(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis convened a Consistory of Cardinals on Monday morning in the Vatican. Originally scheduled in order to proceed with the causes of saints – including that of Goa native and evangelizer of Sri Lanka, Blessed Joseph Vaz, CO, for whose canonization the Cardinals voted this morning, establishing the date of his canonization Mass for January 14th, 2015, during the Holy Father’s visit to Sri Lanka – the Holy Father expanded the agenda of the meeting to include discussion of the ongoing crisis in the Middle East.
At a briefing following the morning session, the Director of the Press Office of the Holy See, Fr. Federico Lombardi, SJ, explained that the participants, among whom were counted the Patriarchs of the Oriental Catholic Churches present and based in the region, used the occasion to speak broadly of the challenges facing Christians throughout the entire Middle East, to express gratitude for the spiritual closeness of the Universal Church to their sorely tried communities, and to reiterate the need to foster dialogue, protect the rights of all people regardless of religious affiliation, and search for solutions that respect and further the common good.
In remarks to the gathered Cardinals at the opening of the session, Pope Francis decried the spirit of indifference that seems to dominate, making the sacrifice of the human person to other interests a matter of course. “This unfair situation,” he said, “requires an adequate response by the international community, as well as and in addition to our constant prayer.” He concluded his remarks, saying, “I am sure that, with the help of the Lord, genuinely worthwhile reflection and suggestions will emerge, in order to help our brothers and sisters who are suffering, and also to face the drama of the reduction of the Christian presence in the land where He was born and from which Christianity spread.”
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The centerpiece of the discussion that followed was an address by the Secretary of State of the Holy See, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, in which he presented a summary view of the meeting of Apostolic Nuncios to the countries of the region that took place at the beginning of October. Articulated in six points, the speech stressed that the present situation – broadly speaking and in particular as it regards the Christian communities present in the region – is unacceptable. “Fundamental principles, such as the value of [human] life, human dignity, religious liberty, and peaceful coexistence among peoples and individuals are at stake.”
Cardinal Parolin’s address went on to describe the general political situation throughout the region as an extremely complex and multifaceted one, with specific references to the urgent need to achieve a just and lasting peace between Israel and Palestine, to the ongoing crises in Iraq and Syria (and to the roles of other regional powers in those conflicts, specifically Iran). It was in this context that Cardinal Parolin turned to the question of the use of force to halt aggression and to protect Christians and other groups who are victims of persecution. “In this regard,” said Cardinal Parolin, “It was stressed repeatedly that it is licit to stop the unjust aggressor – always, however, in a manner consistent with international law [It. nel rispetto del diritto internazionale], as the Holy Father has also affirmed.” Cardinal Parolin went on to say, “In any case, we have seen clearly that the resolution of the problem cannot be entrusted only to a military response.” Speaking specifically of the threat posed by the self-styled Islamic State, Cardinal Parolin said, “Attention must be paid to the sources that sustain [the organization’s] terrorist activities through more-or-less clear political support, as well as through illegal commerce in oil and the supply of weapons and technology.” Cardinal Parolin then repeated the Holy Father’s denunciation of the arms trade, saying, “In a moment of particular gravity, given the growing number of victims caused by the conflicts raging in the Middle East, the international community cannot close its eyes before this question, which has profound ethical relevance.”
The flight of Christians from the region was another major focus of Cardinal Parolin’s remarks, recalling the fundamental role that Christians in the region play as, “artificers of peace, reconciliation, and development,” especially through their schools, orphanages, hospitals and other works of mercy, which serve anyone and everyone, regardless of race or creed.
The role of the Church – of Christians and of Christianity – in the complex social and cultural milieu of the Middle East, and especially in majority-Muslim nations, was the next major focal point. Cardinal Parolin reported that the participants in the meeting of Nuncios observed a basic problem. “[There is a] lack of separation between religion and State,” he said, “between the religious sphere and the civil sphere – a tie that makes life difficult for non-Muslim minorities and in particular for the Christian minority. It would be important, therefore, to contribute to efforts to nurture the notion of the distinction of these two spheres in the Muslim world.”
Cardinal Parolin went on to call on the international community not to remain inert or indifferent before the present situation. “In the specific case of violations and abuses committed by the so-called Islamic State, the international community, through the United Nations and the structures that exist for [addressing] similar emergencies, must act to prevent possible new genocides and to assist the numerous refugees.” Cardinal Parolin continued to explain, “The defense of Christians and of all the other religious or ethnic minorities is to be situated in the context of the defense of the person and of the respect for human rights, in particular for those of religious liberty and the freedom of conscience. In any case, the need to promote and develop the concept of citizenship, as a reference point for social life, guaranteeing the rights of minorities through adequate juridical instruments, has become evident.”
Cardinal Parolin’s address concluded with a reminder and an appeal: the Church throughout the world, and all Christians everywhere, have the duty to sustain our brothers and sisters in Christ with prayer and with every possible means, and to encourage them to continue to be a meaningful presence for the good of the whole society in the Middle East. “We must not forget,” he concluded, “that everything depends upon God and His Grace – but we need to act as though everything depends on us, upon our prayer and upon our solidarity. We are all called, therefore, to work for peace in the world, for the continuity and development of the presence of the Christian communities in the Middle East and for the common good of humanity.”