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THE ROLE OF CHRISTIANS IN THE MIDDLE EAST


Preparatory Document, cap. I, n. 24-25-28
(...) People need to remember that Christians are “indigenous citizens” and thereby are entitled to be a part to the fabric of society and identify themselves with their respective homelands. Their disappearance would impoverish the pluralism which has always characterised the countries of the Middle East. Middle Eastern countries would be at a disadvantage without the Christian voice.

Generally speaking, however, Catholics, together with other Christian citizens and Muslim thinkers and reformers, ought to be able to support initiatives at examining thoroughly the concept of the “positive laicity” (Cf. BENEDICT XVI, Discourse at the Welcoming Ceremony at the Elysee Palace, Paris, 12 September 2008, Apostolic Visit to France: L’Osservatore Romano: Weekly Edition in English, 17 September 2008, pp. 3, 4) of the State. This could help eliminate the theocratic character of government and allow for greater equality among citizens of different religions, thereby fostering the promotion of a sound democracy, positively secular in nature, which fully acknowledges the role of religion, also in public life, while completely respecting the distinction between the religious and civic orders.

Although Christians are a small minority in almost every part of the Middle East, they are nonetheless active, forceful and involved where social and political situations allow. The danger lies in their isolating themselves out of fear of others. Our faithful need their faith and spirituality strengthened and relations and solidarity among them re-forged. This must be done, however, without yielding to a ghetto mentality.

Preparatory Document, cap. I, n. 51-52-53
(...) Persons in the consecrated life to resist the temptation to inactivity and request that they put aside personal interests for the sake of the faith.
Consecrated persons are called to be witnesses through an exemplary Christian life in the practice of their vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, by more closely following Jesus Christ, the model of every perfection.

All members of the People of God – Pastors, consecrated persons and laity alike – ought to pursue this way of life, according to their proper vocation, with particular emphasis, in our social, care-giving and educational institutions, on coherency between their personal life and that in society. In this way, the faithful can constantly be true witnesses of the Resurrection in the world. Some responses, therefore, ask that the formation of our clergy and faithful as well as our homilies and catechesis provide believers with an authentic sense of their faith and make them aware of their role in society in living their faith. They must be taught to seek and see God in all things and in everyone, striving to make him present in our society and our world through the practice of the personal and social virtues: justice, honesty, righteousness, hospitality, solidarity, openness of heart, moral purity, fidelity, etc.

To accomplish this, we must redouble our current efforts to search out and form the required "key persons" – priests, consecrated women and men, lay men and women – so that they can be, in our societies, true witnesses of God the Father, of the Risen Christ and of the Holy Spirit who has been poured out upon the Church of God. In this way, they can give solace to their brothers and sisters in these difficult times, safeguard and strengthen the fabric of society and contribute to building the civitas.

Preparatory Document, cap. III, n. 100-102
On the subject of the Christian’s contribution in society, everyone in Middle Eastern countries today – Christians, Jews, Muslims and Druz alike – faces two major issues. In light of conflicts and other military operations, peace and violence are particularly relevant challenges. To talk of peace and work for peace, while war and violence grow, is a challenge.
The solution to conflicts is in the hands of those who promote war. Violence may be in the hands of the strong, but it is also in the hands of the weak, who, in an attempt to free themselves, equally risk reverting to easily accessible violent measures. Various Middle Eastern countries are enduring an unending war, and the whole region, for generations, is directly suffering as a result. This situation is exploited by the most radical elements in global terrorism.

Too often, people in Middle Eastern countries identify Christianity with the West. Although the West has Christian roots and a Christian tradition, its governments today are clearly secular, and its politics, in itself, is not based on the Christian faith. In fact, politics oftentimes holds positions directly opposed to it. Yet the Muslim world’s reluctance to make the distinction between politics and religion is bringing great harm to the Church in the Middle East, because, realistically speaking, Muslim public opinion associates the Church with whatever political choices are made by states in the West. Consequently, a discussion on the meaning of the secular and the legitimate autonomy of earthly realities, as specified by the Second Vatican Council, (Cf. SECOND VATICAN ECUMENICAL COUNCIL, Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World Gaudium et spes, 36) is particularly important.

In these circumstances, the Christian’s contribution consists in not only promoting and witnessing to Gospel values, but also speaking the word of truth (qawl al-haqq) to the strong who oppress or follow political activity which runs contrary to the interests of the country, and to those who respond to oppression with violence. Promoting and working for peace is realistic. Although efforts on behalf of peace can be rebuffed, they also have the possibility of being accepted, considering that the path to violence, taken by both the strong and the weak, has led in the Middle East to nothing but failure and a general stalemate. The Christian’s contribution, though requiring great courage, is nonetheless indispensable.

Preparatory Document, Cap. III, n. 111-117
Christians have the unique and specific contribution of enriching with Gospel values the society in which they live. They are witnesses of Christ and these new values which Christ has brought to humanity. Consequently, the Church’s catechesis ought to form, at one and the same time, believers and citizens, who work in the various sectors of society. A political commitment lacking Gospel values is a counter-witness and brings more harms than good. At certain times, Gospel values, especially concerning human rights, coincide with those of Muslims, thereby providing the opportunity of joining each other in promoting them.

