Magazine article National Catholic Reporter

No Small Plans for the Middle East

Magazine article National Catholic Reporter

No Small Plans for the Middle East

Article excerpt

ROME * In the spirit of "make no small plans," the bishops, priests and laity gathered in Rome for the Oct. 10-24 Synod of Bishops for the Middle East seemed to struggle to express a great dream: that the tiny Christian minority, squeezed between a Jewish state and a vast Islamic sea, can somehow catalyze a democratic revolution across the region--helping to build societies open to religion, but not capsized by it.

In concrete, that means pressing Israel to better integrate its Arab minority, as well as a small but growing flock of Hebrew-speaking Christians, and cajoling the Islamic nations of the Middle East to construct "civil states" based on democracy, the rule of law, and what Benedict XVI sometimes calls "healthy secularism."

That's a tall order for a Christian community estimated to represent no more than 2 to 5 percent of the population in the 16 states of the Middle East, and whose demographic base in some countries is in free fall, especially in Iraq and the Palestinian Territories.

To preserve Christianity's social capital, synod participants seemed to have a four-pronged strategy.

* First, they aim to overcome the traditional rivalries that have long divided the six Eastern Catholic churches of the Middle East (Armenian, Chaldean, Coptic, Maronite, Melkite and Syrian) as well as the Latin rite. It's a telling point that prior to this synod, the bishops of the region had never actually met as a group. Now that they have, they hope it will spell the death of "confessionalism. …

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