By Susan Brinkmann, OCDS
Just before opening the first working session of the Special Assembly for the Middle East of the Synod of Bishops in Rome this week, Pope Benedict denounced “terrorist ideologies” that promote violence in the name of God.
“They make violence apparently in the name of God, but it’s not God,” the pope said to synod participants. “These are false divinities that must be unmasked. They are not God.”
The pontiff made the comments at the Synod which was called to address the problems faced by a minority Catholic Church in predominantly Muslim nations. More than 185 participants, including nine patriarchs of Eastern churches and representatives from 13 other Christian communities have gathered to discuss what has become a mass exodus of Christian populations from their traditional Middle Eastern homelands due to war and other conflicts.
According to the Associated Press (AP), in Iraq alone, the Catholic population dwindled from 2.89 percent of the population to just .89 percent within the last 30 years. Vatican statistics show Catholics representing just 1.6 percent of the entire region’s population.
In a paper outlining the synod’s work, Antonios Naguib, the Coptic Catholic patriarch of Alexandria Egypt, who is in charge of the synod, said one of the challenges Christians are facing in the region is the rise of “political” and fanatical Islam.
“This phenomenon seeks to impose the Islamic way of life on all citizens, at times using violent methods, thus becoming a threat which we must face together,” he told the AP.
In the homily he gave during the opening Mass of the Synod which was held on Oct. 10 at the Vatican Basilica, the Pope encouraged the region’s Catholics to stand firm.
“Despite the difficulties, the Christians in the Holy Land are called to enliven their consciousness of being the living stones of the Church in the Middle East, at the holy Places of our salvation. However, living in a dignified manner in one’s own country is above all a fundamental human right: therefore, the conditions of peace and justice, which are necessary for the harmonious development of all those living in the region, should be promoted.”
He went on to highlight why the Middle Eastern region is so important to the Church, calling it “the land of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; the land of the Exodus and the return from exile; the land of the Temple and of the Prophets, the land in which the Only Begotten Son of Mary was born, lived, died, and rose from the dead; the cradle of the Church, established in order to carry Christ’s Gospel to the ends of the earth.”
The Synod runs until October 24. Daily summaries of events can be found on the blog of the Vatican Information Service.
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