CNA reports that the Synod for the Middle East, a historic gathering of bishops in Rome, ended on October 24 with some criticisms of its concluding statement.
The bishops’ concluding “Message to the People of God” criticized Israel in detail, but omitted most of the criticisms made against Islamic governments during the synod. Some observers took remarks about using religion to “justify injustices” as a blanket rebuke of Israel, a charge participants denied.
Monsignor Robert Stern, secretary general of the Catholic Near East Welfare Association, clarified that the synod’s focus was not political, but pastoral, and intended to strengthen bonds “between diverse groups of Catholics, and to ensure a continuing Middle Eastern Christian presence and witness.”
The synod was focused primarily on two areas where the Christian population has been fast dwindling: Iraq and the Holy Land.
Monsignor Stern acknowledged that “prudential judgments” were made by the synod fathers in crafting their statement since Christians in their region can suffer harsh consequences when their leaders make remarks:
“Most of these bishops come from … places where they’re a very small minority, they’re bishops of a very small community, and they feel a lot of social pressure living in an Islamic world,” he observed. “A lot of them are in politically very uncertain circumstances — where they’re at risk, and their people are at risk. So, they don’t have quite so open and expansive of a way of talking about the situation.”
“Just the experience for them to come to Rome, and talk to one another, and experience a kind of free ambiance where anything can be said … was a very powerful experience for them — to have solidarity, to be gathered around the Pope, and to be able to reflect.”
Though Stern says the concluding statement of the synod may be limited, it is still “historic and crucial… giving guidance to communities whose decisions in the near future could make the difference between their survival or disappearance.”