000
226,500
1.14
GRAND TOTAL
7,180,912
177,160,000
2,471,500
1.40

The Catholic Presence in Middle Eastern Countries
Source: Annuarium Statisticum Ecclesiae
Countries
Surface area
(km2)
1997
Catholics
Population  
%
Cyprus
9,251
770,000
17,000
2.21
Egypt
1,1001,449
62,010,000
218,000
0.35
Jordan
89,324
5,770,000
71,000
1.23
Iran
1,648,195
60,690,000
12,000
0.02
Iraq
438,317
21,180,000
275,000
1.30
Israel
20,770
5,830,000
106,000
1.82
Lebanon
10,400
3,140,000
1,967,000
62.64
Syria
185,180
14,950,000
309,000
2.07
Turkey
774,815
63,750,000
32,000
0.05
TOTAL
4,177,701
238,090,000
3,007,000
1.26
Saudi Arabia
2,149,690
19,490,000
641,000
3.29
Bahrain
678
620,000
30,000
4.84
United Arab Emirates
83,600
2,580,000
155,000
6.01
Kuwait
17,818
1,810,000
156,000
8.62
Oman
212,457
2,400,000
52,000
2.17
Qatar
11,000
570,000
60,000
10.53
Yemen
527,968
16,480,000
3,000
0.02
TOTAL
3,003,211
43,950,000
1,097,000
2.50
GRAND TOTAL
7,180,912
282,040,000
4,104,000
1.46

The Catholic Presence in Middle Eastern Countries
Source: Annuarium Statisticum Ecclesiae
Countries
Surface area
(km2)
2006
Catholics
Population  
%
Cyprus
9,251
791,000
17,000
2.15
Egypt
1,1001,449
75,510,000
197,000
0.26
Jordan
89,324
5,600,000
79,000
1.41
Iran
1,648,195
70,600,000
17,000
0.02
Iraq
438,317
28,810,000
304,000
1.06
Israel
20,770
7,050,000
128,000
1.82
Lebanon
10,400
3,817,000
1,836,000
48.10
Syria
185,180
18,870,000
401,000
2.13
Turkey
774,815
72,970,000
32,000
0.04
TOTAL
4,177,701
284,018,000
3,011,000
1.06
Saudi Arabia
2,149,690
23,680,000
900,000
3.80
Bahrain
678
757,000
41,000
5.42
United Arab Emirates
83,600
4,006,000
459,000
11.46
Kuwait
17,818
2,532,000
300,000
11.85
Oman
212,457
2,580,000
72,000
2.79
Qatar
11,000
679,000
64,000
9.43
Yemen
527,968
22,282,000
6,000
0.03
TOTAL
3,003,211
56,516,000
1,842,500
3.26
GRAND TOTAL
7,180,912
350,534,000
4,853,500
1.43

The Catholic Presence in Middle Eastern Countries
Source: Annuarium Statisticum Ecclesiae
Countries
Surface area
(km2)
2008
Catholics
Population  
%
Cyprus
9,251
794,000
25,000
3.15
Egypt
1,1001,449
79,100,000
196,000
0.25
Jordan
89,324
5,850,000
109,000
1.86
Iran
1,648,195
72,580,000
19,000
0.03
Iraq
438,317
32,150,000
301,000
0.94
Israel
20,770
7,300,000
133,000
1.82
Lebanon
10,400
3,921,000
2,030,000
51.77
Syria
185,180
19,640,000
428,000
2.18
Turkey
774,815
74,840,000
37,000
0.05
TOTAL
4,177,701
296,175,000
3,278,000
1.11
Saudi Arabia
2,149,690
24,810,000
1,250,000
5.04
Bahrain
678
1,201,000
65,000
5.41
United Arab Emirates
83,600
4,770,000
580,000
12.16
Kuwait
17,818
2,682,000
300,000
11.19
Oman
212,457
2,795,000
120,000
4.29
Qatar
11,000
1,541,000
110,000
7.14
Yemen
527,968
22,200,000
4,000
0.02
TOTAL
3,003,211
59,999,000
2,429,000
4.05
GRAND TOTAL
7,180,912
356,174,000
5,707,000
1.60

