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Synod: CNEWA

14 Oct 2010 – By Carol Glatz

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — As the special synod for the Middle East confronts the situation of Christians in the Middle East, North American bishops, too, are part of the equation as they come to the aid of Middle East Christians in the United States and Canada.

The synod’s preparatory document talks mostly about the people leaving the Middle East, “but, of course, I think we all look at it differently; we see people coming from the Middle East and building their lives in North America in various ways,” said Msgr. Robert L. Stern, general secretary of the Catholic Near East Welfare Association.

It’s not true that there are no more Middle East Christians, he said.

“They are alive and well” and contributing to society and the church, “it’s just that they’re living in a different place” other than the Middle East, said the monsignor.

The Middle Eastern Christian population has been growing steadily in North American cities and the church has found itself well-prepared to handle their special pastoral and social needs, Msgr. Stern and a group of North American bishops said during an Oct. 12 press briefing organized by the New York branch of the Catholic Near East Welfare Association.

The Catholic Church has always reached out to people in need, said Archbishop Thomas Collins of Toronto. The archdiocese itself has been helping refugees of every ethnicity and country of origin since the 1840s, he said.

The archdiocese sponsors newcomers, helps them with immigration issues, and introduces them to the customs and rules of the host country so they can make a smoother transition to their new home, he said.

Luckily, many of the large North American cities already have Eastern-rite churches to help the faithful from the Maronite, Melkite and Chaldean Catholic traditions maintain their unique religious identities, the bishops said.

Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron of Detroit, whose archdiocese has the largest number of Christian and non-Christian Arabs in North America, said the Eastern-rite Catholics enrich and make a “great contribution” to both civil society and the life of the Catholic Church.

Maronite Bishop Gregory J. Mansour of St. Maron of Brooklyn, N.Y., said the friendship and cooperation that exist between the Latin and Eastern churches is an important model of how diverse religious communities can work together in harmony and union.

“If the Muslim world saw a little bit more of our great unity in diversity, it would be good for them,” he said, because it would let them know “of the beauty of the Christian message and the beauty of the Catholic Church.”

Some synod fathers from the Eastern churches have requested that limits on the jurisdiction of their leaders be lifted so that a patriarch could provide for the pastoral care of his faithful wherever they might be. That would include requesting the pope revoke a decision made in the 1930s that Eastern churches can ordain married men only in their traditional homelands.

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