At Vatican Synod, Middle Eastern bishops muted remarks about Muslim persecution of Christians for fear of reprisals
On October 15, Emmanuel III Delly, the Patriarch of Babylon of the Chaldeans, head of the Chaldean Catholic Church, said this about the Christians in Iraq at the Vatican’s Synod on Christians in the Middle East: “The population of this country, crossed by two famous rivers, the Tigris and the Euphrates, is 24 million, all Muslims, with whom we live peacefully and freely….Christians are good with their fellow Muslims and in Iraq there is mutual respect among them.”
On October 31, jihadists stormed a church in Baghdad and murdered over thirty people. This was, of course, just the latest of a large number of jihad attacks against Christians in Iraq over the last few years.
Yet the Vatican Synod singled out Israel, where Christians live with more freedom and peace than they enjoy in any majority-Muslim country. Now Monsignor Robert Stern explains — as I explained here — that that was because they were afraid to speak out against the depredations of jihad, for fear of reprisals.
“Middle East synod participant explains factors behind its controversial conclusion,” from the Catholic News Agency, October 31:
New York City, N.Y., Oct 31, 2010 / 07:55 am (CNA).- The Synod for the Middle East, a historic gathering of the region’s bishops, concluded October 24, amid controversy over alleged bias in its concluding message. One expert on the region told CNA that the document reflected pastoral needs, not a political agenda.
The bishops’ concluding “Message to the People of God” criticized Israel in detail, but omitted most of the criticisms made against Islamic governments during the synod. Some observers took remarks about using religion to “justify injustices” as a blanket rebuke of Israel, a charge participants denied.
Shortly after his return from Rome, synod participant Monsignor Robert Stern, secretary general of the Catholic Near East Welfare Association. He spoke with CNA about some of the considerations that shaped the synod’s concluding message.
“The synod really didn’t have a political focus at all,” Msgr. Stern said, recalling that its main purposes were to strengthen bonds between diverse groups of Catholics, and to ensure a continuing Middle Eastern Christian presence and witness.
As such, he said, the synod’s final message did not contain “the same degree of detail about every situation where Christians have difficulties in the Middle East.” Rather, he said, the message reflected “two major concerns” that took priority as “the more compelling matters,” Palestine and Iraq. Migration has greatly diminished both regions’ Christian populations in recent years.
In this context, he said, the bishops’ choices of emphasis and restraint –which could appear to focus on Israel’s treatment of Palestine, while treading lightly with Islamic regimes– should not be interpreted as political statements, but as expressions of their pastoral priorities, and suggestions toward peace.
“They did list out several of the issues that are raised by (Muslim and Christian) Palestinians,” the monsignor said, noting that all of the specific criticisms of Israel were ongoing “issues of concern for the Christians who live in Palestine.” The synod fathers, he recalled, “also mentioned being conscious of the suffering and insecurity in which Israelis live” because of violence from some Palestinians.
Monsignor Stern also acknowledged that fear for the safety of Christians in some Muslim countries may have prompted the synod fathers to moderate their comments. This was, he said, a “prudential judgment,” since Christians throughout the region can suffer consequences of their leaders’ remarks.
“Most of these bishops come from … places where they’re a very small minority, they’re bishops of a very small community, and they feel a lot of social pressure living in an Islamic world,” he observed. “A lot of them are in politically very uncertain circumstances– where they’re at risk, and their people are at risk. So, they don’t have quite so open and expansive of a way of talking about the situation.”…