The table shows two regions of the Middle East. The first region is where Christians have traditionally been present, and which, unfortunately, is displaying a significant downturn, even in comparison with the data from 1980. This is not so much in the number of Catholics as rather in the percentage of Catholics in the respective countries. The number of Catholics has not followed the demographic growth of the inhabitants. The second group represents countries where the Christian presence has considerably increased in the past 10 years, thanks to the many faithful who, in search of work and better living conditions, have come to live here temporarily. Thanks be to God, there is an opposite trend in these countries, given that Catholics are increasing both in number and in percentage. This is one of the signs of the times that the whole Church and the Pastors of the Church in the Middle East must properly evaluate, giving thanks to God who can write even in unexpected ways and times the history of the world's salvation.

In his discourse in Nicosia on the occasion of the consignment of the Instrumentum Laboris, the Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI pointed out the considerable contribution of Christians to the integral development of the countries in which they live: "You contribute in countless ways to the common good, for example through education, care of the sick and social assistance and you work to build society".7

Some of the data available clearly confirms the affirmation of the Bishop of Rome said on his Apostolic Visit to Jordan, 9 May 2009, when he blessed the foundation stone of the University of Madaba in the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem. In the Middle East the Catholic Church runs 686 nursery schools with 92,661 pupils, 869 primary schools with 343,705 pupils and 548 middle schools with 183,995 pupils. There are also 13 institutes for advanced studies, including four universities. As for the number of students, 2,443 attend institutes for advanced studies; 1,654 are involved in ecclesiastical studies and 34,506 study other university subjects.8 It is useful to remember these schools are not only attended by Catholics and Christians but are open to students who belong to other religions, and in particular to Muslims. This is a practical and effective way in which the Church contributes to the education of youth, the hope of the Church and of society.

The Catholic Church is also in the front line in the apostolate of charity with regard to sick, elderly, disabled and poor people. In the Middle East the Church has 544 Catholic healthcare structures: 76 hospitals and nursing homes, 113 health-care institutions for the elderly, 331 health-care centres and dispensaries, 24 health-care facilities for the disabled and rehabilitation centres managed by various institutes of consecrated life. These institutions are also open to other Christians, Muslims and all persons in need.

Many initiatives to help our neediest brethren are operated by Caritas organizations of the MONA region (Middle East, Horn of Africa, North Africa).

Valuable assistance is offered to our brothers and sisters in the Middle East by the Sovereign Military Order of Malta, by the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem and, especially, by the Congregation for the Eastern Churches which coordinates assistance through various organizations, including the Assembly of Organizations for Aid to the Eastern Churches (ROACO)

III) Convocation of the Special Assembly for the Middle East

On 19 September 2009, during his meeting with the Patriarchs and Major Archbishops of the Eastern Catholic Churches sui iuris, the Holy Father, Pope Benedict announced his decision to convoke the Special Assembly for the Middle East of the Synod of Bishops.

The idea of convoking this Synodal Assembly arose from two pastoral concerns. On the one hand, various Bishops, mainly from the more troubled regions in the Middle East, such as, for example, Iraq, asked the Holy Father to gather the Bishops of the region to listen personally to what they had to say about the often dramatic situation of the faithful entrusted to their pastoral care, and, with the grace of the Holy Spirit and in episcopal communion, to identify possible ways to improve the situation, starting with communion within the Churches and with the communion of these Churchesamong themselves. This desire of Pastors in grave adversity was also championed by several Cardinals and Prelates of the Roman Curia who have frequent contacts, institutional and personal, with the Pastors and Christians of the Holy Land.

