It is a privilege to be in Rome for the Special Assembly on the Church in the Middle East of the Synod of Bishops. Running from October 10 to 24, the Synod has brought together some 185 Synod Delegates to discuss all aspects of the Catholic Church in the greater Middle East area.
Since the Second Vatican Council, the Church has recognized six historic Catholic Churches of the Middle East as Churches of equal dignity with the Latin Church: the Armenian, Chaldean, Coptic, Maronite, Melkite, and Syrian. In our Archdiocese we are blessed to have all six of these Churches present. In addition, we also have many Eastern Rite Churches with roots in India, northern Africa, and Europe.
The past several years have been extremely difficult for our Eastern Catholic Churches because of wars, political tensions, and economic sanctions imposed upon Christians throughout the area. These problems have prompted many Christians to flee for safer homes and more equal opportunities in Latin America, the United States, Canada, South Africa, and Australia.
The Church around the world welcomes our Eastern Rite brothers and sisters and attempts to provide them new opportunities in our midst. We encourage the Eastern Rite members to remain faithful to their own Eastern Churches, and not to leave them for the Roman Catholic parishes nearby.
But there is also a new phenomenon affecting the Churches in the Middle East: the Latin Catholic population is expanding rapidly across the Persian Gulf States and in Saudi Arabia. Most of these are guest workers primarily from the Philippines and throughout South Asia.
Some two million of these live in Saudi Arabia but they are forbidden to practice their Faith because the public observance of Christianity is prohibited.
Increased efforts are underway to find new avenues of pastoral ministry for these Catholics who are living in countries with a strict Islamic code of conduct, thus forbidding other religions to function.
We are at the half-way point in the Synod, and are now developing proposals for Pope Benedict XVI to consider when the Synod ends. These proposals would be developed into an Apostolic Exhortation by the Pope, usually issued a year after the Synod.
But in the meantime, all of us from the Eastern and Western Churches are determined to move forward quickly with renewed bonds of friendship and to initiate new avenues of cooperation and collaboration for the good of both emigrants from the Middle East and immigrants to the Middle East.