The Special Assembly for the Middle East of the Synod of Bishops, takes place in the Vatican from 10 to 24 October. The theme of the assembly is: 'The Catholic Church in the Middle East. Communion and Witness.'
At a press conference yesterday, Archbishop Nikola Eterovic, secretary general of the Synod explained: "what we mean by Middle East, apart from Jerusalem and the Palestinian Territories, are the following sixteen States: Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Cyprus, Egypt, United Arab Emirates, Jordan, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Kuwait, Lebanon, Oman, Qatar, Syria, Turkey and Yemen. This vast region of 7,180,912 square kilometres is home to 356,174,000 people, of whom 5,707,000 are Catholic, representing 1.6 percent of the population. The number of Christians stands at about 20,000,000; that is, 5.62 percent of the population".
"Apart from the Church of the Latin tradition, since earliest times there have been six 'sui iuris' Eastern Catholic Churches, each with its own patriarch, father and head of the Church: the Coptic Church, the Syrian Church, the Greek-Melkite Church, the Maronite Church, the Chaldean Church and the Armenian Church. ... The variety of traditions, spirituality, liturgy and disciplines is a great treasure to be conserved not only for the Eastern Catholic Churches, but for the whole Catholic Church presided over in charity by the Bishop of Rome, Universal Pastor of the Church".
The Special Assembly for the Middle East, Archbishop Eterovic continued, will be attended by 185 Synod Fathers including 101 ordinaries from the ecclesiastical circumscriptions of the area, and twenty-three from the diaspora who have responsibility for faithful of the Eastern Catholic Churches who have emigrated from the Middle East to all corners of the world. Also present will be thirty-six experts and thirty-four auditors, both men and women.
The sittings of the synodal assembly will also be attended by a number of fraternal delegates representing fourteen Churches and ecclesial communities with deep roots in the Middle East. The Synod Fathers will be addressed by three special guests invited by the Holy Father: Rabbi David Rosen, director for inter-religious affairs of the American Jewish Committee and the Heilbrunn Institute for International Inter-religious Understanding, Israel; Muhammad al-Sammak, political counsellor to the Grand Mufti of Lebanon, for Sunni Islam, and Ayatollah Seyed Mostafa Mohaghegh Ahmadabadi, professor at the Faculty of Law at the Shahid Beheshti University of Tehran and Member of the Iranian Academy of Sciences, for Shia Islam.
The secretary general then went on to explain some specific characteristics of this Synod. "For the first time", he said, "almost all the ordinaries of the Middle East will meet with the Bishop of Rome"; moreover it "will be the shortest ever synodal assembly, lasting only 14 days". This, he explained, "is the result of the relatively lower number of participants, which during the Ordinary General Assemblies can include as many as 250 Synod Fathers", and because the "complex situation in Middle Eastern countries means we do not want to keep the pastors from their flocks for too long".
Arabic will be one of the official languages of this Synod, along with French, English and Italian, said Archbishop Eterovic.
"The aims of the Special Assembly for the Middle East are mainly of a pastoral nature" and can be divided into two main points: "reviving communion between the venerable 'sui iuris' Eastern Catholic Churches that they may offer an authentic, joyful and attractive witness of Christian life", and "strengthening Christian identity through the Word of God and the celebration of the Sacraments".
The Synod, the archbishop concluded, is "a joyous occasion to present the riches of the Eastern Catholic Churches to the entire world, especially to Christians, that they may offer greater spiritual and material support to their brothers and sisters in the Middle East, in particular those who live in difficult situations because of violence, terrorism, emigration and discrimination".
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