November 5, 2010


Positive Middle East synod

Most of the special Synod of Bishops for the Middle East, which we reported on last week, was positive and quite productive for a two-week meeting.

The 185 bishops and patriarchs of the Eastern Catholic Church who attended adopted 44 propositions as recommendations for Pope Benedict XVI to consider as he prepares his post-synodal apostolic exhortation, which will come later.

Unfortunately, though, the secular media and several prominent Israelis latched onto a remark made by Melkite Bishop Cyrille S. Bustros of Newton, Mass., during a press conference at the end of the synod. He said that Jews cannot use the Bible to justify injustices, and that Jews can no longer regard themselves as God’s “chosen people” or Israel as “the Promised Land” because Jesus’ message showed that God loves and chose all people to be his own.

However, that is not what the bishops at the synod said. They said that the Catholic Church affirms that the Old Testament—the Hebrew Scriptures—is the word of God, and that God’s promises to the Jewish people, beginning with Abraham, are still valid. They condemned

anti-Semitism and anti-Judaism, and affirmed Israel’s right to live at peace within its “internationally recognized borders.”

However, they also made a strong statement when they went on to say, “Recourse to theological and biblical positions which use the word of God to justify injustices is not acceptable.”

They noted the impact of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on the Palestinians as a result of the Israeli occupation in the West Bank—“the lack of freedom of movement, the wall of separation and the military checkpoints, the political prisoners, the demolition of homes, the disturbance of socio-economic life and the thousands of refugees.”

Anyone who has traveled in the West Bank will recognize those conditions that the Israeli occupiers have forced on the Palestinians.

The Vatican spokesman, Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, made it clear that Bishop Bustros gave only his personal opinion, and that the synod’s final message was the only approved text issued.

In a part of the world where there is so much conflict, it is probably not surprising that there would be controversy over something. Generally, though, most of the 44 propositions and the 10-page “Message to the People of God” issued at the end of the synod were positive.

Pope Benedict closed the synod with a call for peace. Peace, he said, is what will stop Christians from emigrating, one of the problems that the synod bishops discussed. That certainly isn’t controversial. Peace would solve all kinds of problems.

To achieve that peace, the synod’s bishops called on the international community—especially the United Nations—to find a just and definitive solution, and to take “the necessary legal steps to put an end  to the occupation of the different Arab territories.”

The Eastern Christians have much more contact with Muslims than they do with Jews so many of the propositions sent to the pope concern that. The synod condemned Islamophobia and called for dialogue with Muslims because “God wishes us to be together, united by one faith in God, and by the dual commandment of love of God and neighbor.”

Christians want to work with Muslims as full citizens, the bishops said. “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.”

However, those freedoms of religion and conscience are not always respected in Muslim countries. Throughout the synod, members said that those freedoms must be granted in all Muslim countries.

The synod’s bishops said, “We condemn violence and terrorism from wherever it may proceed as well as all religious extremism.”

As for all those Christians who have felt it necessary to leave their countries, the bishops made this practical suggestion: “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.”

Despite the controversy, it was a definite step forward.

—John F. Fink

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