Delegates of the Churches in the Middle East begin their Continental Synodal Assembly in Beirut, running until 18 February.
By Vatican News staff reporter
Delegates representing seven Catholic Churches (Coptic, Syriac, Maronite, Melkite, Chaldean, Armenian and Latin) from the Holy Land, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, Egypt, Iraq and Armenia, are gathered in Beirut this week for the Continental Synodal Assembly for the Middle East.
The meeting was officially opened on Monday, 13 February, by Father Khalid Alwan, General Secretary of the Council of Catholic Patriarchs of the East (CPCO) and general coordinator of the Synodal Assembly, after a special prayer for the victims of the earthquake in Syria and Turkey.
The synodal “road map” for the Churches in the Middle East
In his introductory remarks, Fr. Alwan outlined what he called the “synodal road map” the Churches in the Middle East should follow, recalling the 1992 Pastoral Message of the Catholic Oriental Patriarchs in which they spoke of the Christian presence in the region as “a testimony and a message”.
According to Fr. Alwan, that message drew the path of the Catholic Churches in the Middle East and “summarized their identity and future with the word ‘presence’”. That presence, he said, “is embodied, effectively and authentically, following the example of Christ and His Church, in the Arabic language and heritage of which we are builders and in the Arab civilisation that we have helped to establish”.
But, it is also a presence “at the service of man without distinction or discrimination”, founded on ecumenical and interreligious dialogue and cooperation with other Christian Churches, Muslims, Jews and all people of goodwill.
Unity in diversity
In light of that document, Fr. Alwan underscored the importance for Christian Churches in the region to work together to address the many challenges they share “in a spirit of brotherhood and love”. He noted that what unites them – their hardships and aspirations in the difficult political and religious context in the Middle East, but in particular their common faith in Christ – is more important than what separates them, and that diversity has always “been a source of enrichment for the Church”.
“In the East, either we are Christians together or we are not”, he emphasized.
Cardinal Hollerich: ”Walking together’ is not easy to put into practice
The meeting continued with a speech by Cardinal Jean-Claude Hollerich, coordinator of the XVI Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, who recalled the stages of the 2021-2024 synodal process so far. The Luxembourg Cardinal said he was “honoured” to be present in the Middle East, where he recalled “synodality has a long tradition”.
“It is my desire to experience it and learn it from you,” he added, also noting that “”Walking together’ is an easy concept to express in words, but not easy to put into practice.”
Cardinal Grech: participation of all the People of God and listening
Also speaking at the opening day of the meeting, was Cardinal Mario Grech, the Secretary General of the Synod of Bishops, who reiterated, as he had already done in the recent European Assembly in Prague, that the synodal process is about participation, which never puts the People of God and bishops in competition, “but keeps them in a constant relationship, allowing both to fulfil their function”.
He also insisted that “The Synodal Church is a Church of listening”, specifying that this cannot and must not be reduced to a rhetorical phrase.
“We are all called, in conscience, to give our answers: from those who are deeply convinced to those who still have doubts to those who openly disagree”, Cardinal Grech stressed.
Patriarch Al-Rahi: a synodal Church learns from listening to the Word of God
Another key speaker on Monday was Cardinal Bechara Boutros Al-Rahi, Patriarch of the Maronite Church, who recalled how the commitment “to live as a synodal Church” means committing oneself to being “a Church that learns from listening to the Word of God and reading the signs of the times how to renew its mission” to the world.