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Synod members discuss threats to Christian survival in Middle East

By Cindy Wooden

10/12/2010 Middle East, Vatican City (CNS) — The survival of the Christian communities of the Middle East is threatened not only by violence and political repression, but also by the churches’ weakened sense of mission, failure to work ecumenically and loss of their traditional liturgical heritage, bishops told the special synod for the Middle East.

“The Palestinian events, the civil war in Lebanon, the Islamic Revolution in Iran, the invasion of Iraq … Christians of all churches without distinction are martyred, forced to emigrate, forced to leave,” Armenian Archbishop Boutros Marayati of Aleppo, Syria, told the synod Oct. 11.

“This is a real ecumenical concern,” the archbishop said. He urged synod members to find ways to strengthen the bonds among all Christians in the Middle East, “encouraging a spirit of fraternity, dialogue and communion among the churches.”

After a morning of listening to formal presentations Oct. 11, the 185 synod members began making their own speeches to the synod during the afternoon session.

Archbishop Marayati said that while Christians throughout the region share many similar challenges, the situation of the communities varies from country to country; he suggested the synod be followed by ecumenical conferences in each country to offer specific, united responses to local needs.

Melkite Archbishop Elias Chacour of Haifa, Israel, told the synod that 2,000 years ago “my ancestors started spreading around everywhere the exciting news revolving around an empty tomb and a risen man.”

Despite oppression and persecution throughout the centuries, the Christians of the Holy Land continue to proclaim to the world the good news that Jesus rose from the dead, he said.

“He is risen, but his cross is still high in our sky. Our Christianity is hanging on that terrible cross,” the archbishop said. Christians in the Holy Land “still live under daily threats” from governments who want to transfer Arabs from their ancestral lands, he said.

Archbishop Chacour called the small Arab Christian communities in Israel and the Palestinian territories “the remnant of the family of Christ” and asked the universal church to be more supportive of the land’s native Christians.

“We need your friendship more than your money,” he told the bishops.

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