Various tensions in the Middle East are an offshoot of the Israeli- Palestinian conflict. Christians have a special contribution to make in the area of justice and peace by courageously denouncing violence no matter what its origin, and suggest solutions which can only be attained through dialogue.

Furthermore, while, on the one hand, this work demands justice for the oppressed, it necessitates, on the other, the message of reconciliation based on mutual forgiveness. Through the power of the Holy Spirit pardon can be both asked and given. This is the only path to creating a new humanity.
Those having political power also have need of this spiritual approach which Christian humility and self-sacrifice can bring them. Permitting the Spirt to penetrate the hearts of men and women who suffer from conflicts in our region is the specific contribution of Christians and the best service they can render society.

Since situations in the countries of the Middle East vary greatly, applications vary also. First of all, the public in general and Christians themselves need to learn attentively to consider the contribution which they can bring to the different sectors of life as well as the civil and political institutions, because Christians know that their task is to take to heart the common good and problems everyone share, e.g., poverty, education and the struggle against violence and terrorism. Their plans are on behalf of peace, harmonious living and creating relations and a rapport between individuals and peoples. In fact, the task of Christians is to teach and call people to openness and not fanaticism and to utilise peaceful means even to insist that the rights of Christians be acknowledged by civil authorities.

The most important Christian witness in the social field is the free-gift of love towards others, manifested in social service in schools, hospitals, clinics, and academic institutions by welcoming everyone and proclaiming our love for all for the sake of a better world. The Christian’s charitable activity towards all without distinction, to the poorest of the poor and those pushed to the periphery of society, represents the clearest way of spreading the Christian message. Oftentimes, only Church institutions guarantee these services.

Evangelisation in a Muslim society can only be achieved through the life of Christian communities, a life which is ensured through timely, external intervention. In any case, the most dutiful task for Christians is to live their faith in deeds. Living the truth and proclaiming it with charity and courage demands a real commitment. The most effective witness is allowing actions to speak louder than words, living Christianity faithfully and
showing solidarity in all Christian institutions, thereby rendering a striking testimony of what we as Christians are and live.

Preparatory Document, Conclusion, n. 119-123
Despite the fact that both Pastors and the faithful might oftentimes be tempted to discouragement, we must remember that we are disciples of the Risen Christ, who conquered sin and death. We have a future! We must firmly grasp it. Much will depend on the way we collaborate with people of good will in promoting the common good of the societies in which we live.
Today, the Lord Jesus can again say to Christians in the Middle East: "Do not be afraid, little flock!" (Lk 12:32). You have a mission; the growth of your country and the vitality of your Church depend on you. This will only be achieved with peace, justice and equality for all citizens!

For over 2000 years, the hope which was born in the Holy Land has sustained peoples and individuals in trying times the world over. In the face of difficulties and challenges, that hope remains an inexhaustible source of faith, love and joy for the witnesses of the Risen Lord who is ever-present within the community of his disciples.

Hope means, however, trusting in God and his Divine Providence, who watches over and guides the course of all human history, acting in union with God, as his "co-workers" (1 Cor 3:9), and doing whatever is humanly possible to contribute to the developments now taking place, under God's grace, in every aspect of public life in our societies, especially all that touches on human rights, human dignity and religious freedom. In this way, succeeding generations can develop a greater confidence in the future of their region.

Abandoning ourselves to God's Providence also means a deeper communion on our part, greater detachment and better freeing ourselves from the thorns which stifle the Word of God (Cf. The Parable of the Sower and the Seed, for example, in Mt 13:7 and parallel Gospel texts) and his grace in us. As St. Paul recommends: "Love one another with brotherly affection; outdo one another in showing honour. Never flag in zeal, be aglow with the Spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in your hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer" (Rm 12:10-12). And Christ says to us: "If you have faith as a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, `Move from here to there,' and it will move; and nothing will be impossible to you" (Mt 17:20; cf. Mt 21:21).

This is the kind of believers needed in our Churches, leaders, priests and faithful alike, believers who are witnesses and are aware that faithfully witnessing to Christ can lead to persecution. May the Virgin Mary, who was present with the apostles at Pentecost, help us to be men and women ready to receive the Spirit and to act with his power! May the Churches in the Middle East continue in our times to respond to the words voiced by the
Mother of Jesus at Cana in Galilee: «Do whatever he tells you» (Jn 2:5).


