Papal exhortation on Middle East “not a political programme”

By Oliver Maksan and John Newton
THE outgoing Apostolic Nuncio in the Holy Land has warned against unrealistic expectations for Pope Benedict XVI’s forthcoming Apostolic Exhortation on the Middle East.
Archbishop Antonio Franco, who this month steps down as Apostolic Nuncio in the Holy Land, told Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need that the post-synodal Apostolic Exhortation – a papal document following the Vatican’s October 2010 Middle East Synod – will be released during Pope Benedict XVI’s visit to Lebanon in September.
Archbishop Franco said: “Those who are expecting the Holy Father to provide a political programme for solving the Middle East conflict are going to be disappointed.”
The archbishop added: “The Holy Father will certainly encourage the Christians in the Holy Land to work on fostering an atmosphere of reconciliation, in which political solutions can then also be found.”
According to Archbishop Franco, the forthcoming Apostolic Exhortation will affirm the Catholic Church’s principles concerning the rights of individuals and communities.
He said the document’s key message will be the concept of “community” – which was stressed by the October 2010 Middle East Synod – and that the Holy Father will call for closer contact both between the various rites of the Catholic Church and ecumenically, involving different Churches in the Holy Land.
Archbishop Franco said: “In this way the Christian communio can then have a positive impact on the Holy Land and its problems.”
Asked about the continuing emigration of Christians from the region, Archbishop Franco said Christians are not leaving for religious reasons but political and economic ones, adding that the faithful want peace, freedom and prosperity for themselves and their children.
He said: “They see no future here. As long as no solution is found to the Israeli-Arab conflict, the exodus of Christians, who are of course mainly Arabs, will go on.”
Archbishop Franco has served as the Apostolic Nuncio in Israel and the Apostolic Delegate for Jerusalem and the Palestinian territories since 2006, as well as being papal nuncio to Cyprus.
He will return home to Italy at the end of July after reaching 75, the retirement age for bishops.
His term included the Pope’s visits to the Holy Land in 2009 and Cyprus in 2010.
Archbishop Franco also played a major role in negotiating an economic agreement between Israel and the Holy See over Church institutions.
His successor has not yet been named.

Editor’s Notes

Directly under the Holy See, Aid to the Church in Need supports the faithful wherever they are persecuted, oppressed or in pastoral need. ACN is a Catholic charity – helping to bring Christ to the world through prayer, information and action.

Founded in 1947 by Fr Werenfried van Straaten, whom Pope John Paul II named “An outstanding Apostle of Charity”, the organisation is now at work in about 130 countries throughout the world.

The charity undertakes thousands of projects every year including providing transport for clergy and lay Church workers, construction of church buildings, funding for priests and nuns and help to train seminarians. Since the initiative’s launch in 1979, Aid to the Church in Need’s Child’s Bible – God Speaks to his Children has been translated into 172 languages and 50 million copies have been distributed all over the world.
Aid to the Church in Need UK is a registered charity in England and Wales (1097984) and Scotland (SC040748). ACN’s UK office is in Sutton, Surrey and there is a Scottish office in Motherwell, near Glasgow.

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