Issued by the Catholic Center for Studies and Media - Jordan. Editor-in-chief Fr. Rif'at Bader - موقع أبونا abouna.org
Over a period of seven day, the heads of seven Catholic Churches in the Middle East met in Harissa township, northeast of Beirut, specifically in Beit 'Anya, near the grotto of Our Lady of Lebanon and the Roman Catholic Church of St. Paul the Apostle. The meetings marked the continental phase of the Synod of the Catholic Churches which will be held in the Vatican in October 2023.
As a reminder, the "Synod" is a general meeting and this word means “walking together”. It is held every two years in the Vatican in the presence of His Holiness the Pope as well as representatives of all dioceses and episcopal councils all over the world. But this year, a view was expressed about a phase between the diocesan phase (local churches) and the Vatican. There is the continental phase, namely a group of Churches gathered in one region. They gather, pray, and think together in order to set priorities on the agenda of discussion, as well as reflect on the meetings that will be held in Vatican. It is great to realize that we have become a new spiritual continent that includes the Middle East and North Africa, as well as the churches in the Arabian Gulf. It is also important to note that the seven Churches are the Latin, Maronite, Chaldean, Roman Catholic, Syriac Catholic, Coptic Catholic, and Armenian Catholic.
We can sum up these seven days in seven views expressed in three bundles of expressions, namely:
First: The points of strength in such meetings were revealed in unity as well as in the spirit of love and fellowship that emerged among the attending heads, representatives and leaders. Second: The atmosphere of prayer prevailed as it was considered as if it were a spiritual meeting rather than an academic one. Third: Thinking together was the best way to define priorities and embody the meaning of the Synod, namely walking together on the ground of reality. Fourth: Dialogue was a dominant feature as the virtue of listening to one another was lucid. Fifth: There was a prominent presence of young people from the entire Middle East who freely expressed their views in a good way that indicates their love for their Churches and their sincere affiliation with their homelands. Sixth: More than 40 women and nuns participated in this meeting which is no longer held behind closed doors nor was confined to the heads of Churches. As for the seventh point, it is designed to get acquainted with fraternal Lebanon, despite the economic and political difficulties it is going through, but the Church there is alive, vigilant and energetic.
As for the other seven points, they are merely the seven "tensions", which is the word that was used during these meetings. It means the challenges facing such meetings which will be addressed or dealt with in an open and a positive spirit. I mean by this in the first place the political situations in the Middle East, which is the holiest region in the world, but there are still there political tensions there and there are still countries that have not recovered from what has befallen them, in addition of course to the current situation in the East, and Syria in particular, due to the earthquake. There has not been any spiritual function that failed to mention the victims of the earthquake in the prayer, which is the reason that forestalled the arrival of some religious leaders from Syria to the meeting venue.
Likewise, everyone discussed the economic conditions that sometimes stand in the way of conducting serious and fruitful work due to the deterioration of the economic conditions which our peoples go through in the Middle East. The spirit of competition between the various Churches was also discussed, a matter which we can view as natural from a humanitarian point of view, yet our Churches are called upon to ensure that the spirit of competition be positive. Furthermore, the term “clerical spirit” was repeated frequently which is merely the "domineering" attitudes by the heads towards their subordinates in a way which suggests that they had the keys, while others always had to obey.
The extremism that prevails in our societies has also been one of the causes of the major obstacles and challenges that Churches considered. Likewise, hundreds of thousands of believers were displaced due to this extremism which regrettably exists. The conferees discussed the social problems facing our youth in particular, such as drugs and deviant relationships, uncontrolled sexual relations, and corruption among others. The conferees do not definitely offer magic solutions to these scourges, but they call for dialogue with youth and openness with the concerned authorities in order to create job opportunities so that young people would not fall victim to these scourges. Of course, there is a problem represented in refugees, displaced persons, emigrants, and expatriates who are an integral part of the life of our Churches.
The third bundle includes hopes and aspirations:
Christians of the East aspire to attain genuine citizenship based on social justice as well as on non-discrimination between one citizen and another, neither on religious nor ethnic grounds. From this premise, they look forward to promoting initiatives in religious dialogue with their Muslim brethren in civilization. They also look forward to attaining full communion within the Churches which is what prevails within the Catholic Churches by virtue of being led by His Holiness the Pope, who represents the spiritual head of more than 1.4 billion people. Yet, it is hoped that this synodal ecumenical spirit would prevail in all Churches.
As for the third hope, it is the genuine and acceptable testimony in our societies. Christians want to live the authenticity of their faith, which is not constant in all countries. Religious freedom is still absent, and there is freedom in certain degrees to perform religious rites in our various countries. Furthermore, there are differences among countries in which there are ingenious Christians or expatriate Christians and residents in some countries for short periods, such as the Gulf states, our countries, and Cyprus as well.
The conferees look forward to supporting pastoral schools and pastoral educational institutions where there are financial problems and restrictions. They also want to complete the process of education for which they have been characterized over the past centuries.
The meeting focused on modern media and their indispensable role in human development and in creating atmospheres of convergence among followers of religions. They also called for an end to hate speech so that media outlets would be abounding with addresses of love and cooperation that benefit societies rather than those that disseminate hatred and a desire to annihilate the others.
Likewise, the participants look forward to ensuring a greater role for women in our Churches while respecting traditions and history, so that discussions would not deal in issues that are considered non-negotiable, such as the ordination of female priests. However, women have an indispensable role in several aspects. Seventh: There was hope that this “synodal” spirit would prevail, namely the spirit of communion and cooperation among the various Churches and among the various groups within every Church, so that these days would not be just like a summer cloud, but rather be a new state of resuscitation and rebuilding despite the current political, economic and social circumstances which our dear East is going through.