04/24/2023, 19.54
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Pizzaballa: Post-Synodal Exhortation is a 'testament' for the Churches in the Middle East

The "Rooted in Hope" conference was held in Cyprus from 20 to 23 April, bringing in over 250 delegates, including Church leaders, men and women religious, and lay leaders to mark the 10th anniversary of “Ecclesia in Medio Oriente”. Archbishop Gugerotti stressed the "great vitality" of the region’s Churches. The Latin patriarch of Jerusalem talked about their vocation in a context of violence, wars, and divisions. He criticised the “alliance between throne and altar”.


Nicosia (AsiaNews) – A four-day conference ended yesterday in Nicosia, Cyprus. Titled “Rooted in Hope”, it brought together 250 delegates from all the Catholic Churches in the Middle East to mark the 10th anniversary of Pope Benedict XVI's 2012 post-synodal apostolic exhortation Ecclesia in Medio Oriente.

In his address on the final day, Archbishop Claudio Gugerotti, Prefect of the Dicastery for the Eastern Churches, said that such an event must not remain isolated; instead, it should become a style marked by respect, acceptance, calm and mutual love, as true brothers and sisters have, because "this is the Church".

For the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, Archbishop Pietro Pizzaballa, the pope’s exhortation is like a “testament" entrusted to the Churches of the region that must be read and re-read in light of the events that have shaped the history of the last decade in order to outline future orientations and preserve the Christian presence.

The conference was organised by the Reunion of Aid Agencies for the Oriental Churches (ROACO), with the support of the Dicastery for the Oriental Churches, on the 10th anniversary of the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation "Ecclesia in Medio Oriente”, which the late Pope Benedict XVI signed on 14 September 2012 during his apostolic journey to Lebanon, the last he made abroad as reigning pontiff.

The conference, which was held in Nicosia, capital of Cyprus, from 20 to 23 April, saw the participation of the region’s Catholic patriarchs together with nuncios, bishops, priests, men and women religious, lay people, ambassadors and other diplomatic representatives.

In concluding, Archbishop Gugerotti underlined the "great vitality" of the Churches and their aspiration to be "holy, witnesses, free, active and vibrant". Christians, he noted, have paid a high price for the events of the last decade, but they do not have to complain because "your ancestors walked the Way of the Cross singing hymns of praise".

The prelate praised the role of young people who are not "a museum", but "a source of pure water". In this regard, he stressed the importance of keeping "our hearts young because young eyes can look at the miracles of fidelity, courage and courageous choices of our day.”

Among the various speakers, Patriarch Pizzaballa stood out, speaking last before the closing Mass celebrated  by the Maronite Patriarch.

The Latin primate stressed that Christians cannot “conceive of our being in the Middle East merely and simply as a right, as it would fatally make us a fragile part of a conflict and war.” Instead, they must assert their presence in the region “torn by violence and conflict” as “a vocation and a choice”.

For Patriarch Pizzaballa, “our reflection must start not so much from the situation of our Churches and communities, which can sometimes be worrying, but from the vocation our Churches have in this difficult context.”

Hence, “We will increasingly have to move away from the preoccupation of occupying land, or physical and institutional structures, and instead focus more on the beautiful and good dynamics of life”.

The “many sufferings”, also related to an ongoing economic crisis, can provide a "great opportunity" to be a poor Church among the poor, free from the idolatry of money, from the quest for aid, from paternalism and clericalism.

Today the Church is tasked with ending corruption, boosting its credibility, leaving behind worldly power dynamics, into “which religious authorities belonging to faiths other than our own fall much more easily. We know well how in the Middle East, politics envelops ordinary life in all its aspects. Pope Francis recently reminded us that ‘the Church’s task is not to change governments, but to bring the logic of the Gospel into the thinking and actions of rulers’.”

The prelate stressed some of the more positive developments like the signing of the Document on Fraternity in Abu Dhabi in 2019; Pope Francis’s apostolic visits to the region, from Iraq to Bahrain; and the pontiff's attention to ecumenical and interreligious dialogue.

Finally, Patriarch Pizzaballa warned against aligning oneself with or becoming tools of political power. “It is and will be increasingly difficult to preserve, as Churches, a prophetic role in our communities and in society more generally, as long as populations, Christian and non-Christian, see us as allied with the powerful of the moment, both in terms of politics and economics.”

Instead, “To be prophets, we must be free of all conditioning. The alliance between throne and altar has never been good for either the throne or the altar.”

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