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 CNS Story:

SYNOD-HOLYLAND Oct-10-2008 (680 words) xxxi

Patriarchs invite synod members to Mideast to discover land of Bible

By Cindy Wooden
Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The patriarch of the Melkite Catholic Church, who lives in Syria, and the Latin-rite patriarch of Jerusalem invited members of the Synod of Bishops on the Bible to visit them and discover how living in the land of the Bible can make its words come alive.

Melkite Patriarch Gregoire III Laham of Damascus, Syria, and Latin Patriarch Fouad Twal of Jerusalem addressed the synod Oct. 10, extending invitations but also talking about some of the challenges Christians in the Holy Land are facing.

Patriarch Laham told the synod: "The word of God unites us; it reinforces our faith. We must not be afraid to love the word of God, to share it with our brothers and sisters."

At the same time, he said, "we also must not be afraid of knowing certain verses of the Quran," just as Muslims are not afraid of knowing some verses of the Gospel or of the Torah, the Jewish term for the first five books of the Bible.

Christians' enthusiasm for the word of God must be something that leads them to holiness and to deepening their knowledge of the faith, he said.

"We must not allow this zeal to become a weapon to exploit others, to judge them, to persecute them or to contradict them," because that would "embarrass our own faith," he said.

"We must also do our absolute best to make sure the word of God is not the source or cause of conflicts, disputes and disagreements among our faithful," the patriarch said.

And, coming from a land often torn by violence, Patriarch Laham insisted, "The word of God must never become an instrument of terrorism."

During the year dedicated to St. Paul, who was converted on the road to Damascus, the patriarch sent a personal letter to all synod participants, inviting them to make a pilgrimage to Syria.

Patriarch Twal also invited the synod members to make a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, to take the faithful with them, to pray for Christians in the Middle East and to offer concrete signs of their solidarity.

The land under the patriarch's pastoral care is the place where "the Word became flesh," he told synod members.

"To read, to meditate and to pray the word of God in the Holy Land is a very special gift. In the Holy Land the Word of God has become a living reality that is concrete and has flesh," he said.

"Even the geography enriches people," the patriarch said. "We have called the Holy Land 'the fifth Gospel.'"

Patriarch Twal praised the work done at the specialized biblical institutes run by the Franciscans, the Dominicans and the Jesuits in the Holy Land, saying they have helped the entire church better understand the Bible and its connection to the region.

"But now I want to share with you some problems and obstacles," he said. "The Israeli-Palestinian conflict provokes many difficulties in reading and understanding passages of the Bible because of fundamentalist interpretations and political or ideological interpretations."

For example, he said, the words "covenant," "election," "land" and "chosen people" all are important concepts in the Bible, particularly in the Old Testament, "but they have been taken by different groups to mean different things," including leading some to claim an exclusive right to live in the Holy Land.

"Arab Christians often have difficulty reading the Old Testament, not because of the word of God itself, but because of the political and ideological interpretations," he said.

But the Catholic Church offers Christians a "double system for protecting" its faithful from the temptation to misunderstand or misuse the Bible verses, the patriarch said.

First, he said, the church teaches that the entire Bible must be read "in the light of Christ," who said that he did not come to abolish the law, but to bring it to completion.

Second, he said, the church's interpretation must be the starting point for all interpretations of the Bible.

"Any interpretation outside of the church is dangerous," he added.

END


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