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Vatican’s ‘Special Middle East Assembly’ set to begin

By Lisa Palmieri-Billig 

Analysis: Questionnaire reveals ‘ghetto mentality’ among Mideast Christians due to rise of ‘political Islam.’

10/7/2010 Middle East, Vatican City (Jerusalem Post) – An unprecedented Vatican Synod of Bishops – a “Special Assembly for the Middle East” – will be held in Vatican City from October 10 to 24.

One hundred and seventy-two Catholic bishops from Islamic countries, 14 Roman Curia officials, 14 non-Catholic Christians and 30 academic experts will spend two weeks discussing the future of Catholic communities in the Middle East.
“The urgent reasons for this meeting are that Christians are fleeing from the Middle East, and extremist Islamism is invading the area. We need to find a dialogue with Muslims, and unity among Christians,” Monsignor Shlemon Warduni, the auxiliary bishop of the Patriarchate of Babylon, Iraq, of the Chaldean Catholic Church, told The Jerusalem Post.

Usually, the Catholic Church points to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as the factor behind all unrest in the Middle East, declining to denounce the repression of Christian life in Muslim countries for fear of retaliation. Things are changing.

Catholics are a small, persecuted minority in the Middle East. The recent slaying in Turkey of an Italian priest, Monsignor Luigi Padovese, by his driver four years after the murder of another Catholic priest, Father Andrea Santoro, are only the most sensational examples of an endless series of sporadic killings and steady violations of civil rights of Christians in Turkey, Syria, Iran, Palestine, Lebanon and Iraq.

In Iraq, for example, the Christian population has diminished from 1.4 million in 1987 to fewer than 400,000 today.

The resulting document clearly expresses concern over the rise of “political Islam…a threat to all, Christians, Jews and Muslims” and the consequent “ghetto mentality” of Christians who “isolate themselves out of fear of others.”

The official objective is to strengthen Christian identity and promote ecumenism in Muslim countries. The working document’s section on Catholics’ “Relations with Muslims” states that they “are difficult principally because Muslims make no distinction between religion and politics, thereby relegating Christians to precarious positions of being considered noncitizens despite the fact that they were citizens of these countries long before the rise of Islam.”

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