“What reason is there here for our presence?” synod’s fateful question for Mideast bishops

2010092946052.jpgAn Iraqi Christian reads the Bible in Arabic at a refugee center in Amman, Jordan
BEIRUT (CNS) – 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 “is an opportunity to revise the whole situation for Christians in the Middle East,” 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: “communion and witness.”

“We need it because our faithful are leaving their countries,” said Chaldean Auxiliary Bishop Shlemon Warduni of Baghdad. “If we have peace and security, our people would not leave.”

In Israel, Melkite Catholic Archbishop Elias Chacour of Haifa said he hopes the synod will “define the reason why we need to stay in this country, which is not very favorable to our presence.

“What reason is there for our presence here as Christians?” he asked. “To propagate and introduce the value of reconciliation, which is not on the political agenda in this country?

“We 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.”

“We are hoping for very simple things,” the bishop said. “We don’t want miracles.”

Catholics’ 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 “facing 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 ‘living stones,’” he said.

Archbishop Chacour said he would like to see Rome “encourage the local Christians here so they can really be aware of their role.”

“We need the Catholic communion to become more real,” 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.

“It’s a matter of survival,” said Syrian Catholic Patriarch Ignace Joseph III Younan of Antioch. “We can’t just close our eyes and say we happen to be here and we have to continue.

“We have to … try to convince the whole world, especially the developed world, that we can’t accept just to endure or take our destiny so negatively, as in saying ‘It’s the will of God, and that’s it.’

“We have to fight for our human rights.”