Papal change, the Middle East and beyond

By staff writers
February 11, 2013

Ecumenical advisor, Middle East analyst and political consultant Dr Harry Hagopian, who is also an Ekklesia associate, has been doing the round of television stations today (11 February 2013), commenting on the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI and the wider implications of the decision about who will succeed him.

"Interestingly, more than half of the questions during my interviews centred on the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region in political, ecumenical, inter-faith and pastoral terms," he told us earlier.

You can catch Harry on Sky News, on al-Jazeera this evening, on Premier Christian Radio (PCR) and also on ABC (Australian Broadcasting Corporation), among others. His writings on Ekklesia are available at

Among our other coverage, doyen religion journalist Dr Stephen Brown, formerly a managing editor of Ecumenical News International in Geneva, writes exclusively for Ekklesia on the ecumenical legacy of the Pope (

On the global scene, Pope Benedict has spoken out in favour of international legal instruments that aim to defend the rights of migrants, evacuees, internally displaced persons, refugees and their families. That is significant in the MENA region, among others.

The 2009 encyclical Caritas in Veritate (Charity in Truth) made a detailed and firm argument for a worldwide redistribution of wealth, ahead of the G8 agenda on global economy, critiquing excessive free market changes.

The Pope visited Turkey, of which he had earlier been critical, to "reiterate the solidarity between the cultures" of Europe and the East. The Common Declaration of Pope Benedict XVI and Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople implied that support for Turkey's membership in the European Union needed to be reflective of commitments to religious freedom in Turkey. The two religious leaders declared: "In every step towards unification, minorities must be protected, with their cultural traditions and the distinguishing features of their religion."

Pope Benedict has sought to maintain a positive Christian-Jewish and Vatican-Israel relationship, issuing a statement on the occasion of the 60th anniversary of the founding of the state of Israel while also expressing support for a Palestinian state, furthering historic Christian interests in Jerusalem, and asserting the overall political neutrality of the Holy See in internal Middle East conflicts.

The 'Arab Spring' has been challenging for Catholic and other minorities for a variety of reasons. See 'Fear and hope for indigenous Christians in the Middle East and North Africa' (

This pontificate has also seen significant leadership and other changes within the Eastern Catholic Churches in full communion with the Church of Rome, including a new Chaldean Patriarch (

There have also been some challenging moments in relations with Jewish leaders (over the restoration of the Tridentine Mass and the lifting of an excommunication on historical revisionist Bishop Richard Williamson) and Muslim leaders (comments on Islam in the University of Regensburg address), despite considerable interfaith efforts overall - including a symbolically powerful synagogue visit and direct engagement with imams.

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