ROME — Given the setting of the Middle East, Christians are compelled to pursue dialogue with the vast Muslim majority; in fact, it would be virtually impossible to avoid.
Several participants at the Oct. 10-24 Synod of Bishops for the Middle East, however, seem eager to push that dialogue beyond a “tea and cookies” stage, where the point is merely being polite to one another, into blunt talk about religious freedom, democracy, and what one speaker described as “satanic plans by fundamental extremist groups” to extinguish Christianity in the region.
While it’s not clear what real impact either the local churches of the Middle East or Catholicism generally can have on those fronts, there appears to be a strong feeling in the synod that it’s time to lay things on the line.
One such call came from Archbishop Cyrille Salim Bustros, a Greek-Melkite prelate in the United States.
“On one hand and in principle, the assertion of tolerance is clear in the Koran,” Bustros said. “On the other hand, and in fact, the laws of all the Arab countries, except for Lebanon where one is allowed to change religion, threaten death to all Muslims who convert to another religion.”
Mincing no words, Bustros added, “We ask here: where can tolerance be found?”
“The first principle of all societies is the equality of all citizens before the law,” Bustros said. “The respect for the conscience of each individual is the sign of the recognition of the dignity of the human being.”
Chaldean Archbishop Thomas Meram of Iran was equally candid.
“The Christian hears every day from loudspeakers, television, newspapers and magazines that he is an infidel, and he is treated as a second-class citizen,” Meram said. Continue reading
of stories from the Synod of the Churches of the Middle East
There are moments when the physical and the spiritual harmonize in an astounding, yet simple symphonic moment.
That just happened to me.
You see, our Chapel is connected to our convent. So yesterday evening as I was walking in from the gardens, I was met by the unmistakable fragrance of incense, in the hallway of the convent. I’ve probably had this experience a hundred times, but last night it was very moving.
Incense is a sign of our adoration of God. We use it every day in our convents during Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament and Benediction. It is a sign not only of our prayers rising before Him, but the total holocaust of our lives that we offer, holding nothing back, being totally consumed in the Flames of His Love.
But I was not in a particularly sacred space. It was a hallway. Actually, there was a bathroom right by where I smelled the incense. I pass through this area countless times every day. I probably know every nook and cranny. It could not be more familiar, or mundane for that matter.
Despite all this (because of all this?) I encountered a reminder of God’s presence. He is here. Right in the midst of my everyday “stuff.” A routine I follow day in and day out. Surroundings that I know like the back of my hand. Steps I could take blindfolded. Last night I was stopped in my tracks and made to reflect, “He is here. He is always here with me.”
I smelled it with my nose as I looked around with my eyes at what I could reach out and touch and know so well. And my spirit rose up within me. Just a brief moment, but deeply profound. Again, physical and spiritual intertwined in an inseparable and graced union.
My point is not to make you jealous of the beautiful life we have in Carmel. That hallway will be bustling today with sisters headed here and there, busy about the Father’s business. It will be moped later this week and the toilets will be scrubbed. Still, daily the perfume from the altar will penetrate this space, making it holy. May this same fragrance fill your lives, your very ordinary, yet anointed, lives.