Vatican City, 30 November 2013 (VIS) - “You come as witnesses of the apostolic origins of our faith. Since then, the joy of the Gospel continues to enlighten humanity, and you continue to walk on in this joy, in spite of the many ordeals you have experienced throughout history, up to our times”, said the Holy Father this morning as he received in audience a group of pilgrims from the Greek-Melkite Church, accompanied by the Patriarch of Antioch.
Those who are suffering “great tribulation” in Syria, those who have lost their lives, and the their families were foremost in the Pope's thoughts; he implored the Lord to dry their tears and assured them of the nearness of all the Church, so that she might “comfort them in their anguish and keep them from desperation”.
“We firmly believe in the strength of prayer and reconciliation, and renew our heartfelt appeal to world leaders to bring an end to all violence so that, through dialogue, a just and lasting resolution might be found to a conflict that has already caused too much damage”, he continued. “In particular, I encourage mutual respect between the various religious confessions, to ensure for all a future based on the inalienable rights of the person, including religious freedom. For centuries your Church has known how to co-exist peacefully with other religions and is called to fulfil a fraternal role in the Middle East”.
“I repeat to you too: we cannot resign ourselves to thinking of a Middle East without Christians. However, many of your brothers and sisters have emigrated, and the communities of the diaspora are strongly represented here today. I encourage them to hold firm the human and spiritual roots of the Melkite tradition, protecting everywhere the Greek-Catholic identity, because the entire Church needs the patrimony of the Christian East, which you too inherit. At the same time, be a visible sign to all of our oriental brothers of the longed-for communion with Peter's Successor”.
Francis went on to speak about ecumenism, faithful to the principles of Vatican Council II, and asked God's assistance in following this path and in ensuring that the Greek Melkites may always be “co-operators in evangelisation, cultivating the ecumenical and interreligious sensibility” that is possible “thanks to the unity to which the Christ's disciples are called; and unity always requires conversion on the part of everyone. … Divisions within our communities seriously obstruct ecclesial life, communion and witness”.
The Pope concluded by invoking St. Andrew, whose feast day is celebrated today, and who is greatly venerated by the Eastern Churches; through his intercession he asked the Lord for “peace in the world and mercy for our souls”.