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Catholic Synod on Middle East stirs heated debate over Israel, radical Islam

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Catholic Synod on Middle East stirs heated debate over Israel, radical Islam

The special synod of Catholic bishops from the Middle East meeting this week to discuss the situation for Christian minorities in the region is already bogged down in controversy, as various clergy seek to blame the flight of indigenous Christians on either Israel or radical Islam. A special report prepared for the conclave broke new ground for the Catholic Church in identifying "political Islam" as a main source of the Christian exodus. But some Arab clergy are seeking to turn the spotlight back on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Demographic figures from recent decades show a similar high rate of flight of Christian minorities throughout the Middle East, and not just those in the Holy Land, indicating pressures from Islamic extremists is the greater culprit. Meantime, Pope Benedict XVI’s use of the word “Israel” in a Sunday liturgy caused discomfort among some bishops who wondered if the reference also meant the modern Jewish state. “It means ‘the people of God,’” explained Monsignor Antoine Audo – the Chaldean Catholic Bishop of Aleppo (Syria), who went on to voice his disapproval of a visit to Lebanon by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. “In principal, Lebanon is hospitable to all heads of state, but if Ahmadinejad promotes Hizbullah, incites hostility between Shi’ites and Sunnis, or creates disturbances on the Israeli border, he will not be welcome. If he wants to make demonstrations, let him do so back home in Iran.” Other representatives at the Synod criticized Israel for a recently discussed bill to require those who want to become citizens of Israel to take an oath of loyalty to a “Jewish and democratic” state, saying it would force Israel to stop describing itself as “the only democracy in the region.” Rabbi David Rosen, an adviser to Israel’s Chief Rabbinate on interfaith affairs, will address the Synod on Wednesday.


 

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