A truly unique meeting is underway at the Vatican this week, the Synod of Bishops for the Middle East. It is unique because it is bringing together leaders of the various Eastern Rite Catholic Churches, which the Holy Father refers to as the “Churches of ancient foundation.”
Among the 177 council fathers are: His Beatitude Cardinal Nasrallah Pierre Sfeir, Patriarch of Antioch of the Maronites, Lebanon; His Beatitude Cardinal Emmanuel III Delly, Patriarch of Babylon of the Chaldeans, Iraq; His Beatitude Ignace Youssif III Younan, Patriarch of Antioch of the Syrians, Lebanon; His Beatitude Antonios Naguib, Patriarch of Alexandria of the Copts, Egypt, Archbishop Joseph Soueif of Cyprus of the Maronites, Cyprus, and Archbishop Elias Chacour of Akka of the Greek-Melkites, Israel.
Sadly, these ancient Catholic churches are largely “off the radar” for those of us in the Western Catholic tradition but they represent the most ancient Christian traditions as the early church adapted the gospel message to various cultures. Oftentimes they are mistakenly equated with the Orthodox churches, which are not in union with the Pope.
Unfortunately the Christian presence in the Middle East is diminishing rapidly. Most of these ancient churches are in predominantly Muslim countries and are a small and sometimes unwelcome minority. In the words of the Chaldean Archbishop of Kirkuk in Iraq: “The fatal exodus afflicting our churches cannot be avoided, emigration is the biggest challenge which threatens our presence.”
Within our diocese a number of these “Churches of ancient foundation” have been established and we are richer for their presence. Among them are Syro-Malabar and Syro-Malankara Catholics, Thomas Christians from India, Ruthenian and Ukrainian Byzantine churches and Maronites. Many individual Eastern Rite Catholics have moved to North Texas and attend Latin Rite churches.
Pope Benedict XVI has called upon the Middle Eastern countries to be more welcoming to the Christians in their populations and to extend to them the protections they need. There is a real danger that Christianity could be extinguished in the lands where Jesus and the Apostles brought the light of faith.
We must welcome these brothers and sisters among us and pray for the survival of all Catholic churches in their homelands.
This post is also available in/Esta entrada también está disponible en: Spanish