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VATICAN CITY — Christian families in the Middle East have been “forgotten” and “betrayed” by the Obama administration and other Western governments, the Patriarch of the Syriac Catholic Church told reporters on Thursday, on Day 4 of the Synod on the Family.
Africa and the Middle East were the focus of the 1pm press briefing at the Holy See press office.
Archbishop Palmer-Buckle from Accra, Ghana, and Ignatius Ephrem Joseph III Younan, Patriarch of the Syriac Catholic Church were on hand to field questions from reporters.
Archbishop Palmer-Buckle began by noting that the Church in Africa is the fastest growing in the Catholic Church at present. Made up of 8 regional conferences from the northern part to the southern part of Africa, with 37 different episcopal conferences, the Church in Africa has 3 official languages: English, French, and Portuguese, though Arabic is also used.
Is Africa “blocking” the Synod?
At the briefing, Palmer-Buckle was asked by an Irish journalist if Africa “is blocking things” in terms of pastoral practice to homosexuals and admitting divorced and remarried Catholic to receive Holy Communion. “Is it not a mission impossible to come up with an agreement on issues like that at the end of your work?” he was asked.
“It would be difficult for anyone tell me that Africa is blocking anything,” the Accra archbishop replied. “Africa is here to say what it feels about issues concern the pastoral practices of the Church.”
He continued: “The theme of the Synod is ‘the vocation and mission of the family in the Church and in the contemporary world’. We met together and we have gone through the Instrumentum Laboris and we are here to share our views. So if somebody should think Africa is blocking something, I think Africa is only proposing what it feels very strongly about … we are focused on the vocation and mission of the family.”
Noting Pope Francis’ statement to the Synod fathers on Tuesday, i.e. that “doctrine will not be touched”, Palmer-Buckle said “the doctrinal issues remain what they are, and we [African bishops] definitely endorse what the doctrinal issues have been, what the Church teaches about marriage, the family, and Holy Communion. We endorse it.”
“We are not here to block anyone. We are here to share what we value.”
Is the Synod too Western?
Asked if the Synod is too Western in its perspective, Archbishop Palmer-Buckle said: “Sometimes what we in Africa are sad about is that anything good in Africa is not good enough for the European media. It’s only when it’s black news that people like it.”
“When we say something, when we are contributing beautifully,” he went on, “it is hardly reported.”
The Ghanian archbishop dismissed the idea of the Synod being too Western, noting that the bishops of Africa are making valuable contributions to what is being discussed.
“We believe in one, holy, Catholic and apostolic Church. I believe that the Church is the same everywhere, and so if something concerns the Church in Europe, it concerns us in Africa, and if something concerns the Church in Africa, it concerns the Church in Asia,” he said.
“I can give you the assurance that we don’t think the issues we are dealing with are European. They are issues of the entire Catholic Church and from humanity and we are here to contribute from that perspective.”
The Middle East
While the Church in Africa is growing, “we are experiencing a decrease of the strength of the Catholic Church,” Patriarch Younan of Sryia told reporters at Thursday’s briefing.
“That is why we are alarmed over the situation of the Church in the Middle East. Our families are torn and divided and they are trying to do what they can to get out of Iraq and Syria.”
“As Bishops and Patriarchs we are there to help them,” Patriarch Younan explained, “but sometimes we are helpless in this tragic situation.” The patriarchs “deplore not being about to convince the young generations to remain in their home countries where Christianity developed,” he said.
Asked by an Italian journalist about a newly released video by ISIS showing 3 beheadings of Christians in the Middle East, Patriarch Younan said: “The tragedy that Christians experience in the Middle East is hard to describe, and we cannot dismiss it as merely current affairs. We are doing our best to have the voices of these families be heard.”
Forgotten and betrayed by the West?
“We truly feel that we have been forgotten or betrayed by the western governments, because is seems like the US and European Union only forget a policy of economic expediency,” the Syrian patriarch added.
“These are the tragedies which our people experience. We patriarch are shaken by what happens in the communities in Iraq and Syria, and this is why we are trying to make their voice heard, it is a cry of alarm because the west should not act based on policies of economic expediency.”
The two greatest challenges for Maronite families in the Middle East
Following the morning session of the Synod, Aleteia spoke with the Maronite Eparch of the diocese of St. Maroun, Australia, Antoine-Charbel Tarabay, who confirmed: “The most challenging issue for the Maronite Church is the persecution of the Middle Eastern Churches and families suffering in the Middle East; and the second issue is migration.”
“These are the two major challenges for the Maronite Church: some families are divided between Australia and Lebanon; and persecution because in some areas especially, because of the war and because of ISIL, families no longer have the possibility of practicing their faith.”
Vatican spokesman Fr. Federico Lombardi informed journalists that Filipino Cardinal Lui Antonio Tagle and Archbishop Joseph Edward Kurtz, President of the US Bishops’ Conference will be in attendance at Friday’s press briefing.
On Friday the small groups submit the reports of this week’s discussions to the Synod Secretariat.
Diane Montagna is Rome correspondent for Aleteia’s English edition.