Pope: ‘Never forget plight of Syria and Christians in Middle East’

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Pope Francis greets members of the Synod of Bishops of the Greek Melkite Catholic Church, and urges them to seek to unite Christians in the Middle East, and to always beware of destructive “chatter”.

By Francesca Merlo

Pope Francis on Monday greeted participants in the Synod of Bishops of the Patriarchal Church of Antioch of the Greek Melkites, and especially thanked Patriarch Youssef Absi of Antioch.

The Holy Father opened his discourse by noting the bishops asked to celebrate their annual convocation in Rome, at the tombs of the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul.

“We need their intercession,” said the Pope, “so that even in our time….the Christian community may have the courage to bear witness to the name of Christ, author and perfecter of our faith.”

A long look at Syria

The Pope went on to note that some of the successors of Peter were born in Syria. This, he explained, “makes us feel, on the one hand, the Catholic breath of the Church of Rome, called to preside in charity and to have the sollicitudo Ecclesiarum omnium (“care for the entire Church”), and on the other hand, it makes our minds travel as pilgrims to the land where some of you, starting with Patriarch Youssef, are Bishops: the beloved and tormented Syria.”

In recent months we have turned our gaze to the east of Europe, said the Pope, but this “must not make us forget what has been going on for twelve years in your land.”

He recalled a night of prayer, called for during his first year as Pope, in St Peter’s Square, where many Muslims joined and prayed for their “beloved and tormented Syria.”

“We cannot allow the last spark of hope to be taken away from the eyes and hearts of young people and families! And so I renew my appeal to all those who have responsibilities, within the country and in the international community, so that a fair and just solution to the drama in Syria may be found.”

Bearing witness as Church

Pope Francis went on to stress that the bishops of the Greek Melkite Church are called to ask themselves how, as Church, they bear their witness: “heroically and generously, but always in need of being placed in the light of God so that it may be purified and renewed.”

“You are a Synod,” stressed the Pope, “because of those characteristics that you have been recognised as a Patriarchal Church, and it is necessary that you question yourselves on the synodal style of your being and acting, according to your capacity to live the communion of prayer and intent between yourselves and with the Patriarch, between the Bishops and the priests and deacons, with the religious men and women, and with the lay faithful, all together forming the Holy People of God.”

Concern for Christians in the Middle East

Pope Francis went on to speak of Christians in the Middle East, stressing that there is rightfully concern for their survival.

Their plight is a challenge, he said, noting on the other hand that, “for decades now, the presence of the Melkite Church has had a worldwide dimension.”

The Pope said many of the bishops hail from various parts of the world: from Australia, the United States and Venezuela “to name only a few”.

Although there are many obstacles, he said, “it is also a great opportunity: that of remaining rooted in your own traditions and origins, while being open to listening to the times and places in which you are scattered, in order to respond to what the Lord is asking of your Church today.”

Woodworm of “chatter”

Turning his thoughts to the Synod the bishops are holding in Rome, the Pope encouraged them to exercise their competencies wisely.

He noted that they will be addressing the role of the Bishops Emeritus and the election of bishops, for which he urged that each member “always reflect well and pray to the Holy Spirit to enlighten you, preparing adequately and well in advance the material and information on the various candidates, overcoming any mindset of partisanship and balances between Religious Orders of origin.”

Bringing his speech to a close, the Pope took some time to discourage the bishops from “chatter”.

Please, he urged, “if someone has something to say to another, say it to his face, with charity, but to his face.”  Never never speak ill of the other with another, concluded the Pope, as it is “a woodworm that destroys the Church.”

“Let us be brave and find real unity,” stressed the Pope, and he blessed the Synod of the Greek Melkite Church and entrusted the bishops to the Holy Virgin. 

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