Take Five: 5 Ideas in the Apostolic Exhortation

Pope Benedict XVI attends a ceremony and signing of his apostolic exhortation on the Middle East at the Melkite Catholic Basilica of St. Paul in Harissa, Lebanon, on 14 September.
(CNS photo/L’Osservatore Romano via Reuters)

As we noted in our Page One headlines this morning, the Holy Father’s exhortation on the Church in the Middle East is being widely circulated in that part of the world.

Pope Benedict XVI had a lot to say to the people of the Middle East on a range of topics. Here are five subjects (among many) worth noting, as expressed in the pope’s own words:

  1. The four pillars of the early church. “According to Acts, the unity of believers was seen in the fact that ‘they devoted themselves to the Apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of the bread and the prayers’ (2:42). The unity of believers was thus nourished by the teaching of the Apostles (the proclamation of God’s word), to which they responded with unanimous faith, by fraternal communion (the service of charity), by the breaking of the bread (the Eucharist and the sacraments), and by prayer, both personal and communal. It was on these four pillars that communion and witness were based within the first community of believers. May the Church which has lived uninterruptedly in the Middle East from apostolic times to our own day find in the example of that community the resources needed to keep fresh the memory and the apostolic vitality of her origins!” (paragraph 5)
  2. Peace. “Peace is not simply a pact or a treaty which ensures a tranquil life, nor can its definition be reduced to the mere absence of war. According to its Hebrew etymology, peace means being complete and intact, restored to wholeness. It is the state of those who live in harmony with God and with themselves, with others and with nature. Before appearing outwardly, peace is interior. It is blessing. It is the yearning for a reality. Peace is something so desirable that it has become a greeting in the Middle East”
    (cf. Jn 20:19; 1 Pet 5:14). (9)
  3. Ecumenism. “[The Church in the Middle East] lives there in a remarkable variety of forms. Along with the Catholic Church, a great number of venerable Churches and Ecclesial Communities of more recent date are present in the Middle East. This mosaic demands a significant and continued effort to build unity in respect for the riches of each, and thus to reaffirm the credibility of the proclamation of the Gospel and Christian witness. Unity is a gift of God which is born of the Spirit and which must be cultivated with patient perseverance (cf. 1 Pet 3:8-9). We know that it is tempting, whenever our divisions make themselves felt, to appeal to purely human criteria, forgetting the sage counsel of Saint Paul (cf. 1 Cor 6:7-8). He entreats us: ‘Be eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace’ (Eph 4:3). Faith is the centre and the fruit of true ecumenism. Faith itself must first be deepened. Unity is born of constant prayer and the conversion which enables each of us to live in accordance with the truth and in charity (cf. Eph 4:15-16). The Second Vatican Council encouraged this ‘spiritual ecumenism’ which is the soul of true ecumenism.” (11)
  4. Religious freedom. “Religious freedom is the pinnacle of all other freedoms. It is a sacred and inalienable right. It includes on the individual and collective levels the freedom to follow one’s conscience in religious matters and, at the same time, freedom of worship. It includes the freedom to choose the religion which one judges to be true and to manifest one’s beliefs in public. It must be possible to profess and freely manifest one’s religion and its symbols without endangering one’s life and personal freedom. Religious freedom is rooted in the dignity of the person; it safeguards moral freedom and fosters mutual respect. Jews, with their long experience of often deadly assaults, know full well the benefits of religious freedom. For their part, Muslims share with Christians the conviction that no constraint in religious matters, much less the use of force, is permitted. Such constraint, which can take multiple and insidious forms on the personal and social, cultural, administrative and political levels, is contrary to God?s will. It gives rise to political and religious exploitation, discrimination and violence leading to death. God wants life, not death. He forbids all killing, even of those who kill” (cf. Gen 4:15-16; 9:5-6; Ex 20:13).
  5. Women. “The first creation account shows the essential equality of men and women (cf. Gen 1:27-29). This equality was damaged by the effects of sin (cf. Gen 3:16; Mt 19:4). Overcoming this legacy, the fruit of sin, is the duty of every human person, whether man or woman. I want to assure all women that the Catholic Church, in fidelity to God’s plan, works to advance women’s personal dignity and equality with men in response to the wide variety of forms of discrimination which they experience simply because they are women. Such practices seriously harm the life of communion and witness. They gravely offend not only women but, above all, God the Creator. In recognition of their innate inclination to love and protect human life, and paying tribute to their specific contribution to education, healthcare, humanitarian work and the apostolic life, I believe that women should play, and be allowed to play, a greater part in public and ecclesial life. In this way they will be able to make their specific contribution to building a more fraternal society and a Church whose beauty is ever more evident in the genuine communion existing among the baptized.”

There is much more, of course, stretching across 100 paragraphs. We’ll have more from this important document in the next edition of the magazine. Meantime, you can read the exhortation in its entirety online.

CNEWA president Msgr. John Kozar was in Lebanon during the pope’s trip last month. You can read his account of that visit here.

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