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Synod: bishops warn of campaign to drive Christianity from Iraq

Ecumenical and interreligious dialogue were the focus Friday morning during the 8th General Congregation of the Synod of Bishops for the Middle East. Pope Benedict XVI was present for the session which saw interventions from auditors and special delegates, as well as greetings from the World Council of Churches.

The Synod’s reflection on Ecumenical dialogue was wide-ranging, with a call for leaders of the various churches in the Middle East to act together for the good of Christians in the region, in view of a universal Church based on the Eucharist. Bishop Shahan Sarkissian of Aleppo, Syria, said a “clearer and more concrete witness of the unity of the Churches is more imperative today than ever for the Middle East”. One suggestion was to decide on a common date for Easter, another the creation of a feast day commemorating martyrs of the East.

But dialogue must also involve other religions. Cardinal Jean Louis Tauran of the Vatican’s council for inter-religious dialogue said “let us not be shy in reclaiming not only freedom of worship, but also religious freedom”. In this context one suggestion was the developing of a UN resolution on religious freedom that protects from discrimination, while condemning the use of religion to justify wars, or political and economic interests.

On the ground experiences of dialogue between religions was outlined by representatives from the Focolare Movement, the Neocatechumenal Way and the Community of Sant'Egidio, invited to sahre their experience with the Synod Fathers. They reaffirmed the importance of the Christian presence in Muslim countries for its work in promoting peace and unity. In this context the suggestion was made to revive the Arab-Christian literature.

Discussions then widened out to the horrible tragedy of Christians in Iraq: bishops from the nation warned that there is a deliberate campaign to drive them out of the country and called on the international community not to remain silent. The difficult situation of the Church in Turkey was also touched on, a reality that is sometimes overlooked but one which is at risk of survival. Its story, concluded the Synod Fathers, was written with the blood of victims such as Mgr. Luigi Padovese, Apostolic Vicar of Anatolia, who was murdered in June.


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