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Heartbreaking stories, an Archbishop admits growing pains and the sweet sound of women deacons

October 8, 2015
Report from Rome
by Deb Rose-Milavec

Heartbreaking stories

Today, tears fell as Patriarch Ignace Youssif Younan
(second from left) poured out the stories of families fleeing violence in Syria, Iraq and the Middle East and the desperation he feels as he watches their suffering.  

"In Middle East we have a decrease of families and I would say we are concerned and alarmed for our communities due to these terrible problems happening to our divided and torn families, especially in Iraq and Syria...We deplore that our families cannot remain in their country where Christianity developed."  

When asked how the problems of migration are playing out he further clarified, "What is happening is a forced migration due to the situation. Obviously, these people would like to get out of this hell.  They are persecuted.  We have hundreds of people who are taken hostage by terrorists in the Islamic state...This situation has been dragging on for so much time."

Another reporter asked about the videos of beheadings and if there were efforts underway on the synod floor to express solidarity with the families. Patriarch Younan responded with such sadness.  

It is true that the tragedy that the Christians live in the Middle East 
is hard to describe.  We cannot just dismiss it as current affairs.  We 
try to do our best to have the voices of the people be heard but, 
truly, we feel that we have been forgotten or betrayed by the western countries, the United States and the European states which only 
follow policies of economic expediency.

Please don't forget what happened in Iraq. These are tragedies 
that are experienced by our people.  We are really shaken by 
what happens in these communities.  We are trying to make the 
voices of these people be heard -- a cry -- an alarm.

A Courageous Question and an Archbishop Admits Growing Pains

Much has been written today about Archbishop Charles Palmer-Buckley's (Ghana) response to the suggestion that the African bishops are blocking discussions at the synod. He denied it. 

But a more sharply focused, life-or-death question came from Francis DeBernardo of New Ways Ministry when he asked, "Many African bishops have spoken vocally against marriage for lesbian and gay couples.  Many fewer have spoken as vocally against criminalization laws against gay and lesbian people, though many Catholic leaders see this type of criminalization as a violation of Church teaching on human rights and destructive of family relationships.  Do you think that the African bishops, or indeed any bishops, would support a statement from the synod condemning the criminalization of lesbian and gay people?"

The air went out of the room.

But the Archbishop gave a very promising answer making it clear that the Pope's words make a big difference in African countries who struggle with the question of homosexuality and still criminalize people who are homosexuals.

"When the Pope said, 'Who am I to condemn,' it had huge repercussions in our country," admitted Archbishop Palmer-Buckley.

He went on, "I agree with the Holy Father that people who are different from us are sons and daughters of God and we have to open the doors to them.  In Ghana we do this. Yes, they are human and they have human rights.  We know, all sons and daughters of God have dignity."  

He also pointed a finger at governments who are sanctioning them for their unjust practices against LGBT people saying, "We know that some governments in Europe said we would not get their money if we did not change our culture . . . we found it sad that some governments try to violate our sovereignty."

And then he pointed the finger back at Africa saying, "We are doing what we can.  It takes time for individual voices to be heard.  We are dealing with something that is culturally different and difficult to understand.  They have been living with this [our culture] for a millennia and we can't change it overnight.  Give the countries time to deal with the issues from their own cultural perspectives.  The rights of all the sons and daughters as children of God should be respected.  We have not attained it.  Be patient with Africa.  We are growing."

It was a heartening response that will hopefully spread across those areas where prejudice and persecution of another sort reigns.

There were also questions about the under-representation of African countries at the synod. Archbishop Palmer-Buckley suggested it was the fault of the African bishops themselves and that they need to push for more equitable representation in synod bodies.

The sweet sound of women deacons

When asked if the synod was discussing the roles of women in the Church,
 Edoardo Menichelli of Italy admitted the discussion of women's roles in the Church came up.  He said, "This issue was raised.  You may know the synod are the place where decisions are taken and the possibility of having women deacons was raised.  But we must also consider theological aspects."  

Here is Rome, I am also sending synod participants letters with hand written notes asking them to make interventions on the synod floor to support Archbishop Durocher's proposal for women deacons.  

Please do your part and sign our petition

The numbers are climbing and we want to deliver thousands of signatures to the synod bishops asking them to take up Archbishop Durocher's proposal! 

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