By Joseph Donnelly, Caritas Internationalis
Icons are an extraordinary gift. These sacred paintings are reflections of scripture, inspired through the centuries. Icons invite us to look carefully beyond what is most obvious – and to hear God’s Word. An ecclesiastical synod is a truly iconic moment. A chance to enter into communities on their respective pilgrimages.
One year ago, it was announced that a special assembly would come together as a Synod on the Middle East. On October 10, the first-ever Synod on the Middle East opened in Rome. Yesterday, this historic assembly closed in St. Peter’s Basilica with a solemn liturgy for the region.
The theme of the meeting was ‘The Catholic Church in the Middle East: Communion and Witness.’ To speak of the Middle East is to consider countless images. To speak of the Catholic Church and the Christians in the Middle East is to consider rich traditions as well as great suffering.
From the birthplace of Christianity where today hope and hardship dwell side by side, 185 Synod fathers had come. The Synod also included 70 experts from organisations that could advise the Synod. They included representatives of Caritas Jordan, Egypt and Lebanon, as well as the Caritas Mona Regional President Joseph Farah.
From Lebanon to Iraq, from Jordan to Egypt, Syria to Cyprus and beyond. They had come together to see how best to unify Christian communities, to witness better together than alone and to build up modern societies rooted in respect for dignity and human rights.
Talks and group meetings took place, not so much with speeches but rather reflecting together about the practice of Catholic Social Teaching in concrete situations.
One Synod Father said, “It is good to be able to listen to another voice. Perhaps there are situations in which we do not see it clearly. We need to see also what others expect from us, not only what we expect and want. It cannot but be constructive and positive.”
There are great hopes of finding the necessary solutions to support the Christians of the Middle East and stimulate greater communion among communities. Closing the Synod, Pope Benedict XVI said, “Peace is possible. Peace is urgent”. Caritas has run a campaign on the Holy Land for many years, its title “Peace is Possible.”
The Synod Fathers said in a final communiqué, ”We have taken account of the impact of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on the whole region, especially on the Palestinians who are suffering the consequences of the Israeli occupation: the lack of freedom of movement, the wall of separation and the military checkpoints, the political prisoners, the demolition of homes, the disturbance of socio-economic life and the thousands of refugees.”
So the Synod fathers are called to go home. They have gone with a reiterated mission of establishing justice and peace to counter persecution and violence. They are sent with hope renewing memories, seeking purification, healing and wholeness to transform fear and welcome every stranger and refugee.
A wise religious leader who often travelled on mission in search of faith and justice for the region said: “You are the Magi who came looking for Jesus. Go back from this Synod and the Virgin Mary will be your Star. Go back to the East and bring with you the mystery of Christ Redeemer.”