On the other hand, during his Apostolic Visits to Turkey and later to Jordan, Israel and Palestine, the Holy Father saw with his own eyes and personally experienced the joys and sorrows of the various local Churches. Thus the accepted the Bishops' desire not to feel isolated and their wish to strengthen their bonds of communion with the universal Church through the Bishop of Rome, who presides over the Church in charity. Moreover, the announcement of the convocation of the Synodal Assembly was made in the atmosphere of the Pope's deep communion with the Heads of the Eastern Catholic Churches sui iuris, whom he received at Castel Gandolfo. This important gesture, a fraternal encounter and agape, was also prompted by your wish, Your Holiness "to listen to the voices of the Churches you serve with admirable self-denial and to reinforce the bonds of communion that bind them to the Apostolic See".9 Moreover, Holy Father, you expressed your wish to "encourage the Synodality so dear to Eastern ecclesiology and acknowledged with appreciation by the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council".10 Then recalling the Appeal for peace presented to you by the Patriarchs during the 12th Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops on the Word/ of God, you turned your thoughts primarily to the suffering regions of the Middle East. In this context you announced the Special Assembly for the Middle East of the Synod of Bishops, entrusting the results to the maternal intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary, so deeply honoured in the venerable Eastern Catholic Churches, as well as by our brothers and sisters of other Christian Churches.

IV) Preparations for the Special Assembly for the Middle East

At the Audience granted to me on 13 June 2009, the Holy Father Benedict spoke of the convocation of a Special Assembly for the Middle East of the Synod of Bishops. To examine the matter properly, he was willing to hold a study meeting at the General Secretariat on 8 July 2009. Taking part in this meeting were the heads of the four Dicasteries of the Roman Curia that are more frequently in touch with the Eastern Churches: the Prefects of the Congregation for Eastern Churches and of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, and the Presidents of the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of Christian Unity and of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue. Representatives from the Section for Relations with States of the Secretariat of State were also present. After an exchange of information on the situation of the Church and society in the region, the proposals of a convocation of the Special Assembly for the Middle East, of the possible themes for the Assembly, of the number of participants and of the date of its celebration were analyzed. Emphasis was placed on the need to set up a Pre-Synodal Council for the Middle East to prepare the respective Documents.

At the Papal Audience granted to me on 7 September, I presented to the Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI the results of the above-mentioned meeting for study. After mature reflection, His Holiness made known his decision to convoke the Special Assembly for the Middle East from to to 24 October 2010 to treat the topic: The Catholic Church in the Middle East: Communion and Witness. "Now the company of those who believed were of one heart and soul" (Acts 4:32). As mentioned above, the announcement of this important event was made personally by the Holy Father himself on 19 September 2009. His Holiness also established that the members of the Pre-Synodal Council for the Middle East would include all seven Patriarchs, namely, six of the Eastern Catholic Churches sui iuris and the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem as well as the two Presidents of the Bishops' Conferences of Turkey and of Iran.

Given the relatively short time for the preparation of this Synodal Assembly, the General Secretariat organized the first meeting of the Pre-Synodal Council for the Middle East from 21 to 22 September 2009, immediately after the Holy Father's meeting with the Patriarchs and Major Archbishops.

The purpose of this meeting was to prepare the Lineamenta, the document of reflection on the theme of the Synodal Assembly. After an ample exchange of opinions on the complex situation in the Middle East, the Council members agreed on an outline for the Lineamenta with precise instructions for its content.

At the meeting from 24 to 25 November 2009, the members of the Pre-Synodal Council examined the draft of the Lineamenta. Strengthened by their pastoral experience in the individual countries of the Middle East, they made various modifications that were later inserted into the text. The document was then sent by electronic mail to the Council members for their final approval; they were asked to submit any further suggestions by the end of November. After examining their comments, the General Secretariat of the Synod of Bishops finalized the Document that was translated into four languages: Arabic, French, Italian and English.

On 19 January 2010, Archbishop Nikola Eterović, General Secretary of the Synod of Bishops, and Mons. Fortunato Frezza, Undersecretary, presented the Lineamenta, dated 8 December 2009 at the Holy See Press Office. The document was widely distributed and was also posted on the internet at the Vatican website, under the General Secretariat of the Synod of Bishops.
The Eastern Catholic Churches sui iuris, the Bishops' Conferences, the Dicasteries of the Roman Curia, the Union of Superiors General and the other institutions concerned had until Easter 2010 — providentially observed by all Christians of every tradition on 4 April — to submit to the General Secretariat of the Synod of Bishops their answers to the Questionnaire of theLineamenta. The answers would serve in drafting the Instrumentum Laboris, the "working document" for the Special Assembly for the Middle East of the Synod of Bishops.

