06/27/2005, 00.00
LEBANON
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The main commitment of Melchite Catholics: strengthening the Christian presence in the east

by Jihad Issa

The conclusions of the annual synod invite the faithful to both personal witness and participation in public life. The words of Patriarch Gregory III Laham recall the teaching of John Paul II.

Beirut (AsiaNews) – Strengthening the Christian presence in the east through bearing personal witness to the faith; unity among Churches; greater awareness of the surrounding environment, and being close to those in need. These were the conclusions of the Greco-Melchite Church's annual synod, as summed up by Gregory III Laham, patriarch of Antioch, Jerusalem, Alexandria and all the east.

The synod deliberations, which closed on Saturday in Ain Traz (the patriarch's summer headquarters), drew participants from the United States, Canada, Latin America and Australia apart from those coming from Arab countries. Throughout the synod, they recalled the figure of John Paul II and his work for the universal church and especially for the eastern churches. Gregory III Laham also presided over a special commemoration in memory of the deceased pope, in the presence of the apostolic nuncio in Lebanon, Mgr Luigi Gatti, and representatives of the highest religious and political authorities in the country; all the faiths were present, including Muslims and Druze.

Patriarch Gregory III Laham illustrated the significance of the doctrinal, moral and spiritual teaching of the deceased pontiff by describing John Paul II's message as one of brotherhood, love and harmony among all the peoples of the earth. The patriarch highlighted the importance of the apostolic exhortation "New hope for Lebanon" published in 1997 during the pope's visit to Lebanon, at the end of the special assembly of the Bishops' Synod for Lebanon. He summed up the content of this apostolic exhortation as the pope's "legacy" for the Lebanese.

For his part, nuncio Mgr Gatti drew attention to the importance accorded by the deceased pontiff to eastern Catholic churches and he also recalled the implications of his apostolic visits in the Arab region, to Morocco, Sudan, Tunisia, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, Egypt, occupied territories. Mgr Gatti then renewed the commitment of the Church to keep the Christian presence in the region alive.

The Christian presence in the Mid-East was one of the main issues tackled in the synod discussions. "This presence is strongly anchored in history and its effectiveness must be enhanced in the interests of mankind in this region," reads the synod's final statement. The document, read by the auxiliary patriarch Mgr Joseph Absi, holds that this willingness could be expressed on the ground through: a faith made evident in all circumstances; a strengthening of the unity among Churches; following a process of commitment towards national partners; assistance to the region's dispossessed people; participation in public life; attachment to ancestors' land and in an attitude of openness, which is far from any complex which may arise out of being a minority.

Finally, talking about the election of the new pope, Benedict XVI, Patriarch Gregory highlighted the teaching of the pope, watchdog of the faith, exhorting all to raise prayers of intercession for the success of the ministry of the sovereign pontiff.

The synod's final document also tackles the situation in some Arab countries, starting with Lebanon, which it congratulates on the election of its new Parliament, "in the hope that it will fulfill national ambitions, especially those of nationalist youths". The Greco-Melchite bishops deplored the series of assassination attempts in the country, "a barbaric way of behaving against the adversary". In the hope this will end, the bishops called on the Lebanese people "to turn to the language of reason and of dialogue, to accept the other with his differences with the aim of obtaining their rights and freedoms".

With regard to Syria, the bishops "prayed so this country will know ever more freedom, security and prosperity, to contribute, together with its neighbours, to building a world free of terrorism and arms". As for Palestine, the bishops expressed the hope that the words of Benedict XVI about the imminence of peace among Palestinians and Israelites "may become reality as soon as possible". The synod also deplored acts of violence in Iraq, which left numerous victims in their wake and expressed hope that the Iraqi people will be able to reach "peace and a pluralistic and democratic society". The Synod finally paid homage to the democratic movement evolving in Egypt, expressing hope that this will soon be crowned by success.  

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