While in Rome last week, I met several of the participants in the Special Assembly for the Middle East of the Synod of Bishops which had just finished its business. Various Patriarchs, Archbishops and Bishops, together with prelates and priests who assisted them, were staying around in Rome either to continue talking to people in the Holy See, or to prepare for journeys in Europe or America that would be be economical after their having travelled to Rome.
For many of us, the synod of middle-eastern bishops will have been a little obscure. While there have been many reports at the Vatican website and especially on the Bolletino and VIS, it has perhaps been something we have passed over, thinking that we do not really understand this gathering.
Since meeting some of the participants, I have felt that I should do something to make good this lack on our part in the West by highlighting some features of the synod - though others will be better able to understand the full import of this momentous event. First of all, have a look at the the list of participants. It sounds a little like an extended version of that passage from Acts that is often read at Confirmation Masses: "people from Mesopotamia and Judea ..." Many of these Churches are suffering active persecution while we in the West fancy ourselves to be "persecuted" by secularists and the politically correct. To put things in perspective: being arrested for hate crime is not the same as facing the tragedy of your teenage daughter having being raped and murdered and her body dumped in the town square. (Cf the video I posted yesterday.)
I asked one of the participants in the Synod whether it had been a success. He said to me that we would have to wait and see but that two things were significant. The first was that all these small Churches were brought together to co-operate, many of them suffering in various ways. The solidarity that was experienced was important for these beleaguered Churches, something that Pope Benedict alluded to in his homily for the Mass at the conclusion of the synod:
Dear brothers and sisters of the Middle East! May the experience of these days assure you that you are never alone, that you are always accompanied by the Holy See and the whole Church, which, having been born in Jerusalem, spread through the Middle East and then the rest of the world.His Beatititude Antonios Naguib, Patriarch of Alexandria of the Copts highlighted the second obvious mark of the Synod:
All of us received the announcement of the Special Assembly for the Middle East of the Synod of Bishops with great joy, enthusiasm, gratitude and fervor. The Holy Father’s decision was seen as his fatherly acceptance of a proposal which was of particular concern to us and a demonstration of his special care for our Churches as Bishop of Rome and as the Supreme Shepherd of the Catholic Church.It would have been impossible for any political leader to convene such a synod - indeed if a particular Church had attempted to host it, there would probably have been difficulties. But the Bishop of Rome, the Vicar of Christ, the one who is entrusted with the unity of the Church, was able to bring about this gathering not only of those Churches in communion with the Holy See but also some Orthodox who were willing to co-operate with an initiative which would foster co-operation. He was recognised by all as the one who would confirm his brethren in the faith.
Let us praise and thank God for the great Synod which has helped so many suffering Churches to renew their hope in the Lord and let us remember always the brothers and sisters of the Middle East who witness to the faith of Christ in the midst of turmoil and persecution.