The Vatican ended a two-week synod of Middle Eastern bishops on Oct. 24 announcing conclusions that gained praise from much of the Muslim world, and a sharp rebuke from Israel. Over 180 bishops from various Christian sects and nations across the region met to discuss the problems faced by the faithful in their areas. Led by Pope Benedict XVI, the meeting also invited speakers of both the Jewish and Muslim faiths, including an Iranian ayatollah and a rabbi from Israel. In Roman Catholicism a synod denotes an authoritative meeting of bishops for the purpose of deciding an issue of doctrine. The Church has held synods dating back to the earliest centuries of Christianity. While discussions included specific issues, in general this synod focused on two main points: the long standing exodus of Christians from the Middle East, and the opening of further dialogue between Christians and their Muslim neighbors. The emigration of Middle Eastern Christians from the region has been stark. In the early 20th century Christians made up close to 20 percent of the population regionally, today they account for less than 5 percent. Even in nations that are traditional Christian strongholds; Lebanon, Egypt, and Palestine, the numbers are bleak.