ADDRESS OF BENEDICT XVI DURING THE CONSIGNMENT OF THE INSTRUMENTUM LABORIS (Apostolic Journey to Cyprus, June 4-6, 2010)
Nicosia, 6 June 2010
The Special Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, convoked at your request, will endeavour to deepen the bonds of communion between the members of your local Churches, as well as the communion of the Churches themselves with each other and with the universal Church. This Assembly also wishes to encourage you in the witness of faith in Christ that you are bearing in the countries where this faith was born and developed. It is likewise well known that some of you endure great trials due to the current situation in the region. The Special Assembly is an opportunity for Christians in the rest of the world to offer spiritual support and solidarity to their brothers and sisters in the Middle East. It is an opportunity to bring out the important value of the presence and witness of Christians in the countries of the Bible, not only for the Christian community on a global scale but also for your neighbours and your fellow-citizens. You contribute in countless ways to the common good, for example through education, care of the sick and social assistance and you work to build society. You wish to live in peace and harmony with your Jewish and Muslim neighbours. You often act as peacemakers in the difficult process of reconciliation. You deserve recognition for the incalculable role you fulfil. I seriously hope that all your rights will be increasingly respected, including the right to freedom of worship and religious freedom, and that you will no longer suffer discrimination of any kind.

ADDRESS OF BENEDICT XVI DURING THE WELCOMING CEREMONY (Apostolic journey of Pope Benedict XVI to Portugal, 11-14 May 2010)
Tel Aviv, 11 May 2009
To the Christian communities in the Holy Land, I say: by your faithful witness to him who preached forgiveness and reconciliation, by your commitment to uphold the sacredness of every human life, you can make a particular contribution to ending the hostilities that for so long have afflicted this land. I pray that your continuing presence in Israel and the Palestinian Territories will bear much fruit in promoting peace and mutual respect among all the peoples who live in the lands of the Bible.

ADDRESS OF BENEDICT XVI DURING THE MEETING WITH ORGANIZATIONS FOR INTERRELIGIOUS DIALOGUE
(Pilgrimage of Benedict XVI to the Holy Land, 8-15 May 2009)
Jerusalem, 11 May 2009
Religious belief presupposes truth. The one who believes is the one who seeks truth and lives by it. Although the medium by which we understand the discovery and communication of truth differs in part from religion to religion, we should not be deterred in our efforts to bear witness to truth’s power. Together we can proclaim that God exists and can be known, that the earth is his creation, that we are his creatures, and that he calls every man and woman to a way of life that respects his design for the world. Friends, if we believe we have a criterion of judgment and discernment which is divine in origin and intended for all humanity, then we cannot tire of bringing that knowledge to bear on civic life. Truth should be offered to all; it serves all members of society. It sheds light on the foundation of morality and ethics, and suffuses reason with the strength to reach beyond its own limitations in order to give expression to our deepest common aspirations. Far from threatening the tolerance of differences or cultural plurality, truth makes consensus possible and keeps public debate rational, honest and accountable, and opens the gateway to peace. Fostering the will to be obedient to the truth in fact broadens our concept of reason and its scope of application, and makes possible the genuine dialogue of cultures and religions so urgently needed today.

Friends, the institutions and groups that you represent engage in inter-religious dialogue and the promotion of cultural initiatives at a wide range of levels. From academic institutions – and here I wish to make special mention of the outstanding achievements of Bethlehem University – to bereaved parents groups, from initiatives through music and the arts to the courageous example of ordinary mothers and fathers, from formal dialogue groups to charitable organizations, you daily demonstrate your belief that our duty before God is expressed not only in our worship but also in our love and concern for society, for culture, for our world and for all who live in this land. Some would have us believe that our differences are necessarily a cause of division and thus at most to be tolerated. A few even maintain that our voices should simply be silenced. But we know that our differences need never be misrepresented as an inevitable source of friction or tension either between ourselves or in society at large. Rather, they provide a wonderful opportunity for people of different religions to live together in profound respect, esteem and appreciation, encouraging one another in the ways of God. Prompted by the Almighty and enlightened by his truth, may you continue to step forward with courage, respecting all that differentiates us and promoting all that unites us as creatures blessed with the desire to bring hope to our communities and world. May God guide us along this path!

ADDRESS OF BENEDICT XVI DURING THE REGINA CÆLI PRAYERWITH THE ORDINARIES OF THE HOLY LAND (Pilgrimage of Benedict XVI to the Holy Land, 8-15 May 2009)
Jerusalem, 12 May 2009
In the measure in which the gift of love is accepted and grows in the Church, the Christian presence in the Holy Land and in the neighboring regions will be vibrant. This presence is of vital importance for the good of society as a whole. The clear words of Jesus on the intimate bond between love of God and love of neighbor, on mercy and compassion, on meekness, peace and forgiveness, are a leaven capable of transforming hearts and shaping actions. Christians in the Middle East, together with other people of good will, are contributing, as loyal and responsible citizens, in spite of difficulties and restrictions, to the promotion and consolidation of a climate of peace in diversity. I wish to repeat to them what I stated in my 2006 Christmas message to Catholics in the Middle East: “I express with affection my personal closeness in this situation of human insecurity, daily suffering, fear and hope which you are living. I repeat to your communities the words of the Redeemer: ‘Fear not little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the Kingdom’ (Lk 12:32)” (Christmas Message to Catholics living in the Middle East Region, 21 December 2006).



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