Syrian Youths´ Appeal for Unity Was Surprising

Display at Papal Meeting

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DAMASCUS, Syria, MAY 8, 2001 ( During John Paul II´s visit to their country, Syrian Christian youth demonstrated intense concern for the reconciliation and unity of their Churches.

The Pope´s meeting Monday with thousands of Orthodox and Catholic young people was unprecedented.

Both in person and on television, the youth appealed to their patriarchs for the unity of the Church because «Christ desires it.»

The meeting took place in the Greek-Melkite (Catholic) Cathedral of Damascus. The atrium´s patio was full of youths in jeans and T-shirts, who were in a festive mood, singing, «Christ has risen,» and crying, «Welcome, Pope of Peace.» They sang in unison about their country´s future, «Land of the Good News and Peace.»

Greek-Melkite Patriarch Gregoire III Laham displayed humor and spontaneity rarely seen in an Eastern patriarch. He proposed to Orthodox Patriarch Ignatius IV Hazim that they go forward together toward full unity with Rome, and a common date for the celebration of Easter.

In an unexpected move, Gregoire III handed the microphone to the Orthodox patriarch, who at first looked surprised. Then, a smiling patriarch said: «You run too fast toward communion with Rome, even though it is the direction we want to move toward. However, you are slow when it comes to asking for the celebration of Easter on the same date.»

Next, it was the youths´ turn to speak. Several young women referred to the 2,000 years of Syrian Christianity, and stressed the desire for unity felt by the country´s young Christians, as well as their commitment to a future of «peace» and «solidarity.»

A young scout spoke, saying that no one and nothing should «divide» Syrian youth, who are called to live in a society «in which all differences are respected.»

Another young woman went to the microphone and said she could not conceive of a future without «the unity of the Church.»

Thrice she asked the youth and Christian leaders: «Do you want the unity of the Church?» Each time the response was more enthusiastic. Never before, in the Pope´s meetings with youth, had this question of unity been posed in such a forceful way.

The speaker then went over to greet the Pope, who kissed her on the forehead and embraced her. She then embraced the patriarchs.

«You, young people, are my hope," an impressed Pope said. «Emphasize what unites you. As Christ said: ´May they all be one!´»

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