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