2012-09-14 Vatican Radio
(Vatican Radio) In Beirut Friday evening, Pope Benedict XVI signed the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation "Ecclesia in Medio Oriente". The document was elaborated by the Pope and based on the 44 final Propositions of the special Synod for the Middle East which was held in the Vatican in 2010. Seàn-Patrick Lovett tells us what it’s about:
“The Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation "Ecclesia in Medio Oriente" is the document elaborated by Benedict XVI based on the 44 final Propositions of the special Synod for the Middle East, which was held in Vatican City from October 10th to 26th 2010 on the theme The Catholic Church in the Middle East: Communion and witness. "The company of those who believed were of one heart and soul" (Acts 4.32).
In the introduction, the Pope invites the Catholic Church in the Middle East to revive communion, to seek dialogue with Jews and Muslims, and to promote the rites of the Eastern Churches.
The first part of the document focuses on the contribution of Christians who live in the Middle East. The positions of the Holy See on the various conflicts in the region and on the status of Jerusalem and the Holy Places, it says, are well known. The Pope calls for conversion to interior peace linked to justice, and for forgiveness - overriding all distinctions of race, sex and class.
The next chapter addresses the issue of ecumenical unity, describing it as a form of mosaic which requires significant effort in the reinforcement of Christian witness. The Pope encourages a communion understood not as confusion, but rather as recognition and respect for others. He encourages theology and ecumenical Commissions to speak with one voice on important moral questions like the family, sexuality, bioethics, freedom, justice and peace.
Under the heading “Interreligious dialogue”, the document recalls the historical and spiritual links that Christians have with Jews and Muslims. This dialogue, it states, is not dictated by pragmatic considerations of a political or social order, but on the theological foundations of faith. Regarding Christian-Jewish dialogue, the Pope invites Christians to condemn the unjustifiable persecutions of the past and with regard to Muslims, he says it is regrettable how doctrinal differences have been used as a pretext by both Christians and Muslims to justify, in the name of religion, acts of intolerance, discrimination, marginalization and persecution.
The document then addresses the presence of Christians in the Middle East, saying they have the right and the duty to participate fully in civil life. The Pope affirms the right to religious liberty and to publicly manifest one's belief and its symbols, without putting one's own life or personal freedom in danger.
The document then considers secularization and the violent fundamentalism that claims to have a religious origin. Secularism denies the citizen the right to publicly express his or her religion. A healthy secularity, on the other hand, means distinction and collaboration between politics and religion, characterized by mutual respect.
The Pope also faces the question of a Christian exodus from the Middle East under the chapter on Migrants. He asks political and religious leaders to avoid policies and strategies tending towards a monochromatic Middle East which does not reflect its human and historical reality. This chapter also makes an appeal on behalf of immigrant workers who often experience situations of discrimination and injustice.
The second part of the Apostolic Exhortation
addresses some of the principal categories that constitute the Catholic Church: Patriarchs, bishops, priests and seminarians, those called to the consecrated life, and the laity – who the Pope invites to overcome divisions and subjective interpretations of Christian life. Benedict XVI also addresses the Family and its identity as a domestic Church, and the role of women in the Middle East whose voices, he says, must be heard with equal respect to that of the man. Speaking to young people and children, the Pope exhorts them not to be afraid or ashamed of being Christians and to respect other believers, Jews and Muslims.
The third part of the document is entitled: “The Word of God, soul and source of communion and witness” and suggests proclaiming a Year of the Bible and an annual Bible Week. In this chapter the Pope encourages the development of new communication and educational structures.
In the chapter on Liturgy and sacramental life, the Pope says he hopes for an ecumenical agreement between the Catholic Church and the Churches with which it is in theological dialogue on the mutual recognition of Baptism, and for more frequent practice of the sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation.
Regarding Prayer and pilgrimages, the Pope asks that the faithful have free access to holy places and that biblical pilgrimage returns to its original motivations of penitence and the search for God.
The chapter dedicated to Evangelization and charity encourages an evangelization that looks to both the ecumenical and interreligious dimensions and calls for a renewed missionary spirit in this multicultural and pluri-religious context, hoping that the Year of Faith will provide a particular stimulus.
Benedict XVI concludes the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation “Ecclesia in Medio Oriente” by asking that political and religious authorities not only alleviate the suffering of all those who live in the Middle East, but also eliminate the causes of this suffering, and do all in their power to enable peace to prevail. At the same time, the Catholic faithful are exhorted to give a courageous and common witness that is “difficult…but exhilarating”.