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SYNOD-OUTLINE Jan-19-2010 (860 words) With photos. xxxi

Christians must face violence, extremism in Middle East with courage

By Carol Glatz
Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Christians in the Middle East are called to be courageous builders of peace in a region too often marred by violence and oppression, said the outline for the Synod of Bishops for the Middle East.

Islamic extremism, too, represents a threat to everyone in the region and it must be confronted by Christians banding together with Muslims who share the same concerns, it added.

The theme of the synod, scheduled for Oct. 10-24, is: "The Catholic Church in the Middle East: Communion and Witness: 'The community of believers was of one heart and mind.'" The quotation is a description of the unity of the early church from the Acts of the Apostles.

The synod's outline said the two main goals for the October assembly were "to confirm and strengthen Christians in their identity through the Word of God and the sacraments and to deepen ecclesial communion among the particular churches."

A renewal of faith and improved ecumenical collaboration also will help Christians better understand their role in Muslim societies and how they can aid their nations by being authentic witnesses of Christ, it said.

The only way to find the strength to overcome the fear or desperation often felt by the Christian minority and to carry out the mission to "assist your church and your country to grow and develop in peace, justice and equality for all citizens" is to deepen one's faith, it said.

The "lineamenta," or outline, of the synod's theme was released during a Vatican press conference Jan. 19. The document contained dozens of questions about some of the problems confronting Christians and how the church can better prepare people for the challenges they face.

Bishops' conferences and other groups in the region were asked to respond to the questions by April 4. The responses will form the basis of the synod's working document.

A major problem many face in the Middle East is political conflict for example: the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories, divisions in Lebanon and the war in Iraq, which has "unleashed evil forces within the country" that target all Iraqis, the document said.

The increasing influence of Islam on politics and the retreat of Christians from political life, as can be seen in Egypt, have led to intolerance, inequality and injustice, it said.

In some countries authoritarian regimes force all citizens, including Christians, to silently accept the status quo, it said.

The influence globalization is having on cultures, including in the Middle East, can help promote human rights, but it also risks destroying local value systems, the institution of the family and spirituality, it said.

Responding to threats to traditional values, Islamic fundamentalism has spread -- blaming the source of all social ills on neglecting Islam, it said.

"These extremist currents, clearly a threat to everyone, Christians and Muslims alike, require a treatment in common," it said.

Christians and Muslims share some of the same concerns, especially regarding the threats of atheism, materialism, relativism and indifference, said the outline, and working together to overcome these tendencies is needed.

Living in a region caught up in so many military conflicts can make working for peace seem impossible, it said, "considering that war and violence are virtually forced upon us."

"The solution to conflicts rests in the hands of the stronger country in its occupying and inflicting wars on another country. Violence is in the hands of the strong and weak alike, the latter resorting to whatever violence is within reach in order to be free," it said.

Christians must courageously denounce those who oppress, who work against their country's best interests, or who resort to violence in order to overcome oppression, said the outline.

It will take a great deal of courage for Christians to convince people that violence has led only to failure and that, with dialogue, "peace is the most realistic path to follow even though the majority of people might reject it."

The Middle East is the cradle of Christianity, it said, yet Christians have been emigrating from the region in increasingly greater numbers.

"We bear a grave responsibility not only to maintain the Christian faith in these holy lands, but more still to maintain the spirit of the Gospel among Christian peoples and (in) their relations with non-Christians," it said.

Despite its small size, Christianity plays an irreplaceable role in the Middle East, it said, because it upholds the values of peace, justice and forgiveness, which are fundamental to promoting the common good.

While global policies and local politics "will likely have an impact on a decision to stay in our countries or emigrate," the faithful will find reason to stay in their home countries when they accept their vocation as Christians -- finding hope and strength in God and working to bring peace and justice for all, the document said.

Christians are called to proclaim the message of Christ "despite difficulties and persecution," it said.

The desire to evangelize has also diminished and the outline emphasized the responsibility of all Christians to share the Gospel message of love and hope.

- - -

Editor's Note: The outline in English is posted on the Vatican Web site at:



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