Instrumentum Laboris

Despite the limited time available to examine the Lineamenta, the percentage of responses was very satisfactory. They were divided into various categories according to the institutions with which the General Secretariat of the Synod of Bishops maintains official relations.

Institutions n. — Responses (%)
Eastern Catholic Churches sui iuris 6 – 6 (100%)
Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem 1 – 1(100%)
Bishops' Conferences 3 – 3 (100%)
Dicasteries of the Roman Curia 2611 – 14 (56%)
Union of Superiors General 1 – 1 (100%)

The General Secretariat of the Synod of Bishops also received comments from various institutes for advanced studies, universities, religious communities and lay groups and from individual lay people, all of whom have at heart the present and future of the Catholic Church in the Middle East.

The Pre-Synodal Council for the Middle East met on 23 and 24 April 2010 to examine the answers received by the General Secretariat of the Synod of Bishops. They were incorporated in a draft document compiled by the General Secretariat with the help of several experts. It essentially maintained the structure of the Lineamenta, thereby facilitating the Council's task of examining the document. Respecting the input from the above-mentioned episcopal bodies in each country, the Pre-Synodal Council members enriched the draft with the individual contributions resulting from their fruitful pastoral experiences, providing valid indications for the completion of the text by the General Secretariat. The Document was then sent by electronic mail to the members of the Pre-Synodal Council with the request that they submit any further observations by 15 May 2010. After incorporating these recommendations, the Document was finalized and translated into the four languages: Arabic, French, Italian and English.

On 7 June 2010, in Nicosia, Cyprus, the Holy Father was kind enough to present it personally to the members of the Pre-Synodal Council, representing the whole Episcopate of the Middle East.
After the presentation of the Instrumentum Laboris by the Holy Father, who again expressed deep gratitude to the Council members, the document was widely distributed by the General Secretariat of the Synod of Bishops, using, among other means, its own web-page on the Vatican website.

Appointment of the Presidency of the Synodal Assembly

On 24 April 2010, the Supreme Pontiff, Pope Benedict appointed the members of the Presidency of the Special Assembly for the Middle East:

Two Presidents Delegate ad honorem: H.B. Cardinal Nasrallah Pierre Sfeir, Patriarch of Antioch for Maronites, Lebanon; and H.B. Cardinal Emmanuel II Delly, Patriarch of Babylon for Chaldeans, Iraq.

Two Presidents Delegate: Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, Prefect of the Congregation for the Eastern Churches; and H.B. Ignace Youssif II Younan, Patriarch of Antioch for Syrians, Lebanon.

General Relator: H.B. Antonios Naguib, Patriarch of Alexandria for Copts, Egypt.

Special Secretary: Archbishop Joseph Soueif, Archbishop of Cyprus for Maronites, Cyprus.12

V) Observations on Methodology

The Synod of Bishops is the privileged place of Episcopal communion. Bishops at a Synod strengthen the bonds of effective and affective communion with each other and with the Roman Pontiff This is not only a sentiment, however noble, but an ecclesial reality which requires an assiduous presence, patient listening, great openness, attention to one's neighbour, consideration for the needs of others, collaboration with one's brethren and sacrifice for the good of all. I am sure that with such a spirit of ecclesial service, every Synod Father will be ready to accept and fulfil the task that will be entrusted to him, by election, appointment or designation, each one making his own contribution to the success of the Synodal Assembly. In order that the greatest possible number of Synod Fathers play an active role for the whole Assembly, it is warmly recommended that each one exercise only one office.

At the Audience I was granted on 26 March 2010, the Holy Father, Benedict approved the criteria for participation in this Synod Assembly.. It had been agreed by the Pre-Synodal Council for the Middle East of the General Secretariat of the Synod of Bishops at its meeting on 24 and 25 November 2009. After receiving the Supreme Pontiffs approval, these criteria were communicated to the Patriarchs of the Eastern Catholic Churches sui iuris and to the presidents of the Bishops' Conferences of the region.

