Concern for Jerusalem and for the support of Christian people in the land of the Incarnation of the Son of God, dates back to ancient times and is present in St Paul's Letters. Today for the first time, in a difficult and painful context, this concern has led to the Special Assembly for the Middle East of the Synod of Bishops. A truly extraordinary experience, as Benedict XVI affirmed, and one that he desired, presided over, and followed attentively over the past two weeks.
With many Christians in mind, the Pope – in the footsteps of his Predecessors, Paul VI and John Paul II – chose to visit to encourage the people, on his journey through Turkey, Jordan, Israel, Palestine and Cyprus, who live in material poverty, discouragement, tension and fear. The very region, holy to the three great monotheistic religions, has been bloodied by conflict, war and terrorism for far too long.
The first result of the Synod calls the attention of Catholics – but also all Christians, Jews, Muslims and of every person who takes to heart the future of justice and peace – to a vast region where there is too much misunderstanding, rivalry, injustice and violence. Above all with prayer, as the Bishop of Rome said in closing the Assembly in St Peter's, underlining the connection between prayer itself and justice: “The cry of the poor and oppressed finds an immediate echo in God, who desires to intervene to open up a way out, to restore a future freedom, a horizon of hope”.
The Synodal Assembly offered an occasion, until now never experimented but a moment for all to rejoice, to compare candidly, and at a high level, from a variety of points of view, but with the essential common desire and auspice for justice and peace. These positions must be expressed without reticence, through friendly, but clear and constructive confrontation between Catholics of different Rites and between Christians of different confessions, and with Jews and Muslims in that “trialogue” Benedict XVI wished for during his Visit to the Holy Land. Beyond the differences and difficulties and with patience for the good, we need to realize that peace is indispensable.
Repeating the cry of Paul VI that “peace is possible”, his present Successor added that “peace is urgent”. Urgent, if we desire a life worthy of humanity and society, in all nations of this region, without distinction. Peace is also the only remedy to prevent the emigration of Christian communities, a true haemorrhage that must cease.
A contribution that Christians can make to the region, as Benedict XVI underlined with clarity, is the promotion of “authentic religious freedom and of conscience, one of the fundamental rights of every human person that every nation should always respect”. A “space of freedom” that will be broadened by way of dialogue with the Muslims, as the Synodal Fathers hope.
The concern of the Church is basically one and this also explains her policy: to witness to and proclaim the Gospel, as Benedict XVI has repeated many times and continues to repeat, without tiring or being discouraged. With this in mind, the Pope, who has established for this purpose a special Council within the Roman Curia, announcing the theme of the next Ordinary Synodal Assembly: the new Evangelization, which indicates in the Near and Far East, as in the rest of the world, the urgency of the Gospel.
St. Peter’s Square
Feb. 28, 2020
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