John XXIII and Benedict XVI: "Friends of the East"

Cardinal Praises German Pontiff for Never Losing Hope

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VATICAN CITY, OCT. 11, 2010 ( The prefect of the Vatican’s congregation for Eastern Churches says he sees in Benedict XVI the same love for the East that characterized Pope John XXIII.

Cardinal Leonardo Sandri made this observation today when he offered a reflection at the second general congregation of the synod on the Middle East, under way through Oct. 24 in the Vatican.

Today is the memorial of Blessed John XXIII, the cardinal noted, and to that «beloved Pontiff, ‘sincere friend of the East,’ we entrust the prayer for the synodal work.»

Blessed John XXIII is remembered for his sensitivity to the East in part because he spent 10 years in Bulgaria (1925-1935), where he «[visited] Catholic communities and [established] relationships of respect and esteem with the other Christian communities,» as the Vatican biography of the blessed recounts. Then in 1935 he was named apostolic delegate in Turkey and Greece. The biography adds, «His ministry among the Catholics was intense, and his respectful approach and dialogue with the worlds of Orthodoxy and Islam became a feature of his tenure.»

Cardinal Sandri told Benedict XVI: «We see the same love in you, Holy Father. Therefore, I vouch for the faithfulness and complete adhesion to your person and to your magisterium by the faithful of the Middle East.»

He said that in Rome, «we carry the East in our hearts, the precious treasures of its spiritual traditions: the glory and worth, as well as the trials of its past; the suffering and expectations for the present and the future.»

And, Cardinal Sandri observed, «a ‘precious tie’ unites all the eras of the Eastern Church: this is the Christian martyr.»

The legacy of persecution continues today, the prelate noted: «While seeing some improvement in the situation, in some contexts the Catholics along with other Christians still endure hostility, persecution and the lack of respect for the fundamental right of religious freedom. Terrorism and other forms of violence do not even spare our Jewish and Muslim brothers. Humanly shameful events multiply and strike innocent victims. The loss of individuals and goods, and of reasonable perspectives, generates the reality of emigration. […] Distress often flourishes giving rise to the crucial question of whether there ever can be days of peace and prosperity in the Middle East.»

But the cardinal affirmed: «You, Holy Father, have never lost hope. Rather, you instill it in the Churches of the East because they live the mystery evoked by the Prophet Ezekiel, the ‘glory of Yahweh’ which ‘arrived at the Temple by the east gate.’

«The East answers by persevering in communion and in witness; answering with the firm will to offer and receive the hope of the cross.»

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