In accordance with the Holy Father's decision, all the active Bishops in the Middle East, Ordinaries and Auxiliaries and those with equivalent responsibility, were to take part as ex officio members of the Synod. This group includes Cardinals, regardless of their age, and heads of the major Eastern Catholic Churches sui iuris. Bishops of the respective Eastern Churches in the Diaspora were also entitled to participate.

The Holy Father then approved that the countries of North East Africa should be represented by one Bishops. In addition, His Holiness arranged that the Presidents of the Bishops' Conferences of the five continents take part in the Synodal Assembly. Their presence is a sign of the closeness of the world's Bishops to their brother Bishcountries that welcome members of the faithful who come from the Middle East and that offer the Catholic Church in the region considerable help, both with the work of missionaries and with financial resources. In conformity with the norms of the Ordo Synodi Episcoporum, the Holy Father then completed the number of Synod Fathers with appointments of his own.

The Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI willingly accepted the proposal of the Pre-Synodal Council to invite a large number of Auditors, men and women involved in evangelization and human promotion in the Middle East. Their presence and comments will make possible a broad vision of life in the Church and in society in the region, also from the viewpoint of lay people. A large number of Experts are also present to assist the Special Secretary and the General Relator during the Synod with their training and experience.

Synod methodology has not undergone great changes in comparison with the procedures adopted for the recent Synods at which the Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI has presided. Nevertheless, it might be useful to recall some important points:

1) Each Synod Father is strongly advised to read attentively the Vademecum he has received. Following the norms of the Apostolic Letter Apostolica Sollicitudo and the Ordo Synodi Episcoporum, as well as Synod practices over the years, this document describes in detail the way to proceed at this Synodal Assembly.

2) The Vademecum is printed in four languages: Arabic, French, Italian and English, whereas for convenience the Kalendarium, [work schedule], is in Latin, still the official language of the Synod of Bishops. It shows that there are 14 General Congregations and six meetings of the circuli minores (small groups);

3) To maximise participation during this Assembly, each Synod Father will be able to speak in the Synod Hall for five minutes. It is hoped that as many Synod Fathers as possible will be able to speak. In any case every Synod Father may submit his intervention in writing; it will be examined with full consideration and taken into account when the Propositiones and Documents are drafted.

4) To encourage a thorough examination of the topics on the agenda, at the end of General Congregations in the afternoon, from 6:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. there will be an hour of open discussion. The Synod Fathers who ask for the floor may speak for no more than three minutes;

In this regard, may I be permitted to make two observations. During the open discussion, it is important to focus on the topic of the Synod: "The Catholic Church in the Middle East: Communion and Witness". This is a very significant subject, rich in content, that requires thorough examination from various ecclesial perspectives and must be expressed in pastoral initiatives. The Presidents Delegate are therefore requested to ensure that the discussion does not stray from the established theme. It is also appropriate that during the open discussion the Fathers speak and do not read a text. They should do so likewise in the case of their official interventions at the General Congregations. They may have notes but speeches that are given directly, not read out, and with spontaneous remarks are preferable, even if their formulation is less than perfect;

5) To avoid the unnecessary repetition of topics, I have asked the Patriarchs of the Eastern Catholic Churches to agree upon the subjects of the individual members' presentations so that the position of the respective Synod of Bishops of each Church sui iuris may be faithfully presented, in its entirety and with a rich variety of topics. The General Secretariat will ensure that the voices of all the Eastern Catholic Church are heard, including those with fewer Bishops. To ensure an orderly presentation of the interventions, the Synod Fathers should request the floor as soon as possible. Moreover, since the Synodal Assembly lasts for two weeks, only the first week is reserved for the interventions of the Synod Fathers in this Hall.

6) The Synod Fathers are cordially asked to make summaries of their interventions. These summaries are normally published. If, for some reason, someone does not wish his summary to be published, he should notify the General Secretariat. This is also the case for the texts in scriptis that may always be submitted to the General Secretariat.

