Speech of His Beatitude Patriarch Gregorios III
during the 55th. ICMC Council Meeting
Rome, 17-20 November 2010
The Synod for the Middle East
Inspirational Conclusions on Migration
Melkite Greek Catholic Patriarchate
of Antioch and All the East
of Alexandria and of Jerusalem
The Special Assembly of the Synod of Bishops for the Middle East was, in my opinion, the greatest event after the Second Vatican Council’s fine words about the Eastern Churches.
During this Synod the whole floor was given to the Eastern Catholic Churches. The Eastern Catholic Patriarchs, and the Bishops who were members of their patriarchal Synods, were there in force. They all spoke, making contributions on various topics before the Synod. They expressed their views through the media who were very keen to ask them about the Christian East, so little known, so complex in its component parts, so rich in rites and traditions and so important for the future of the Middle East, for Christians, Jews and Muslims living together, and for Peace, which is the great good for all the inhabitants of this Holy Land, of Arab countries, where sixty per cent are young people who are best placed to become victims of growing fundamentalism, and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This Synod for the Middle East, carefully considered the problem of Migrants, the object and subject of our congress.
I have been asked to set out the deliberations, proposals and conclusions of this Assembly on the subject of migrants. Indeed many of the speeches had to do with the problem of migrants in its different aspects.
Here are the most significant passages of the final proposals on the topic of migrants:
Consolidating the presence of Christians
Our Churches must create an office or a commission entrusted with the study of the phenomenon of migration and of the factors behind it so as to find ways of stopping it. They are to do all that is possible to boost the presence of Christians in their countries, and to do this especially through development projects to limit the phenomenon of migration.
Pastoral practice for emigration
The presence of numerous Eastern Christians in all the continents challenges the Church to devise an appropriate pastoral programme in light of emigration:
1. the Eastern bishops are to visit the seminaries of the Middle East to present the situation and the needs of their eparchies;
2. the formation of seminarians with a missionary spirit, open to different cultures;
3. the preparation and accompaniment of priests missioned outside the patriarchal territory;
4. the promotion of vocations work in the communities outside of the patriarchal territory; and
5. the sending of priests and the establishment of their own eparchies wherever the pastoral needs require them according to the canonical norms.
Emigration and Solidarity
1. To awaken and reinforce a sense of solidarity and of sharing with the country of origin, by contributing to pastoral projects and in cultural, educational, economic and social development;
2. to educate Christians who have emigrated to remain faithful to the tradition of their origins;
3. to strengthen bonds of communion between emigrants and the Churches in their native countries.
Emigration – Formation
We urge Churches in the countries which receive immigrants to be familiar with and to respect Eastern theology, traditions and patrimonies, and that this be reflected in their norms, and sacramental and administrative practices. This will help collaboration with Eastern Churches present in those countries, and in the formation and pastoral care of their faithful.
We are seriously concerned about the condition of immigrant workers in the Middle East, both Christians and non-Christians, especially women. Many of them find themselves in situations that are difficult or that even undermine their dignity.
We call on patriarchal synods and episcopal conferences, Catholic charitable institutions, especially Caritas, political leaders, and all people of good will, to do everything in their power to ensure the respect of immigrants’ fundamental rights as recognised by international law, regardless of the nationality or religion of the immigrants in question, and to offer them legal and human assistance. Our Churches should seek to provide the spiritual help they need as a sign of Christian hospitality and of ecclesial communion.
To better welcome and guide immigrants to the Middle East, the Churches from which they come are asked to maintain regular contact with the Churches which welcome them by assisting them to set up the structures they need, i.e. parishes, schools, meeting places, etc.
Furthermore, I am happy to inform you briefly about the reception given to migrants, especially Iraqi migrants, into Syria, and to Damascus itself. There are nearly one and a half million Iraqi refugees in Syria, of whom a great number are in Damascus. Muslims make it their duty, as a matter of faith, to receive Muslim refugees. Christians are very well received by all, especially by us Greek Catholics!
