Ecumenical and interreligious relations, and the situation of Christian minorities have been among the topics discussed by the General Congregation of the Synod of Bishops for the Middle East, within the Roman Catholic Church
Pope Benedict XVI was present for a session at the beginning of the weekend which saw interventions from auditors and special delegates, as well as greetings from the World Council of Churches.
Discussions included reflection on the "horrible tragedy" of Christians in Iraq, reports Vatican Radio. Bishops from the embattled nation warned that there is a deliberate campaign to drive them out of the country and called on the international community not to remain silent.
The difficult situation of the Church in Turkey was also touched on, a reality that sometimes overlooked or underestimated, Synod members said.
The Turkish church's story, concluded the participants, was "written with the blood of victims", such as Mgr Luigi Padovese, Apostolic Vicar of Anatolia, who was murdered in June 2010.
The Synod’s reflection on ecumenical dialogue was wide-ranging, with a call for leaders of the various churches in the Middle East to act together for the good of Christians in the region.
Bishop Shahan Sarkissian of Aleppo, Syria, said that a “clearer and more concrete witness of the unity of the Churches is more imperative today than ever for the Middle East”.
One suggestion was to finally agree on a common date for Easter (something the World Council of Churches and others have advocated over any years), and another the creation of a Feast Day commemorating martyrs of the East.
But dialogue must also involve other religions, the bishops said. Cardinal Jean Louis Tauran of the Vatican’s council for inter-religious dialogue, declared: “Let us not be shy in reclaiming not only freedom of worship, but also religious freedom”.
One suggestion was the promotion of a UN resolution on religious freedom that protects religious groups from discrimination - while simultaneously condemning the use of religion to justify wars, or political and economic interests.
The Catholic bishops also reaffirmed the importance of the Christian presence in Muslim-majority countries, for their work in promoting peace and unity.
Also on Ekklesia: 'Hope and challenge for Middle East Synod', by adviser and commentator Harry Hagopian. http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/13356