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Most Holy Father,
Your Eminences, Beatitudes and Excellencies,
Fraternal Delegates of the Sister Churches and Ecclesial Communities,
Dear Experts and Invited Guests,
First of all, I would like to express my deep gratitude to His Holiness, Pope Benedict XVI for having appointed me as General Rapporteur of this Special Assembly for the Middle East. This is the first time I have taken on such an awesome task. I will try to carry it out to the best of my ability, relying on the Lord’s assistance and your understanding.
Saint Luke reports in the Acts of the Apostles that Jesus, before taking leave of his apostles, gave them these instructions: «You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the end of the earth» (Acts 1:8).
The Apostles, after having received the Holy Spirit, undertook their mission and began fearlessly to announce the Good News of the Lord’s life, death and resurrection (cf. Acts 2:32). Peter’s first proclamation resulted in the conversion and Baptism of approximately three thousand persons and many others after them, all of whom were radically transformed: «Now the company of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things which he possessed was his own, but they had everything in common» (Acts 4:32).
These happenings at the Church’s origin inspired the topic and the goal of our Special Assembly for the Middle East of the Synod of Bishops: communion and witness — both communal and personal — flowing from a life grounded in Christ and animated by the Holy Spirit. Over the centuries, the example of the Church of the Apostles has always been the model for the Church in every age. Our Synodal Assembly aims at offering us assistance in returning to this ideal, in helping us examine our lives so as to give them a renewed energy and vitality which will purify, regenerate and invigorate us.
The Holy Father personally consigned to us the Instrumentum laboris of this Special Assembly, during his Apostolic Visit to Cyprus, a gesture which showed his particular concern for our Churches. Yesterday morning’s Solemn Eucharistic Concelebration, at which His Holiness was the principal celebrant, is the best guarantee of God’s blessing on this Assembly. Assured of this heavenly assistance and relying on the help and guidance of the Blessed Virgin Mary, we confidently approach our task.
All of us received the announcement of the Special Assembly for the Middle East of the Synod of Bishops with great joy, enthusiasm, gratitude and fervor. The Holy Father’s decision was seen as his fatherly acceptance of a proposal which was of particular concern to us and a demonstration of his special care for our Churches as Bishop of Rome and as the Supreme Shepherd of the Catholic Church. We have already witnessed his special consideration on various occasions and frequently during his homilies and discourses. We experienced it in a particular manner, during his Apostolic Visits to Turkey (2006), to Jordan, Israel and Palestine (2009) and most recently to Cyprus (2010). However, the actual presence of the Holy Father in our midst, during these proceedings, brings the love, solidarity, prayer and support of the Successor of Peter, the Holy See and the entire Church.
As soon as the Holy Father announced the event on 19 September 2009, the General Secretariat of the Synod of Bishops worked with the Pre-Synodal Council for the Middle East to prepare the Lineamenta, and, subsequently, the Instrumentum laboris. For the most part, these documents find their basis in Sacred Scripture, with references to the documents of Vatican Council II, the Codes of Canons of the Eastern Churches and the Code of Canon Law. Particular consideration was given to the 10 Pastoral Letters of the Council of Patriarchs of the Middle East. I believe that the work was well done, despite the limited time available in preparation.
I feel it would be useful to propose the following topics in the Instrumentum laboris for more detailed treatment in the course of our work.
A. The Goal of the Synod (nn. 3 - 6)
The twofold aim of the Synod was well received and appreciated in our Catholic Churches, namely:
1) to confirm and strengthen the Church’s members in their Christian identity, through the Word of God and the sacraments; and
2) to foster ecclesial communion between the Churches sui iuris, so that they may offer an authentic and effective witness. Essential elements in this witness in our lives are ecumenism, inter-religious dialogue and the missionary effort.
The Instrumentum laboris insists on the need and importance that the synod fathers give our Christian people reasons for their presence in our countries and confirm them in their mission of being, and continuing to be, authentic witnesses of the Risen Christ, in every aspect of their lives. Amidst oftentimes very difficult yet promising circumstances in life, they are a visible icon of Christ, the “flesh and blood” incarnation of his Church and the present-day instrument of the Holy Spirit’s activity.
B. A Reflection Guided by Holy Scripture (nn. 7 - 12)
We are proud to come from lands where men, inspired by the Holy Spirit, wrote the Holy Books in some of our native languages. This, however, makes demands on us. Holy Scripture must be the soul of our religious life and witness, both as individuals and communities. The Holy Liturgy is the centre and summit of our ecclesial life, where we celebrate and listen regularly to the Word of God. In our reading, praying and meditating upon the Holy Bible, whether as a Church, in small groups or individually, we must look for and find the answers to the meaning of our presence in our countries, our communion and our witness, taking into consideration our surroundings and the present-day challenges of new situations.
The Instrumentum laboris draws attention to an insufficient response to the great thirst of our faithful for the Word of God, its understanding and its assimilation in their hearts and lives. In this regard, appropriate initiatives need to be considered, undertaken, encouraged and supported, particularly through utilising the modern media which are available today. Individuals, who, in virtue of their vocation, are more directly in contact with the Word of God, have a special responsibility to witness and intercede for the People of God. Memorisation of biblical texts is always beneficial and fruitful.
«Salvation history» needs to be highlighted in the exegesis and interpretation of the Sacred Scriptures, which reveal the unique, divine plan, unfolding over the ages and intimately bound to both the Old and the New Testament, a plan which finds its center and summit in Jesus Christ. Inasmuch as the Bible is the Book of the Christian community, the biblical text can only be correctly interpreted within the Church.
Therefore, the Church’s tradition and teaching, especially in our Eastern countries, are the indisputable reference-point for understanding and interpreting the Bible.
The Word of God is the source of theology, morality and apostolic and missionary spirituality and vitality. The Word sheds light on life’s happenings, thereby transforming, guiding and giving them meaning. Some unthinking or bad-intentioned persons use the Bible as a “recipe book” or a basis for superstitious practices. We have the responsibility to educate our faithful not to give credence to such people. The Word of God also shed’s light on communities and personal choices in life, providing responses to the challenges of life, inspiration to ecumenical and inter-religious dialogue and the manner of dutifully approaching political life. The Word of God, therefore, needs to be the reference-point for Christians in education and witness, so as to indicate to people of good the path which leads to the God for whom they are searching.
[Translated version received from the General Secretariat of the Synod of Bishops]
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