By Chiara Santomiero
ROME, OCT. 8, 2010 (Zenit.org).- The special synod on the Middle East gets under way this Sunday, but a workshop ongoing this week already has a group of scholars working on a document that will be a contribution from the laity to the synodal assembly.
The workshop, organized by Pax Romana, concludes Saturday. It gathered some 50 representatives of the Catholic intellectual world linked to the countries of the Middle East.
The apostolic vicar of Arabia, Bishop Paul Hinder, participated in a press conference Wednesday to present the workshop.
The participants' objective is to "reflect on some topics indicated in the synod's 'Instrumentum Laboris,' such as the political question, the relationship between Islam and the West, migrations, ecumenism and religious liberty, and to elaborate a document that represents a contribution of the laity to the synodal assembly," it was explained.
Bishop Hinder noted how a Western conception of "Middle East" can tend to be reduced to the Holy Land. But his jurisdiction includes the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Qatar, Oman, Saudi Arabia and Yemen, six states in which more than 2.5 million Catholics live.
"Arabia is an important reality, though unknown, where there is a lively Christian community made up exclusively of immigrants, especially Filipinos and Indians, which carry on despite the restrictions to religious liberty," he stated.
According to Bishop Hinder, there is a risk for the Church in the Middle East of concentrating on the past, and this, he said, also affects "relations with Islam and the possibility of blocking us on juridical issues."
The bishop emphasized, in fact, that he is expecting the synod to look toward the future, avoiding "the danger of being too concentrated on the past of our territories."
In this regard, he praised the theme of the synod, focused on "communion and witness," saying it looks to reinforce a sense of belonging to the Church.
Xaverian Sister Katia Mikhael, a medical doctor who works with Caritas in the Middle East and North Africa, spoke of the challenge of emigration plaguing Christians of the Middle East.
The synod, she suggested, "will attempt to delineate a third way: the meaning of the presence of Christians in this region through the vocation to communion and witness in a wide sense that is cultural, economic, political and social."
Sister Mikhael emphasized the importance of the Church's educational and charitable institutions in this endeavor, "as well as the media that takes to Eastern culture the concept of human rights and of protection of the most vulnerable."
The nun contended that much of Muslim radicalism "is born of social and economic inequality, and this poses a question to us all."
When "the awareness is acquired that fundamentalism isn't a religious problem but one of social justice, then Christians can offer the society another ethic that puts the person at the center and pursues solidarity and the common good," she said.
"It's a long process," the nun acknowledged, "but it's the key for us to stay in the Middle East."
Father Rafiq Khoury, a parish priest of Bir Zeit (of the patriarchate of Jerusalem of the Latins) presented the Kairos Document, a treatise from Palestinian Christians.
"We have been Christians for 2000 years and our people are native to this land, as are the Arabs and Jews," Father Khoury stated. He said the document explains the situation of Palestinian Christians and stresses "how the Word of God in the Holy Land must be interpreted as addressed to the good of all and not only of a part, and the choice to resist evil is duly and peacefully made."
"The West has an immense responsibility in finding a just and lasting solution to a conflict that has consequences not only for the Middle East but for the whole world," the priest reflected.
Philippe Ledouble, international vice president of Pax Romana, echoed this sentiment, saying the objective of the workshop is precisely to "increasingly elicit awareness about the situation of Christians in the Middle East."
The final document of the Pax Romana workshop will be presented on Saturday at the headquarters of Italian Catholic Action, and given to the synodal fathers in attendance.