Catholic immigrants from Middle Eastern countries often come to the West harboring prejudices against Jews and Muslims, Cardinal Roger Mahony of Los Angeles told a special assembly of the world’s bishops Oct. 11.
“Often Middle Eastern Christians come to North America with attitudes and opinions toward both Muslims and Jews that are not in keeping with the Gospel or with the strides we have made in the Church’s relations with other religions,” Cardinal Mahony said in an address to the Vatican Synod of Bishops for the Middle East.
Cardinal Mahony said that in Los Angeles, Catholics must live “‘up close’ with peoples of many different faiths.” That requires sensitivity on the part of immigrants and, more importantly, a willingness to forgive.
“I have found that the biggest challenge we face with our immigrant peoples -- whether they be Middle Eastern Catholics or Vietnamese Catholics who have fled their country for southern California, or Cubans who have fled Cuba for the Miami shores -- is … to help them respond to the grace of giving witness to the Gospel by forgiving those enemies who quite often are the principal reason for their leaving their homeland to find peace and justice on our shores,” Cardinal Mahony said.
Acknowledging “the hemorrhaging of Christians from the Middle East” caused by warfare and economic insecurity, the cardinal said these immigrants should be challenged to correct their “erroneous beliefs” and to be an example to Christians in their homelands.
“Although they may not want to hear it, Christians living in the Middle East and emigrating to the West need to be challenged to be a sign of reconciliation and peace,” he said.
In his 25 years in Los Angeles, the cardinal said the archdiocese has continued to welcome Assyrian-Chaldean, Coptic, Greek Melkite, Maronite, and Syriac Catholics, often providing them with financial assistance and support in establishing parishes, schools, and cultural institutions.
Although he encourages these Eastern Catholics "to be themselves,” and maintain their attachment to their baptismal communities, he said that unfortunately, “many Eastern Catholics coming from the Middle East do not do this and simply become Roman Catholic.”
More must be done to promote the distinct identity of Eastern Catholics immigrating to the United States, the cardinal emphasized.
For instance, many Eastern Catholic churches admit infants to the Eucharist beginning with baptism. However, when these Eastern Catholics attend Roman Catholic Masses, their children are often refused Communion because of their age.
The cardinal urged “greater sensitivity to very practical matters” of catechesis and pastoral care.
Cardinal Mahony made his remarks on the second day of the Oct. 10-24 synod, which has gathered 185 bishops from around the world to discuss the future of the Church in the Middle East. He is one of 12 bishops from the United States and Canada participating in the synod.