Our rooms designated for catechism and youth activities are open for their activities. I have brought with me a C.D. of a celebration of Holy Communion with Greek Catholic and Iraqi children together. Iraqis attend all our feasts, liturgical celebrations, processions… Iraqi children are admitted free of charge into state schools by the Syrian government. Caritas Syria and various welfare associations provide, as far as possible, good services to Iraqis and other, especially Sudanese, migrants. Similarly Caritas Lebanon and Jordan are very committed to serving migrants, especially from the Philippines and Sri Lanka.
In Lebanon the Alef Bet Centre, an initiative of the Lazarist Fathers in Beirut, was recently (26 October 2010) inaugurated by the Apostolic Nuncio to Lebanon, H.E. Mgr Gabriele Caccia. It is an initiative of Caritas Lebanon, Caritas Austria and the German Foundation Sternstunden.
Hundreds of migrant families are cared for by this centre. Fifty children are in a private school. They are children from Sri Lanka, India, Sudan and Bangladesh.
(Alef Bet are the first two letters of the Phoenician, Arab, Aramean, Hebrew and Syriac alphabets…)
I should also like to note the speech of H.E. Mgr Antonio-Maria Vegliò, President of the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People, who presented to the Roman press at the Vatican the sixth message of Pope Benedict XVI on this theme. There follows the complete text of his speech to be found on the official Vatican website: (http://www.vatican.va/news_services/press/sinodo/documents/bollettino_24_speciale-medio-oriente-2010/02_inglese/b21_02.html )
In recent decades, Christians, and especially young people in many countries of the Middle East, have left their homeland in droves. It is under the eyes of all, as a result, that Christians in the Middle East are in great difficulty, they are few in number and are often powerless and resigned.
In this important meeting, feelings of spiritual closeness, support and encouragement for Christians in the Middle East spontaneously emerge, also recalling the ultimate sacrifice that Mons Faraj Raho, Mons Luigi Padovese, Don Andrea Santoro and other priests and many men and women, well-known and admired by Christian communities, offered to the world .
There are also positive aspects in the phenomenon of migration as it had increased the number of Catholics in the region who pour into to certain areas of the Middle East, so much so that there are many Christian communities composed almost exclusively of immigrants, always more in greater contact with people of other religions, especially Muslims.
In this scenario, it is decisive to urge for a political commitment at a global level that addresses the causes of this haemorrhaging of men and women that empties the Churches of the Middle East and the places where Christianity was born and developed. It would be terrible if the Holy Land and its neighbours, the cradle of Christianity and home of the Prince of Peace, were to become a museum of stone, a beloved memory of past times! Equally indispensable and is a cultural commitment, that is, formation with respect to the centrality and dignity of every human person, the opposition to xenophobia, sometimes encouraged by the media, and support in integration that safeguards people’s identity..
While I view the emerging social problems with concern, I also notice the risk that the individual Eastern Catholic Churches should fold back on themselves. Christians Communities of the Middle East should be encouraged towards a better mutual understanding, which helps them to respect and appreciate each other more, to cooperate and work together in order to carry more weight.
This meeting will certainly show solidarity and support for Christians in the Middle East, so that they will feel encouraged to remain in their countries, in order to carry out their mission as “leaven”, through the life and witness of communion and, where possible, also with the explicit proclamation of Jesus Christ the only Lord and Saviour.
Finally, in confidence: I am very happy with this Synod, which will help you Eastern Churches get to know each other better along with the Latin Church. And if know each other, we will love and help each other more.
