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Pope to seminarians: abuse crisis can't discredit priesthood

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VATICAN CITY -- In a letter to the world's seminarians, Pope Benedict XVI said that in the face of widespread religious indifference and the recent moral failings of clergy, the world needs priests and pastors who can serve God and bring God to others.

The pope encouraged seminarians to overcome any doubts about the value of the priesthood and priestly celibacy that may have been prompted by priests who "disfigured" their ministry by sexually abusing children. He said that "even the most reprehensible abuse cannot discredit the priestly mission."

Repeated calls for common Christian Easter date

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VATICAN CITY -- At a synod concerned primarily about peace and the continued presence of Christians in the Holy Land, one of the suggestions made repeatedly was that Catholics, Protestants, Anglicans and Orthodox finally celebrate Easter together each year.

"We truly hope for the unification of the Easter holiday with the Orthodox churches," Latin-rite Auxiliary Bishop William H. Shomali of Jerusalem told the Synod of Bishops for the Middle East Oct. 14.

Read NCR's full coverage of the Synod of Bishops for the Middle East: Index of stories from the Synod.

Beyond a 'tea and cookies' dialogue with Islam

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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.

Read the full report here: Beyond a 'tea and cookies' dialogue with Islam

Muslim scholars say Mideast needs Christians

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VATICAN CITY -- Two Muslim scholars, a Sunni and a Shiite, told the Synod of Bishops for the Middle East that Islam promotes respect for Christians and Jews and that the entire Middle East will suffer if Christians vanish from the region.

Read NCR's full coverage of the Synod of Bishops for the Middle East: Index of stories from the Synod.

Cry from Middle East synod: 'Power to the Patriarchs!'

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ROME -- Ferment around defending the heritage and prerogatives of the Eastern Catholic churches continues to swirl at the Oct. 10-24 Synod of Bishops for the Middle East, as yesterday a Lebanese prelate proposed launching a Vatican commission to study ways of revitalizing the office of Patriarch.

In broad strokes, Eastern bishops typically have two reasons for wanting to emphasize the role of the patriarchs. Internally, it’s an argument for greater collegiality, or shared decision-making, in Catholicism, as a corrective to what is perceived as excessive papal power; externally, it’s a way of giving the patriarch a higher international profile as a way of insulating their flocks in the Middle East against possible pressures and attacks.

Auxiliary Bishop Guy-Paul Noujaim pointed to Pope John Paul II’s invitation to study new ways of exercising the primacy of the pope, “inspired by the ecclesical forms of the first millennium.”

The office of patriarch became a pillar of Christianity’s structure during it first 1,000 years, but Noujaim suggested that the traditional “privileges” of the patriarchs went into decline during the second millennium.

In Middle East, democracy is the 'Great Jihad'

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ROME -- There’s nothing like the realistic possibility of extinction to push people beyond euphemisms, forcing them to lay it on the line. That was the spirit of several presentations yesterday afternoon during the Synod of Bishops for the Middle East, as Catholic leaders from the region described a future that might be paraphrased as “democracy or death.”

Catholic-Orthodox seek common Easter date

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WASHINGTON – It's been under discussion for decades, but North American Catholic and Orthodox scholars and church officials have now asked their churches to give urgent priority to restoring a common date for celebrating Easter across the world.

"Time is of the essence," the North American Orthodox-Catholic Theological Consultation said in a statement released in Washington Oct. 7. (See Catholic-Orthodox urged toward reunion.)

The consultation, the official dialogue sponsored by the Orthodox and Catholic bishops of the United States and Canada, met Sept. 30-Oct. 2 at Georgetown University.

Catholic-Orthodox urged toward reunion

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WASHINGTON – The North American Orthodox-Catholic Theological Consultation has urged the world's Catholic and Orthodox churches to begin envisioning what shape "worldwide ecclesial communion, sacramental and spiritual, between our churches, might look like" – and to begin taking steps toward realizing that goal.

Dialogue participants acknowledged that the "root obstacle" to moving toward unity "has been, and continues to be, the role that the bishop of Rome plays in the worldwide Catholic communion."

"The role of the bishop of Rome would have to be carefully defined, both in continuity with the ancient structural principles of Christianity and in response to the need for a unified Christian message in the world of today," they said.

Protests against 'Roman imperialism' at Middle East synod

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ROME -- While the Christians of the Middle East face a staggering variety of external challenges, from the Israeli/Palestinian problem to the rise of radical Islam, it was internal ecclesiastical questions which actually loomed largest during day two of the Oct. 10-24 Synod of Bishops for the Middle East.

Concretely, several representatives of the Eastern Churches of the region registered strong protests against what they almost seem to regard as a sort of “Roman imperialism” inside global Catholicism. Their basic argument is that reforms are required if the identity, authority and heritage of the 22 Eastern Churches in communion with Rome are to be preserved.

Whether any of those ideas actually survives in the propositions which the Synod of Bishops will eventually deliver to the pope remains to be seen, but collectively they suggest a fairly widespread frustration with what leaders of the Eastern Churches sometimes perceive as a sort of second-class citizenship within Catholicism.

Read the full report here: Protests against 'Roman imperialism' at Middle East synod

Does benign neglect spell the 'Death of Christians of the East'?

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ROME -- Sprawl usually marks the opening stages of a Synod of Bishops, as participants use brief speeches to raise a bewildering variety of topics, and common threads can be hard to find. Attempts to identify key ideas too early in the game risk jumping the gun.

That said, yesterday’s first round of speeches in the Oct. 10-24 Synod of Bishops for the Middle East repeatedly seemed to flag a threat facing the churches of the region, less visible than the rise of radical Islam or the war in Iraq, but potentially no less fatal: A sort of “benign neglect” across the Catholic world, which could mean acquiescence as the spiritual and social capital of the churches of the Middle East ebbs away.

That neglect seemed especially acute when it comes to the six Eastern Catholic churches of the Middle East (Armenian, Chaldean, Coptic, Maronite, Melkite and Syrian) vis-à-vis the dominant Latin tradition within global Catholicism.

Read the full report here: Does benign neglect spell the 'Death of Christians of the East'?

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