More from the Pope’s Trip to Lebanon

Today Pope Benedict XVI’s visiting the Maronite (Catholic) Patriarch of Antioch (who currently lives in Lebanon). The patriarch gave him a Lebanese fossil! Pretty nice.

The Pope was briefly walking around with a cane today, of the same pattern as the canes Eastern/Orthodox bishops use for “everyday” croziers. This may have been another present.

Here’s a link to his new Apostolic Exhortation on the eastern churches, “Ecclesia in Medio Oriente.” It’s 96 pages long, so he had plenty to say on the topic!

He mainly focuses on the troubles caused by “the sin of Cain,” ie, murder, both among Christians and between the different faiths and ethnic groups.

He calls for peace, noting: “For the sacred Scriptures, 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 justice; St. James in his Letter adds that ‘the harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.’ …”Christians know that the earthly politics of peace will only be effective if justice in God, justice among men and women, are its authentic basis; and if this same justice battles against the sin which is at the origin of division….”

He calls for ecumenism among Christians, but an ecumenism rooted in drawing closer to Christ together, rather than in getting rid of faith or dumbing down its ideas. He reassures the Eastern churches that “Ecumenical unity does not mean uniformity of traditions and celebrations.” He encourages Christians to study the Bible together, as well as the Fathers (both those who wrote in Eastern languages and those who wrote in Western ones); and to continue cooperating in charitable activities and good works.

The Pope juxtaposes a gently-worded section that is explicitly about interfaith relations with Islam, with a rather strong section demanding civil rights for Christians and all human beings. The criticism of this juxtaposition is quite clear. He calls for freedom of speech, employment, and so forth, but especially for religious freedom. Tolerance is not enough; worship of God must be free to flourish, and people must be free to decide. “…truth, apart from God, does not exist as an autonomous reality. If it did, it would be an idol… Truth can only be known and experienced in freedom. For this reason, we cannot impose truth on others; truth is disclosed only in an encounter of love.” He notes that secularism can be equally bad: “In its extreme and ideological form, secularity becomes a secularism which denies citizens the right to openly express their religion and claims that only the State can legislate on the public form which religion may take….” However, it’s not all bad. “A healthy secularity, on the other hand,
frees religion from the encumbrance of politics, and allows politics to be enriched by the contribution of religion… avoiding the constant temptation to merge the two or set them at odds.” To keep things from going pearshaped, society needs a “sound understanding” of “human nature” and respect for all the “inalienable human rights.” The document ends with sympathetic recognition of other problems affecting many of the region’s Christian communities.

The second part of the document is about how communion inside the Church should work, with various kinds of holiness manifested by patriarchs, bishops, priests, deacons, seminarians, religious, families, etc. The third part talks about improving religious formation in order to improve Christian witness. (There are implications that Catholics need to be ready to get martyred, or to do anything else God requires.)

The Pope is supposed to be at a big gathering on Beirut’s waterfront tomorrow.

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