More than 170 Catholic bishops
from Islamic countries, as well as Roman officials, non-Catholic Christians and academic experts discussed the future of Christian communities in the Middle East, reports dici.org
The official objective of the synod was “to strengthen Christian identity and promote ecumenism in Muslim
countries.” It began with a mass in Peter's Basilica, Vatican, in which Benedict XVI said (among other things),
"The Middle East is the land of the exodus and of the return from exile, the land where Jesus lived, died and resurrected, the cradle of the church, established to bring the Gospel of Christ to the borders of the world.
"And we too as believers, look at the Middle East, in the prospect of the history of salvation."
As the National Post reports
, by the end of the Synod, Archbishop Cyril Salim Bustros made the following, shocking statement:
"The theme of the Promised Land cannot be used as a basis to justify the return of the Jews to Israel and the expatriation of the Palestinians. We Christians cannot speak of the 'Promised Land' as an exclusive right for a privileged Jewish people. This promise was nullified by Christ. There is no longer a chosen people -- all men and women of all countries have become the chosen people."
According to the Post
, that same day Danny Ayalon, Deputy Foreign Minister of Israel
"We express our disappointment that this important synod has become a forum for political attacks on Israel in the best history of Arab propaganda, the statements of Archbishop Bustros are libel against the Jewish people and the state of Israel. We call on the Vatican to distance itself."
Foreign ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor perfectly offered with elegant (extreme) understatement. As the Post reports
, Palmor said:
"The public theological debate over who holds the correct interpretation of the Holy Scripture is a thing of the Middle Ages. It seems an unwise idea to try to revive it."
Ink flowed, echoing, extending, and expanding on these official responses, throughout Israeli and other world media, and properly so.
On Oct. 26, AFP reported
further on the synod, saying:
"The Vatican moved yesterday to soothe Israeli anger over critical remarks made by Middle East Catholic bishops. Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi said the synod was "largely positive" and individual statements from bishops did not reflect the opinion of the conference. If one wishes for a synthesized expression of the positions of the [Middle Eastern] synod, one must take it from the message," he said, referring to the conference's final communique."
But this is no distance. At best it can be described only as condescending, counterfeit, discomposing, insufficient distance.
Fully regardless of ones views on Israel and Palestine
, everything about the statement of US Melkite Archbishop Cyrille Salim Bustros, and the patronizing, anemic response of Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi to Israeli officials and citizens is problematic.
Synod conclusions and statements from its designated spokesperson grow directly from the opening direction offered His Holiness. Pope Benedict XVI will remain on the record as in collusion with Bustros's statements, unless and until he does far more to make his positions clear than sit silently behind Father Lombardi's smug condescension.
It is known already that Benedict approaches Catholicism as having the mission to evangelize. He is open about his interest to convert and appropriate believers from non-Catholic religions and traditions into the “one true Church.” We saw this also when he so perfectly offended Muslims in his 2006 Tubingen speech. The homily with which he opened this Synod continued the same tradition.
Is such an approach problematic? Yes. Unhelpful? Yes. Out of step. I think so. But, OK. Not a sin. There are legitimate strains of Christian interpretation that affirm the legitimacy of evangelizing non-Christians. I've written abundantly to express unequivocal disagreement. But Christianity can legitimately be so understood. The core of the problem does not lie in this form of religious colonizing intent.
The problem also does not lie in the decision of the bishops to express political opinion. Despite the widespread popularity of the view that religion and politics should remain separate, it is an errant view nevertheless. The sin of the Middle Eastern bishops was not in their decision to condemn publicly Israeli policy.
Religious leaders bear responsibility to speak on policy and and politicians especially as pertains to the ideals of justice, compassion, and related virtues. The bishops are not wrong to offer opinions or condemnations of political action they feel violates human dignity.
The problem also does not lie in the fact that the concluding statement of the bishops failed to address the express purposes of the Synod, namely to address the situation of Christians in the Middle East. Had the Bishops adhered to the purposes for which this costly gathering was convened, they would have had to acknowledge facts like "Israel's Christian population has grown since the establishment of the Jewish state, while in much of the rest of the Middle East Christians have fled in large numbers." And they would have had to ponder the findings of Open Doors, an organization that tracks attacks on Christians, and regularly compiles a global "persecution index," when they publish the reality that of the top 10 countries on the list, eight are Islamic and three -- Iran, Saudi Arabia and Yemen -- are in the Middle East. The complaint by Israel was not that 180 Bishops strayed off course and got distracted.
The complaint is about the outrageous, unthinkable presumption by which a Christian in this day and age can appear on the international stage, and unabashedly reintroduce the vile-minded stance that informed 2,000 years of Christian evil in its treatment of Jews. It should offend everyone to have to hear a Lebanese-born so-called Christian say: "We Christians cannot speak of the 'Promised Land' as an exclusive right for a privileged Jewish people. This promise was nullified by Christ. There is no longer a chosen people."
We can be thankful perhaps that the conclusions of the Synod and the prideful bluster of His Eminence Bustros fell short of calling for blood libels, expulsions, forced conversions and massacres. But still one can only shudder to awaken in the 21st century and hear a so-called Christian tell Jews how to interpret their scriptures, and declare that Christ has nullified their entire religion! With this, October 24, 2010 became a dark day for religion. The convener of this two week synod, HH Benedict XVI has yet to provide even a flickering candle against this horrid and unwelcome shadow.