7) The General Secretariat has arranged for simultaneous translations in the four official languages of the Synodal Assembly: Arabic, English, French and Italian. Interventions during the Synod may be made in any of these languages.

8) The Propositiones may also be drafted in these four languages. It is strongly recommended that each proposal be concise and treat one subject only. Keeping in mind the doctrine of the Church which it is not necessary to repeat, Synod Fathers should rather make recommendations which aim at deepening ecclesial communion and reviving Christian witness in the Middle East for the good of the Catholic Church.

9) To encourage greater communion among the Synod Fathers, the three circuli minores will be in three languages: Arabic, French and English. You will shortly receive the list of members for each language-group, usually formed in accordance with what you said about your knowledge of languages. It is only possible to change from one group to another for a serious reason and in agreement with the General Secretary.

10) Electronic equipment will be used during this Assembly to facilitate the Synod's work. The Vademecum provides specific instructions for its use. If necessary, the Synod Fathers should help each other, particularly in the first days, by showing their neighbour how to use the equipment. In anycase, technicians are present in the Synod Hall whose assistance may be requested. It is important that each Synod Father occupy the seat assigned to him according to precedence, since each seat is linked to a given number in the electronic voting system. Among other things, this electronic equipment will be used for the roll-call each day. Various elections and voting will make use of the device available to you.

11) It is now customary to invite several Fraternal Delegates, representatives of other Churches and Ecclesial Communities. Their participation in this Synodal Assembly is particularly significant, given their presence in the Holy Land and in the Middle East. They will be able to address the Assembly and take part in work of the small groups. Christians everywhere, but especially in the Land of Jesus, are called to continue on the path that will lead to the full unity of all who believe in the Lord Jesus and who have received the Holy Spirit, to glorify with their words and above all with their deeds Our Father, who is in Heaven.

12) In the course of the Synod's work, three especially invited guests are also expected: Rabbi David Rosen, Director of the Department for Interreligious Affairs of the American Jewish Committee and Heilbrunn Institute for International Interreligious Understanding, Israel; and two Muslim representatives: Muhammad al-Sammak, Political Counsellor of the Grand Mufti of Lebanon, a Sunni, and Ayatollah Seyed Mostafa Mohaghegh Ahmadabadi, Ph.D., Professor in the Law Department of Shahid Beheshti University, Tehran, and Member of the Iranian Academy of Science, a Shiite.

We are grateful that these three guests have accepted the Holy Father's invitation to take part in this Synodal Assembly. This is a significant gesture that reaffirms the Catholic Church's determination to continue the dialogue with Judaism, with which she shares most of the Old Testament books. The presence of two distinguished Muslims also represents the Church's desire to proceed in the vital dialogue between Christians and the world of Islam for the good of the faithful of the respective religions and also for all the inhabitants of the Middle East and of the whole world.

VI) Conclusion

"Go into all the world and preach the Gospel to the whole creation" (Mk 16:15). These words were spoken by the Risen Lord in Jerusalem, before he ascended into Heaven to be seated at
the right hand of the Father (cf. Mk 16:19). The Teacher assured his disciples "and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age" (Mt 28:20). Therefore, the Lord accompanied the dissemination of the Gospel, which began in the Holy Land and was extended to the entire world: "And they went forth and preached everywhere, while the Lord worked with them and confirmed the message by the signs that attended it" (Mk 16:20). The proclamation of the Good News presupposes two essential aspects: communion and witness, which have been connatural to Christianity from the very first. Jesus Christ had chosen the Twelve Apostles (cf. Mt 10:1-4; Mk 13:13-19; Lk 6:13-16), forming the nucleus of the Church. Subsequently Jesus designated another 72 disciples, sending them "two by two, into every town and place where he himself was about to come" (Lk 10:1). Among his disciples, whose number grew steadily, were "also some women who had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities..., who provided for them out of their means" (Lk 8:2, 3). In their many vocations and the tasks entrusted to them, all were dedicated to living the ideal of the Christian life: "Now the company of those who believed were of one heart and soul" (Acts 4:32). At the same time, the Lord, before ascending into Heaven, said to his disciples: "you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the end of the earth" (Acts 1:8).

