-The Synod of Bishops for the Middle East has concluded its general discussions, and moved on to begin work on a final message.

On Saturday, October 16, the Synod participants heard the first draft of a final message, and began voting for members of the special council that will be selected to follow up on the Synod.

On October 18, the Coptic Catholic Patriarch Antonios Naguib of Alexandria, Egypt, presented the relatio post disceptationem: the summary of the discussions to date. His presentation took up the whole of the Monday-morning session.

The fundamental need of the Church in the Middle East, Patriarch Antonios said, is “to reawaken our missionary zeal.” The work of the Synod should promote that end, he stressed.

"Religion must not be politicized, nor the state take precedence over religion,” the Coptic prelate said. But his report acknowledged the grave political problems that confront the Church in the region. His report called for “a just and lasting solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” while expressing solidarity with the Palestinian people, “whose current situation encourages fundamentalism.” He also pleaded for international recognition of “the tragic situation of Christians in Iraq who are the main victims of the war and its effects,” and called for protection of religious freedom from all, particularly Christian minorities in Islamic lands.

“One of the major challenges threatening the presence of Christians in some countries in the Middle East is emigration,” the report noted. While Christians should retain the right to emigrate, the Church needs to encourage young people particularly to remain in their native lands, and toward that end must help them find security and the promise of a future for their families.”

Patriarch Antonios spoke at some length about the status of the Eastern Catholic churches—which accounted for a majority of the participants in the Synod. The Synod, he said, should encourage closer ties among the different Catholic bodies in the Middle East, and between the Eastern churches and the Latin Church.

“Mission and and ecumenism are closely linked,” the Patriarch noted. “The Catholic and Orthodox churches have much in common.” The Eastern churches could play a special role in strengthening ties with the Orthodox world and bringing Christian unity closer to reality.

The Eastern churches are also important, the report observed, because residents of the Middle East often identify Christianity with Europe, in ways that create political obstacles to the acceptance of the faith. In actuality, Patriarch Antonios said, “the governments of the West are secular and increasingly opposed to the Christian faith. It is important to explain this reality as well as the positive significance of the secular state, which distinguishes politics from religion.”

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