In October 2010, cardinals, bishops, experts and auditors gathered in the Vatican for two weeks of synod around Benedict XVI to focus on the Middle East, under the theme “Communion and witness”. “It was a moment of extraordinary richness, which shed light on the situation of Christians in the Middle East, highlighting our fears but also our desire to assert our presence”, remembers Bishop César Essayan, then Synodal Father and Apostolic Vicar of Beirut for Roman Rite Catholics in Lebanon since 2016.
Alas, a few days after the closing of this synodal assembly, a murderous attack struck the cathedral of Baghdad (Iraq) and barely two months later, a Tunisian itinerant vendor set himself on fire against police repression. This is the start of what is quickly described as the “Arab Spring”. “If we had already seen the rise of fundamentalism, we did not expect it to be so violent, with blood, war, all these deaths and all these changes”, confides Bishop Essayan.
Towards a post-synod?
In a decade, the geopolitics of the Middle East was transformed and the Christian presence turned upside down by instability and persecution. Should Pope Francis’ trip to Iraq therefore be the occasion for the announcement of a new synod, dedicated to a Middle East after the Arab Spring and Daesh? “It is time that we meet around the Pope to assess where we are and to chart the future, asks the Apostolic Vicar of Beirut. But this does not necessarily have to take the form of a synod itself, especially as Pope Francis is very creative in finding new formulas. “
For him, one way would be, for example, to organize a “post-synod”, as the apostolic constitution of 2018 invites, reorganizing the functioning of the Synod of Bishops. The challenge would then be to reread the apostolic exhortation that followed the 2010 Synod – Ecclesia in Medio Oriente, signed in September 2011 – and see what has already been drawn from it. “Benedict XVI invited us to purify our faith to get back to basics, underlines Bishop Essayan. Did we do it? “
A meeting on site rather than in Rome
Such a meeting would be all the more necessary for the bishop as the papal magisterium has since been enriched with new texts, in particular the Document on human fraternity (2019) and the encyclical Fratelli Tutti (2020). “These texts are the best gift that a pope can offer to Orientals, assures Bishop Essayan. They cannot but find in the Middle Eastern land the privileged place of their application, their life and their development. “
Rather than a synod, necessarily very codified, this reflection could take the form of an ecclesial assembly, like the one being prepared in Latin America, involving clergy and laity, men and women. Christians of other faiths and representatives of other faiths should be invited to participate, urges the Lebanese bishop. And for that, he preferred a meeting in situ, rather than in Rome. “Lebanon could be the ideal setting, to be the country of the meeting that it should be”, suggests Bishop Essayan.
Cautious, however, he does not dare to predict that Pope Francis announces such an event during his trip to Iraq. “Pope Francis is the man of beautiful surprises, I am waiting to let myself be surprised! “