|Bishops of Eastern Catholic Churches pray together at St. Peter's in Rome.|
On Monday, Pope Benedict opened a synod (or official meeting) of the bishops of the churches in the Middle East. In the past century, the indigenous Christian population in the Middle East has been drastically reduced through voluntary migration and, lets face it, involuntary migration due to discrimination and persecution. It is an alarming reality that, within a few short years, there will be large pockets of the Middle East where there are no living communities of Christians. In other words, places which have been home to a continual Christian presence since the first century, could very well become places with no indigenous Christians. It is sobering to think that there are ancient Christian communities in places like Lebanon, Iraq, Turkey and Egypt which survived under Muslim rule for centuries but, only in the past few decades, have come under intense and renewed pressure to either convert or leave.
In response to this growing crisis which has been ignored for decades by the larger international community, Pope Benedict asked for all of the Eastern Christian bishops from throughout the Middle East to meet together in Rome for mutual encouragement and to put forth concrete ideas for protecting and re-vitalizing the ancient Christian communities that are found throughout the Middle East, from Egypt to Israel to Turkey and Iran.
On this Friday, a day that we're supposed to dedicate to abstinence and penance (not just during Lent!), please pray for the Christians of the Middle East, the land of our Lord and his Apostles. And pray, too, for the brave bishops which lead these communities of faith in the face of extraordinary challenges and repression. I will leave you with the following images which are from the funeral of Father Ragheed Ganni, a Chaldean Catholic priest, who was gunned down, along with three deacons, close to his church after celebrating the Divine Liturgy one Sunday just three years ago in Mosul, Iraq. Fiat justitia.