H. Exc. Mgr Antonio Maria VEGLIÒ
Titular Archbishop of Eclano
President of the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People
I should like to end my presentation with two passages from the Report after the Discussion of H.B. Antonios Naguib, Patriarch of Coptic Catholics on the matter of migrants and immigrants:
One of the major challenges threatening the presence of Christians in some countries in the Middle East is emigration. This topic is a common concern in all Churches, and should be considered in an ecumenical partnership. The main causes of this troubling phenomenon are economic and political situations, the rise of fundamentalism, and the restriction of freedoms and equality, exacerbated strongly by the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the war in Iraq. Youth, the educated and affluent people are more likely to leave, depriving the Church and the country of its most valuable resources. Emigration has become a general phenomenon that affects Christians and Muslims. It deprives our Churches and our countries of valuable and moderate elements. The motives that cause people, especially Christians, to leave the region would constitute a good subject of sincere and frank dialogue with Muslims.
Emigration is a natural right left to the free choice of individuals and families, especially those located in harsh conditions. But the Church has the duty to encourage her faithful to remain as witnesses, apostles and builders of peace and welfare of their countries. Pastors should help the faithful become more aware of their vocation, their mission and their historical role in their countries, as bearers of Christ’s message to their country, even amidst difficulties and persecution. Their absence would negatively affect the future. It is with deep faith that Christians find the motivation to live courageously and joyfully their Christianity in their country. It is important to avoid defeatist talk, or encourage emigration as a preferred option. On the other hand, we must foster the conditions that encourage the decision to stay. It is up to politicians to consolidate peace, democracy and development, to foster a climate of stability and confidence. Christians, along with all people of good will, are called to engage positively in achieving this goal. Greater awareness on the part of international bodies of the duty to contribute to the development of our countries would help a great deal in this regard. Many speakers pointed out the very positive relationship between Eastern Catholic communities in the Diaspora and the local Latin Church of the host countries, including the United States, Oceania, Australia and many European countries. The Christians arriving from the Middle East appeal to the hospitality of their brothers and sisters in the West, and awaken their Christian consciences. Our Churches are very grateful to the Churches of the host countries for the valuable assistance they provide to our emigrant faithful. The synod fathers drew attention to the necessity and importance of communicating with the Christians of Europe the causes that make millions of Christians leave the Middle East. An Eastern Patriarchal Vicar could be appointed to coordinate the pastoral care for faithful of his Church in the Diaspora.
The host Churches should provide immigrants with their structures: parishes, schools, meeting centres, and others. This requires structures of reception, social and cultural tutoring and guidance. Most of the welcoming dioceses have special pastoral programmes for immigrants, with a special section for Eastern communities. With gratitude, we greatly appreciate their laudable concern and solicitude for solidarity. Western Christians are to express effectively their support for Christians in the Middle East, by helping and supporting their Eastern brothers.
The host Churches in their laws and sacramental practices are also invited to know and respect eastern theology, traditions and heritage. One of the roles of the host Churches is also to accompany migrants, overwhelmed by the painful memory of humiliating and offensive actions through a process of forgiveness. These Churches will act to ensure that their countries take appropriate measures to guarantee the respect, dignity and rights of the human person and of the family, which must remain united, and receive what is necessary to lead a dignified life, acceptable to God.
The Churches of North Africa want to collaborate with the Churches of the Middle East, and also seek the presence of Arab priests to strengthen their dialogue with Muslims. The Latin Catholic Church in the Maghreb is living in a pluralist and ecumenically satisfying context. Latin Churches in the Gulf have explained the complicated special situation in which they are located, and which makes them adopt structures and a pastoral style that appear restrictive. They confirm that they are doing everything possible to meet the vast needs of migrants, within the restrictive limits of civil and religious possibilities.
The synod fathers have emphasized the need and frequency of extending the jurisdiction of the Patriarchs to the faithful of their rite outside the territory of the Patriarchal Church sui iuris. They are eager to move from the territorial concept to the personal concept. Limiting the jurisdiction of the Patriarch to the faithful of his Church sui iuris is logical on the personal level and not a territorial one. How can one be “Father and Head” of a people without a head? This extension of jurisdiction arises in the context of an adaptation of pastoral service to the faithful in the eastern Diaspora. Communion is a personal relationship, animated by the Holy Spirit. This perspective is very important for ecumenical dialogue and the progress towards perfect unity.