The Word of the Lord Jesus was put into practice, as witnessed in the mission of the Apostles in the then-known world. It suffices to remember the missions of the Apostles in the then known world, their witness, even to the point of martyrdom, as well as the foundation of the first Christian communities, in accordance with the Gospel ideal of "one heart and soul" (Acts 4:32).

Being in Rome, it is only right to recall with gratitude the example of Sts Peter and Paul who, leaving their homeland, brought the Gospel to the centre of the Roman Empire and ended their preaching with martyrdom, the supreme expression of Christian witness. Since that time a flourishing Christian community has existed in Rome, headed by its own Bishop who, through divine providence, presides in charity over the whole Church.

Pope Benedict XVI, the 264th Successor of the Apostle Peter, and likewise of the Apostolic heritage of Paul, extends a cordial welcome to his Brother Bishops who have come to Rome from the Holy Land to present to him personally the situation of the Catholic church in the Middle East. they have come to deepen the sense of Catholic communion, mindful too of its ecumenical dimension, and to revive Christian witness. Under the wise guidance of His Holiness, Pope Benedict XVI, these proposals will certainly be implemented. At the same time, the Synod Fathers of the Middle East are very grateful to the Holy Father for his constant support — of which this Synodal Assembly is a privileged expression — and for his tireless efforts to seek just and lasting solutions to the serious problems of the region and, above all, the advent of peace in justice.

They are also grateful to the Supreme Pontiff because, with the Petrine charism, he will help the Bishops of the Middle East to achieve this Synodal Assembly's goal. It is to be hoped that on their return from Rome at the end of the Synod the Pastors of the praiseworthy Eastern Catholic Churches and also the Church of Latin tradition will be able to glorify God for a renewed sense of communion and for fresh vigour in Christian witness in the environments in which they live and in their contacts, not only with Christians but also with the members of other religious denominations, especially Jews and Muslims.

For this hope to come true, let us invoke the intercession of all the Saints of the region, in particular the numerous martyrs of the Holy Land, and, above all, the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God and Mother of the Church. She will not fail to watch over the beloved Catholic Church in the land where she lived and collaborated in the fulfilment of the sublime mystery of the Incarnation and of the redemption of the human being and of humanity. In inviting us: "do whatever he tells you" an 2:5), she urges us not to put our trust in our own strength and plans but rather in the promise: "Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom" (Lk 12:32).

Thank you for your patient listening. May the grace of the Holy Spirit guide us in our work at the Synod.

NOTES:

1 John Paul II, Address to the Members of the Federation of Asian Bishops' Conferences — FABC (15 January 1995), L'Osservatore Romano, Weekly Edition in English, 24 January 1995, p. 6.
2 Benedict XVI, Ad Patriarchas et Archiepiscopos Maiores Orientates: AAS 101 (2009) 858.
3 Ibid.
4 Ibid.
5 Ibid.
6 Cf. Calendario Atlante De Agostini 2010, Istituto Geografico De Agostini, Piotello (MI) 2009, p. 678.
7 Benedict XVI, Discourse at the Presentation of the Instrumentum Laboris of the Special Assembly for the Middle East of the Synod of Bishops (6 June 2010), Nicosia, Cyprus; L'Osservatore Romano Weekly Edition in English, 9 June 2010, p. 53
8 The Statistics are taken from the Annuarium Statisticum Ecclesiae 2008, Vatican City 2010, pp. 281, 285-287.
9 Benedict XVI, Ad Patriarchas et Archiepiscopos Maiores Orientales: AAS 101 (2009) 858.
10 Ibid.
11 Athough the Lineamenta was sent to all 26 Dicasteries, the answers came from those that follow more closely the ecclesial situation in the Middle East and whose Heads take part in the Synodal Assemblies.
12 Cf. L'Osservatore Romano Weekly Edition in English, 5 May 2010, p. 4.


Taken from:
L'Osservatore Romano
Weekly Edition in English
20 October 2010, page 7

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