FaithWorld

Christians in Middle East much more than a numbers game

Franciscan Father David Jaeger is one of the Roman Catholic Church’s most authoritative experts on the Middle East. Until a few weeks ago, he was the delegate of the Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land in Rome. A convert from Judaism who became a Roman Catholic priest in 1986, he is  a noted canon lawyer. He was part of the Vatican team that negotiated diplomatic relations with Israel in 1994 and is part of the Vatican team that is still ironing out the final subsidiary details of that accord. He spoke to Reuters and Reuters Television about the upcoming Mideast synod in the atrium of Antonianum University in Rome. Here is a transcript of parts of the conversation.

jaegerWhat do you expect from the synod?

I think it is intended to be a very significant step forward in the development of the witness of the Church in the Middle East.  Synods are convened not simply, or not necessarily, in response to a current affairs concerns but as a moment for the Church to grow, in faithfulness and in effectiveness of  witness. (Photo: Fr. David Jaeger in a screengrab from a Reuters Television interview in Rome, 6 Oct 2010)

The moment in the  Middle East is particularly appropriate for this further development. There is hope for new ecumenical relations. There is a growth of the Church itself in the Middle East, in awareness of fundamental values of Vatican II, such as religious freedom and the civic responsibility of Christians. I don’t think people in the West appreciate to what extent the thematics of the synod are totally new to so much of the Church in the Middle East. Religious freedom some decades ago was not even a known concept. It had never been experienced in 13 centuries. It had always been presupposed that it could not be attained,  yet now it is being spoken of in the preparatory documents of the synod as a serious subject, not as something already existing of course, but as  something realistically to be looked forward to.

The whole discussion of the civic duty of the Christian, the Christian as citizen, the Christian communities as actors in the national lives of the countries where they live, this is totally new for the region as a whole. For 13 centuries, Christians in the Middle East had been made to live strictly in kinds of socio-political ghettos, not a physical ones necessarily, but socio-political and legal ones,  and it was a given that general society was something else, in which as Christians they had no part. Maybe individuals did manage to insert themselves into politics in different countries, of course,  but that the idea that as a Christian, as a Christian community, you had to participate in the formation of a national culture, in the development of the national political culture too,  these are all new insights in that region. These are all (examples) of Vatican II coming finally to fruition in that region too, so it is a very exiting moment for the Church.

There is great concern about a continuing exodus of Christians from the region. What can be done about that?

Iraqi Christians flee homeland even as war fades

iraq christians (Photo: Family and friends mourn a Christian student killed in attack on Iraq’s Christian minority in Mosul, May 11, 2010/Khalid al-Mousuly)

Bassam Hermiz has slashed prices to clear his stock of electrical appliances, close his shop and join many thousands of other Iraqi Christians abroad. Once numbering some 750,000 in this mainly Muslim country of 30 million, Christians have been trapped in the crossfire of sectarian strife ignited after the U.S.-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein’s secular dictatorship in 2003.

Alarmed that their flock could face extinction, Iraqi Christian leaders appealed to the Vatican for help. Pope Benedict, also worried about the shrinking Christian presence in the Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories, has called a synod of bishops for October 10-24 to discuss how churches can work together to preserve Christianity’s oldest communities.

Post-invasion bloodshed and chronic insecurity have spooked Iraqi Christians, many of whom feel they have no future here. “We decided to leave after we lost hope of living in peace in Iraq. It was not our choice,” said Hermiz, the shopkeeper who is taking his family from the volatile northern city of Mosul to Holland, where his brother already lives.

Vatican keeps up attack on Nobel prize for IVF pioneer

embryoThe Vatican kept up its attack on the Nobel committee on Tuesday for giving the medicine prize to in-vitro fertilization pioneer Robert Edwards, saying he had led to a culture where embryos are seen as commodities.

For the second straight day, it gave the thumbs down to the choice of Edwards, whose success in fertilizing a human egg outside of the womb led to “test tube babies” and later innovations such as embryonic stem cell research and surrogate motherhood. Several leading Italian newspapers criticized it for its attack on Edwards. (Photo: Cloned human embryo created at Centre for Life in Newcastle upon Tyne in handout photo published May 19, 2005)

A statement by the Vatican-based International Federation of Catholic Medical Associations (FIAMC), said the group was “dismayed” at the choice. “Although IVF has brought happiness to the many couples who have conceived through this process, it has done so at enormous cost,” the federation said in a statement issued on Vatican letter head.

IVF spawns host of ethical issues

embryosIn vitro fertilization (IVF), the pioneering technique that won Robert Edwards the 2010 Nobel Prize for medicine, opened up a wealth of scientific options and a Pandora’s box of ethical dilemmas.

Edwards’s success in fertilizing a human egg outside of the womb led not only to “test tube babies” but also to innovations such as embryonic stem cell research and surrogate motherhood. (Photo: Frozen human embryos at the Priory Hospital in Birmingham, England, July 31., 1996/Ian Hodgson)

Amid the applause for these medical breakthroughs, ethicists from some Christian churches oppose IVF and techniques related to it because they involve the destruction of human embryos.  The bewildering array of options due to the IVF revolution — from the morality of making “designer babies” to exploitation of poor women as surrogate mothers — has created much concern and many debates among secular ethicists as well.

