An Iraqi Christian reads the Bible in Arabic at a refugee center in Amman, Jordan
BEIRUT (CNS) â€“ What is to become of Christianity in the Middle East? Can it survive in the region of its birth? And if so, what will be its role and character?
Catholic Church leaders are about to confront those questions in their Synod of Bishops for the Middle East, to be held at the Vatican Oct. 10-24.
The meeting â€œis an opportunity to revise the whole situation for Christians in the Middle East,â€ said Chaldean Archbishop Louis Sako of Kirkuk, Iraq, who asked the pope in 2008 to convene such a synod.
The synod is a pastoral and practical synod, and not a dogmatic one. The theme: â€œcommunion and witness.â€
â€œWe need it because our faithful are leaving their countries,â€ said Chaldean Auxiliary Bishop Shlemon Warduni of Baghdad. â€œIf we have peace and security, our people would not leave.â€
In Israel, Melkite Catholic Archbishop Elias Chacour of Haifa said he hopes the synod will â€œdefine the reason why we need to stay in this country, which is not very favorable to our presence.
â€œWhat reason is there for our presence here as Christians?â€ he asked. â€œTo propagate and introduce the value of reconciliation, which is not on the political agenda in this country?
â€œWe expect better understanding of our mission in this country, our role in the Catholic Church and more attention to our human presence than to that of the presence of the holy shrines.â€
â€œWe are hoping for very simple things,â€ the bishop said. â€œWe donâ€™t want miracles.â€
Catholicsâ€™ role in the Holy Land is recognized by the Holy See, but Archbishop Chacour said the faithful would like to see more consciousness of what they should do as a Christian minority.
Placed between two large majorities, Catholics are â€œfacing the challenge of meeting every day thousands of pilgrims who come not only to walk on the dirt and see artifacts but also to see what remains of Jesus Christ, the â€˜living stones,â€™â€ he said.
Archbishop Chacour said he would like to see Rome â€œencourage the local Christians here so they can really be aware of their role.â€
â€œWe need the Catholic communion to become more real,â€ he said.
Christian flight from the region is a major problem and the synod should try to solve it, said Msgr. Raphael Minassian, who administers the Armenian Catholic Exarchate of Jerusalem and Amman, Jordan.
â€œItâ€™s a matter of survival,â€ said Syrian Catholic Patriarch Ignace Joseph III Younan of Antioch. â€œWe canâ€™t just close our eyes and say we happen to be here and we have to continue.
â€œWe have to … try to convince the whole world, especially the developed world, that we canâ€™t accept just to endure or take our destiny so negatively, as in saying â€˜Itâ€™s the will of God, and thatâ€™s it.â€™
â€œWe have to fight for our human rights.â€