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Synod: Middle East Christians

The tower of a church and the minaret of a nearby mosque are seen in the West Bank city of Ramallah. Survival of Christian communities in the Middle East is threatened not only by violence and political repression but also by the churches’ weakened sense of mission, said bishops attending the special synod for the Middle East. (Photo: CNS/Mohamad Torokman, Reuters) 

13 Oct 2010 – By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — The survival of the Christian communities of the Middle East is threatened not only by violence and political repression, but also by the churches’ weakened sense of mission, failure to work ecumenically and loss of their traditional liturgical heritage, bishops told the special synod for the Middle East.

“The Palestinian events, the civil war in Lebanon, the Islamic Revolution in Iran, the invasion of Iraq ... Christians of all churches without distinction are martyred, forced to emigrate, forced to leave,” Armenian Archbishop Boutros Marayati of Aleppo, Syria, told the synod Oct. 11.

“This is a real ecumenical concern,” the archbishop said. He urged synod members to find ways to strengthen the bonds among all Christians in the Middle East, “encouraging a spirit of fraternity, dialogue and communion among the churches.”

After a morning of listening to formal presentations Oct. 11, the 185 synod members began making their own speeches to the synod during the afternoon session.

Archbishop Marayati said that while Christians throughout the region share many similar challenges, the situation of the communities varies from country to country; he suggested the synod be followed by ecumenical conferences in each country to offer specific, united responses to local needs.

Melkite Archbishop Elias Chacour of Haifa, Israel, told the synod that 2,000 years ago “my ancestors started spreading around everywhere the exciting news revolving around an empty tomb and a risen man.”

Despite oppression and persecution throughout the centuries, the Christians of the Holy Land continue to proclaim to the world the good news that Jesus rose from the dead, he said.

“He is risen, but his cross is still high in our sky. Our Christianity is hanging on that terrible cross,” the archbishop said. Christians in the Holy Land “still live under daily threats” from governments who want to transfer Arabs from their ancestral lands, he said.

Archbishop Chacour called the small Arab Christian communities in Israel and the Palestinian territories “the remnant of the family of Christ” and asked the universal church to be more supportive of the land’s native Christians.

“We need your friendship more than your money,” he told the bishops.

Coptic Bishop Youhannes Zakaria of Luxor, Egypt, said national conflicts, doctrinal differences among Christians and the rise of Islam have combined to weaken the missionary enthusiasm of the region’s Christians, an enthusiasm that was responsible in the first place for the spread of Christianity around the world.

“The church in the Middle East today is a minority living in the midst of a non-Christian majority, and is fighting against the danger of its own decline, and is struggling to maintain Christian faith in the hearts of its faithful,” he said.

Nevertheless, the church “must not be afraid or be ashamed and must not hesitate in obeying the mandate of the Lord, which asks it to continue teaching the Gospel,” he said.

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