VATICAN CITY — The Synod of Bishops for the Middle East released a “Message to the People of God” today, a 10-page text that drew together the main points of the two-week assembly.
The bishops said they had come to Rome “carrying in our hearts the concerns of our people.” They said the synod was a “new Pentecost” for participants, who would return home “full of hope, strength and resolution” to live unity in their Catholic communities and witness the Gospel in public life.
Here are some excerpts from the message, which was released in four languages, including Arabic.
On the challenges facing the church:
We are now at a turning point in our history: The God who has given us the faith in our Eastern lands 2,000 years ago, calls us today to persevere with courage, strength and steadfastness in bearing the message of Christ and witnessing to his Gospel, the Gospel of love and peace.
Today, we face many challenges. The first comes from within ourselves and our Churches. We are asked by Christ to accept our faith and to apply it to all situations in our lives. What he asks from our Churches is to strengthen the communion within every Church sui iuris and that of the Catholic Churches of various traditions, and to exert every effort in prayer and charitable acts in order to attain the full unity of all Christians so as to fulfil the prayer of Christ: “that they may all be one.”
… The second challenge comes from the outside, namely, political conditions, security in our countries and religious pluralism.
The message commented on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict several times, as well as the suffering of Iraqi Christians, and appealed to the international community for help:
The citizens of the countries of the Middle East call upon the international community, particularly the United Nations conscientiously to work to find a peaceful, just and definitive solution in the region, through the application of the Security Council’s resolutions and taking the necessary legal steps to put an end to the occupation of the different Arab territories.
The Palestinian people will thus have an independent and sovereign homeland where they can live with dignity and security. The State of Israel will be able to enjoy peace and security within their internationally recognized borders. The Holy City of Jerusalem will be able to acquire its proper status, which respects its particular character, its holiness and the religious patrimony of the three religions: Jewish, Christian and Muslim. We hope that the two-State-solution might become a reality and not a dream only.
Iraq will be able to put an end to the consequences of its deadly war and re-establish a secure way of life which will protect all its citizens with all their social structures, both religious and national.
Lebanon will be able to enjoy sovereignty over its entire territory, strengthen its national unity and carry on in its vocation to be the model of coexistence between Christians and Muslims, of dialogue between different cultures and religions, and of the promotion of basic public freedoms.
We condemn violence and terrorism from wherever it may proceed as well as all religious extremism. We condemn all forms of racism, anti-Semitism, anti-Christianism and Islamophobia and we call upon the religions to assume their responsibility to promote dialogue between cultures and civilisations in our region and in the entire world.
The message said the church’s dialogue with Jews was important, not only on a theological level:
We hope that this dialogue can bring us to work together to press those in authority to put and end to the political conflict which results in separating us and disrupting everyday life in our countries.
It is time for us to commit ourselves together to a sincere, just and permanent peace…. Recourse to theological and biblical positions which use the Word of God to wrongly justify injustices is not acceptable.
On dialogue with Muslims, the message avoided overt criticism:
We say to our Muslim fellow-citizens: we are brothers and sisters; God wishes us to be together, united by one faith in God and by the dual commandment of love of God and neighbour. Together we will construct our civil societies on the basis of citizenship, religious freedom and freedom of conscience. Together we will work for the promotion of justice, peace, the rights of persons and the values of life and of the family. The construction of our countries is our common responsibility.
The message also asked Christians who have left the Middle East not to forget their homeland:
Look at your goods and your properties in your home country; do not abandon and sell them too quickly. Keep them as your patrimony and as a piece of the homeland to which you remain attached, a homeland which you love and support. The land is part of a person’s identity and his mission. It is a vital aspect of the lives of those who remain there and for those who one day will return there.