VATICAN ( -- The special Synod of Bishops for Asia today heard pleas for reconciliation between Israel and the Palestinians, and among the Catholics of China. The range of topics covered by bishops' presentations at the synod included inter- religious dialogue, the liturgy, the role of women, and the care of people living in poverty.

      Archbishop Cyrille Salim Bustros, the Melkite Catholic leader of Baalbek, Lebanon, asked the synod fathers to use their influence in support of a breakthrough in the stalled Middle East peace process. He said world leaders should push for "a solution to the Israeli- Palestinian problem, and put pressure on Israel to pull out of the occupied territories in Syria and Lebanon."

      Bishop John Tong Hon, an auxiliary of Hong Kong, emphasized the need for peace among the Catholics of mainland China, where the government's efforts to promote a "patriotic" church and to discourage loyalty to Rome have resulted in serious division. Despite those divisions, and despite intense persecution at times during the past 40 years, the Church in China has grown from 3 million to over 10 million faithful.

      Bishops from the Middle East played an important role on this fifth day of discussions, as bishops delivered their individual presentations on the topics they considered most urgent. The synod heard from Maronite Patriarch Nasrallah Pierre Sfeir and the apostolic vicar of Kuwait as well as Archbishop Bustros and brother bishops from Teheran, Antelias, and Damascus.

      Patriarch Sfeir said that Lebanese society had been a model of inter- religious harmony, with Christians and Muslims living together peacefully, until outside forces (he did not name Israel, although she seemed clearly to be referring to the Israeli invasion of 1982) caused a political crisis. Since that time, he said, the imposition of a new Islamic regime has made cooperate more difficult.

      The theme of inter-religious dialogue was picked up by Bishop Valerian D'Souza of Poola, India, who asked the synod to reflect on the plight of Hindus and Muslims who discover the truth of Christianity. Since Baptism can lead to disinheritance and even violent reprisals, he pointed out, many Hindus and Muslims require special protection if they are to convert to Catholicism.

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April 24-26, 1998 volume 9, no. 80         DAILY CATHOLIC