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Peace and communion focus of Synod opening session

Peace and Communion: This was the recurring theme of Monday morning’s interventions at the Synod, beginning with that of Cardinal Sandri, Prefect of the Congregation for Eastern Churches. He said "The East wants to give and receive hope", recalling the importance of working together for the unity of all Christians and the denunciation of all forms of violence: “In certain contexts Catholics along with other Christians, still suffer from hostility, harassment and failure to respect their fundamental right to religious freedom. Terrorism and other forms of violence do not even spare our Jewish and Muslims brothers”.

Synod secretary general, Archbishop Eterovic then took the floor, noting first of all that "the Holy Land is dear to all Christians" and that it is also "the home of our Jewish and Muslim brothers and sisters". Then, he movingly recalled Mgr. Luigi Padovese, Apostolic Vicar of Anatolia and president of the Turkish Bishops' Conference, who was murdered on the eve of the Holy Father’s visit to Cyprus, where he presented the Synod’s working guidelines to the bishops of the Middle East: “We prayerfully call upon the Lord to receive his faithful servant into his kingdom of life, happiness and peace, so that from heaven he might intercede for the success of this synodal assembly. May his sacrifice open new paths of mutual understanding and collaboration in respect for religious freedom in all countries of the Middle East and the world. At the same time, we pray that those who were involved in his tragic death will have a change of heart”.

The Relator General, Patriarch Naguib of Alexandria of the Copts in Egypt then presented his "Report before the debate”, presenting many delicate issues for afternoon discussions. First, the importance of the Holy Scriptures: “the Word of God”, he said, "is the source of our theology, spirituality and apostolic and missionary vitality”. The patriarch spoke of the specific situation of Christians in the Middle East, stressing unity in diversity, the need to cooperate and encourage vocations, young people, families and institutes of consecrated life.

Focus was given to promoting a positive secularism of states, which will enable the Church to give an effective and fruitful contribution to the status of citizens on the basis of equality and democracy. “Although Christians are a small minority”, said Patriarch Naguib, “their dynamism is enlightening and should be supported and encouraged”.

Patriarch Naguib also addressed the challenges that Christians face in the Middle East. Above all others the political conflicts in the region: “In the Palestinian territories”, he said, “life is very difficult and often impossible”. While condemning the violence from wherever it comes from, he called for a just and lasting solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and expressed solidarity with the Palestinian people, whose current situation, he noted, “encourages fundamentalism”.
The question of freedom of religion and of conscience was addressed. The Patriarch unequivocally condemned all forms of proselytism and called for renewed efforts in dialogue, fostered by the Christian institutes of education.

The issue of migration; immigration and emigration due to conflicts, the advance of Islamic fundamentalism, the restriction of freedoms, the economic situation. No to defeatism, reaffirmed the Patriarch Naguib, yes to the strengthening of ties with Christian migrants, to encourage them not to relinquish the properties in their lands of origin, and greater efforts to welcome immigrants, mostly Africans and Asians, often the victims of injustice and abuse.

The Relator General then addressed the issue of communion in the Catholic Church and among the different Churches, as well as between bishops, clergy and faithful. "The division among Christians is a scandal," said Naguib, adding that prejudices must be overcome, memories purified, unity sought”. for example, in joint celebrations for Christmas and Easter. He also called for a greater commitment of Christians in public life, by overcoming the parochialism and sectarianism, and the renewal of the liturgy, to encourage young people and children.

Regarding relations with the Jews, the Relator General condemned anti-Semitism and tendentious interpretations of the Bible, used to justify violence. He also encouraged the solution of "two peoples, two states” for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

In relations with Muslims, the Patriarch Naguib underlined the importance of common roots. However he also pointed out that Muslims in general do not distinguish between religion and politics, a situation resulting in Christians becoming non-citizens. "With the advance of fundamentalism - he said – there are increasing attacks on Christians." For this, the question must be addressed from the perspective of the common good, to move from tolerance to justice and equality. Central to this is education to peace, the elimination of all forms of prejudice from school books, the right attention to modernity, often ambiguous, because it brings new values, but others lose.

Finally, the Relator General underlined the specific and irreplaceable contribution of Christians in society, bearers of justice and peace, with the hope that "a mature faith" will transform believers into active citizens.


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