Syrian Youth Urged to Be Prophets of Unity

John Paul II Meets Young People at Cathedral

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DAMASCUS, Syria, MAY 7, 2001 ( John Paul II called on young Syrians to become prophets of reconciliation and Christian unity, as he met with thousands of them at an event reminiscent of World Youth Days.

It was the most effusive and spontaneous meeting of the Pope´s visit in Syria, during the second stage of his pilgrimage in St. Paul´s footsteps.

«Dear young people,» he said, «the future of Christianity in your country depends on better relations and closer cooperation between the Churches and ecclesial communities here present.»

The young people — who in fact included Muslims — cried out in English: «John Paul II, we love you.»

The celebration took place in the Catholic Greek-Melkite Cathedral here. Few could fit in the cathedral, so many had to follow the event on large screens placed in the crowded outdoor patio.

The Pope was welcomed by Greek-Melkite Patriarch Gregoire III Laham, who gave a humorous, spontaneous address, calling intensely for reconciliation among Christians.

«From now on, we always want to celebrate Easter together,» the Greek-Catholic patriarch said to the two patriarchs of the Orthodox Churches who attended the youth celebration.

Reiterating the Pope´s proposal of Sunday, the patriarch added: «We Greek-Catholics say to our Orthodox brothers: We want to celebrate Easter together and forever. We want our generation to see perfect communion, without the need for our children to wait for it.»

The proposal was a bold one, since in some countries Orthodox refuse any contact with Catholics of the Eastern tradition, who are like them but obedient to the Pope.

A poignant moment occurred when Greek-Orthodox Patriarch Ignatius IV Hazim of Antioch rose spontaneously to embrace the Greek-Catholic patriarch. The young people shouted and applauded the goodwill gesture between their religious leaders.

Several Orthodox and Catholic youths then spoke about the difficulties and challenges that their generation faces in living their faith in Syria. A common denominator to their testimonies was the need to overcome the scandal of Christian disunity in a nation that is 90% Muslim.

John Paul II replied to the young people with a proposal: «Strengthen the things that unite you. Meditate together on the Gospel, call upon the Holy Spirit, listen to the testimony of the apostles, pray with joy and thanksgiving.»

He also invited his young listeners to be involved «in the building of a society that respects the rights of all and promotes the common good and peace.»

«Dear young people of Syria: Build the civilization of love!» he said. «Do not be afraid to be the saints of the new millennium. With Christ, holiness — the divine plan for every baptized person — becomes possible.»

On Tuesday the Pope leaves for Malta, to continue his pilgrimage. On Wednesday he will beatify the first three Maltese.

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