The Daily Star, Lebanon
BEIRUT: The aim of Pope Benedict XVI’s visit to Lebanon is ostensibly to allow him to deliver an “apostolic exhortation” in response to the Middle East Synod in 2010, which was convened to discuss issues facing Christians in the region.
An apostolic exhortation is a recommendation delivered by the pope following a synod, or gathering of church leaders.
The 2010 synod conference gathered Catholic leaders – including 185 bishops, 140 from Eastern Catholic churches – from across the Middle East at the Vatican to tackle the flow of Christians from the region, specifically Palestine and Iraq.
There are around 20 million Christians in the Middle East – including some 5 million Catholics – which account for 5 percent of the region’s entire population.
A century ago Christians made up around 20 percent.
In his opening message at the synod, Pope Benedict said that “Living in a dignified manner in one’s own country is, above all, a fundamental human right.
“Therefore the conditions of peace and justice, which are necessary for the harmonious development of all those living in the region, should be promoted,” he said.
Speaking before the synod, then-Maronite Patriarch Nasrallah Butros Sfeir said the role of Christians “is based on coexistence with their Muslim brothers in the region, on cooperation with all people on the basis of love, mutual respect, equality and proportionate opportunities.
“Wherever he exists, the Christian is a messenger of peace.”
The “special” synod – one dealing with a particular region or nation – also discussed fragmentation among Catholic churches in the Middle East, and ways to combat this trend before it was too late.
The conference also invited an Iranian ayatollah and a senior Israeli rabbi to speak on religious coexistence, but the two did not meet.
A message approved by the fathers at the end of the synod, and delivered at the close of the council, spoke of the challenges facing Christians in the region: “The first comes from within ourselves and our churches.”
It also stressed the need for inter-religious dialogue, with both Muslims and Jews, and the need for Christians to remain in the region in which the religion was born.
A synod focused solely on Lebanon was held in 1995, at the request of Pope John Paul II after the end of the Civil War in 1990.
The apostolic exhortation was signed Friday evening at St. Paul’s Basilica in Harissa, just north of Beirut.
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(The Daily Star :: Lebanon News :: http://www.dailystar.com.lb)