Emigration is also a major support for the countries and the Churches. The Church of the original country must find ways to maintain close ties with her emigrated faithful and to ensure their spiritual assistance. It is indispensable to provide the faithful of the Eastern Churches, in Latin territories, with the Liturgy in their own rite. The selling of property in the homeland is highly regrettable. The retention or acquisition of land encourages return. The land affirms and reinforces identity and belonging, and this requires a rootedness in the land. Communities in the Diaspora have a role to encourage and consolidate the Christian presence in the East, to strengthen their witness and to support their cause for the common good of the country. Appropriate pastoral care should take care of internal emigration in each country.
5. Christian immigration to the Middle East from the World Over
The Middle Eastern countries are experiencing a new phenomenon: receiving many African and Asian migrant workers, most of whom are women. They find themselves in an atmosphere of Muslim predominance, and sometimes with little opportunity for religious practice. Many feel abandoned, faced with abuse and mistreatment, in situations of injustice, and violation of laws and international conventions. Some immigrants change their names to be more accepted and supported.
Our Churches must make a greater effort to help them, by welcoming, by support, and by human, religious and social assistance. In each of our countries, our Catholic Churches should establish a special pastoral care proper for them in a coordinated effort among the bishops, religious congregations, and social and charitable organizations. This also requires cooperation between the Catholic authorities of the place, and the hierarchy of the Churches of origin.
(Patriarch Antonios Naguib Ref. http://www.vatican.va/news_services/press/sinodo/documents/bollettino_24_speciale-medio-oriente-2010/02_inglese/b17_02.html )
And finally, I would like to conclude with some passages from the Nuntius of the Synod:
Message to the People of God:
10. We appreciate the efforts which have been expended for the common good and the service to our societies. You are in our prayers and we ask God to guide your steps. We address you regarding the importance of equality among all citizens. Christians are original and authentic citizens who are loyal to their fatherland and assume their duties towards their country. It is natural that they should enjoy all the rights of citizenship, freedom of conscience, freedom of worship and freedom in education, teaching and the use of the mass media.
We appeal to you to redouble your efforts to establish a just and lasting peace throughout the region and to stop the arms race, which will lead to security and economic prosperity and stop the haemorrhage of emigration which empties our countries of its vital forces. Peace is a precious gift entrusted by God to human family, whose members are to be “peacemakers who will be called children of God.” (Mt 5:9)
11. The citizens of the countries of the Middle East call upon the international community, particularly the United Nations conscientiously to work to find a peaceful, just and definitive solution in the region, through the application of the Security Council’s resolutions and taking the necessary legal steps to put an end to the occupation of the different Arab territories.
The Palestinian people will thus have an independent and sovereign homeland where they can live with dignity and security. The State of Israel will be able to enjoy peace and security within their internationally recognized borders. The Holy City of Jerusalem will be able to acquire its proper status, which respects its particular character, its holiness and the religious patrimony of the three religions: Jewish, Christian and Muslim. We hope that the two-State-solution might become a reality and not a dream only.
Iraq will be able to put an end to the consequences of its deadly war and re-establish a secure way of life which will protect all its citizens with all their social structures, both religious and national.
Lebanon will be able to enjoy sovereignty over its entire territory, strengthen its national unity and carry on in its vocation to be the model of coexistence between Christians and Muslims, of dialogue between different cultures and religions, and of the promotion of basic public freedoms.
We condemn violence and terrorism from wherever it may proceed as well as all religious extremism. We condemn all forms of racism, anti-Semitism, anti-Christianism and Islamophobia and we call upon the religions to assume their responsibility to promote dialogue between cultures and civilisations in our region and in the entire world.
I hope I have answered the question. It is very important to treat the problem of migrants, refugees and deported folk with care… But it is even more important to deal with and analyse the reasons that underlie the problem of refugees and expatriates caused by wars and conflicts. This was a theme that was raised a great deal during the Synod for the Middle East.
Patriarch of Antioch and All the East,
of Alexandria and of Jerusalem