Catholics and Orthodox report promising progress in latest round of unity talks

cathorth 1Roman Catholic and Orthodox theologians reported promising progress on Friday in talks on overcoming their Great Schism of 1054 and bringing the two largest denominations in Christianity back to full communion. Experts meeting in Vienna this week agreed the two could eventually become “sister churches” that recognize the Roman pope as their titular head but retain many church structures, liturgy and customs that developed over the past millennium. (Photo: Metropolitan John Zizioulas (L) and Cardinal Christoph Schönborn in Vienna, 24 Sept 2010/Leonhard Foeger)

The delegation heads for the international commission for Catholic-Orthodox dialogue stressed that unity was still far off, but their upbeat report reflected growing cooperation between Rome and the Orthodox churches traditionally centred in Russia, Greece, Eastern Europe and the Middle East.

“There are no clouds of mistrust between our two churches,” Orthodox Metropolitan John Zizioulas of Pergamon told a news conference. “If we continue like that, God will find a way to overcome all the difficulties that remain.” Archbishop Kurt Koch, the top Vatican official for Christian unity, said the joint dialogue must continue “intensively” so that “we see each other fully as sister churches.”

Vatican Bank head in money laundering probe–sources

2_euro_coin_Va_serie_3The Vatican bank’s top two officials are under investigation for suspected money laundering and police have frozen 23 million euros ($30.21 million) of its funds, Italian judicial sources said on Tuesday.

They said President Ettore Gotti Tedeschi and director-general Paolo Cipriani were being investigated by Rome magistrates Nello Rossi and Stefano Fava in a case involving alleged violations of European Union money-laundering rules.

The Vatican confirmed the Rome magistrates’ action in a statement that expressed “perplexity and amazement” at the move and “utmost faith” in the two men who head the bank, officially known as Institute for Religious Works (IOR).  It said the bank had committed no wrongdoing because it was transferring its own money between its own accounts.

Factbox – Planned protests during pope’s visit to Britain

pope visit image (Photo: Official papal visit memorabilia at Catholic bookshop in London September 15, 2010/Toby Melville)

Demonstrations are planned for Pope Benedict’s four-day state visit to England and Scotland, with the main focus likely to be on a Protest the Pope campaign march in central London Saturday, Sept 18.

Other separate protests are planned, including a bus poster campaign by a group supporting women’s ordination and a silent witness by the Grand Orange Lodge of Scotland.

Here is an outline of some of the main protests likely to take to the streets:

* VICTIMS OF CHILD ABUSE:

– The American group SNAP, Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, say they will demonstrate with posters. A handful will fly over to join victims in England and Scotland.

Feisty debates between Catholics and secularists before pope visit to Britain

arrest the pope002If you like debates about religion but were turned off by the uproar in the United States over Koran-burning and the New York Islamic centre, take a look at the rhetorical duelling that’s been going on in Britain ahead of Pope Benedict’s visit there starting on Thursday. For the past few weeks, the leading lights of secularist and atheist thought have been hammering away at the Catholic Church, playing up its sins like the sexual abuse crisis and arguing that the pope doesn’t deserve the honour of a state visit. A quick Google search digs out plenty of them. (Click on the screen grab for video on British group’s proposal to arrest Pope Benedict during his visit/MSNBC via YouTube)

On the other side, a group of lay Catholics has formed a speakers’ bureau ready to face off with the critics and defend the pope and the Church. They’re a kind of rapid reaction force, ready to appear anywhere to refute the secularists and atheists. The result has been a feisty in-your-face exchange providing the pro and contra arguments for many current disputes over the Catholic Church. Some arguments could be criticised as too emotional or even irrational, but boring they’re not.

Catholic Voices, the speakers’ bureau that’s been putting up sparring partners for the Church’s critics, must already rank as one of the big innovations of this papal tour.  Popes are no strangers to protests when they visit foreign countries, but the Vatican and the local Church hierarchy usually ignore the critics or give cautious responses. Under Pope Benedict, Vatican public relations has been so badly organised that both he and his aides have often provided even more fuel for criticism. Given the strong and mostly critical interest the media would show in the pope’s visit, these speakers – journalists, lawyers, students and a few clergy – decided the Church needed a more professional operation if it was to get its message across.

Confusion reigns as Belgium struggles with Catholic sex abuse scandal

shipFollowing the crisis of sexual abuse of children by Catholic priests in Belgium is like watching a rudderless ship in a storm. The Church hierarchy seems overwhelmed by the scandal that has engulfed it. The state seems unable to intervene after its spectacular raid on Church offices last June backfired on it. Left hanging are at least 475 victims who have no idea what to expect next. (Image: A Dutch Ship in a Storm by Flemish artist Matthieu van Plattenberg, National Maritime Museum, London)

The latest installment in this confusing drama came on Tuesday when Bishop Guy Harpigny, the bishops’ conference spokesman for abuse issues, confessed in two morning radio interviews that the Church botched a news conference on Monday by not issuing a full apology to victims. But — as my colleague Phil Blenkinsop reported in our story today — he admitted it was afraid to do so because that could bring on a wave of compensation demands.

“If we say ‘mea culpa,’ then we are morally responsible, legally responsible, and then people come wanting money. We don’t know what the lawyers and the courts will do with that,” he told the Flemish-language Radio 1. “We are afraid. Who will ask — the victims, the courts or someone else? That’s why we are so careful.” A bit later in the interview, he admitted: “The news conference yesterday was a missed chance for a ‘mea culpa’. Maybe the church was too concerned with itself.”

from The Great Debate UK:

Britain counts cost of Benedict’s visit

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- Terry Sanderson is  President of the National Secular Society. The opinions expressed are his own.-

When the Government is about to announce a 25 percent cut in public spending, the tens of millions of pounds showered on Pope Benedict’s visit to Britain seem like real papal indulgence.

The government contribution to this religious jamboree is currently £12 million (up from £8 million), but what we haven’t been told is how much the over-the-top security operation wil cost.