At synod Mass, pope urges new pastoral energy for Middle East churches

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Pope Benedict XVI opened the Synod of Bishops for the Middle East with a strong call to support the minority Christian population in the region, and said peace and protection of human rights were essential conditions for the church’s survival there. Celebrating Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica Oct. 10 with more than 250 synod participants, the pope said the Middle East has a unique place in salvation history as the “cradle” of the church’s worldwide evangelizing mission. The synod’s primary goal, he said, was to renew the pastoral energy of Middle Eastern church communities and strengthen their faith identity, so that they can continue to witness the Gospel to all peoples. That task, he added, goes hand in hand with the church’s dialogue with Muslims and Jews. The Mass featured liturgical elements from many of the Catholic rites of the Middle East, as well as prayers in Latin. It began with a long procession of 177 synod fathers, many of whom wore the distinctive vestments and headgear of their Eastern rites. Prayers of the faithful were recited in English, Arabic, Turkish, Hebrew and Farsi, invoking the need for peace, the promotion of tolerance and the Christian duty to evangelize through example. The Eucharistic liturgy featured a hymn in Arabic and Syriac, sung by an inter-ritual choir of Eastern pontifical colleges in Rome. The pope was joined at the altar by several chief concelebrants, including two honorary president delegates of the synod: the Lebanon-based Maronite patriarch, Cardinal Nasrallah P. Sfeir, and the Chaldean patriarch, Cardinal Emmanuel-Karim Delly of Baghdad.