ROME, JAN. 17, 2011 (Zenit.org).- Benedict XVI is thanking the Catholic community of Syria for its “fidelity to the Lord and to his Church and fidelity to the Bishop of Rome and to his ministry as Successor of Peter.”
The Pope affirmed his gratitude in a message sent to the community by his secretary of state, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone. The message marked Saturday’s consecration of the cathedral in Aleppo by Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, prefect of the Congregation for Eastern Churches.
“The Holy Father is well aware of the fidelity of the Catholic community of Syria,” the message stated, as reported by L’Osservatore Romano. “He thanks the community for this fidelity and for its prayer for the fruitfulness of his service of the truth and of unity.”
The papal message also noted how the Latin Catholics of Syria “joined their forces, their work, their sacrifices and their offerings as well as their prayers to give God a house worthy of him, to invoke his name and to implore his mercy.”
He expressed his hopes that the Syrian Catholics will be able to continue offering their homeland “an appreciable contribution for its moral and social elevation, in a genuine ecumenical and interreligious spirit.”
In his homily, Cardinal Sandri exhorted the Syrian faithful to stretch out their hands in friendship “to brothers and sisters of every religion, seeking that which unites, offering and requesting the mutual respect of rights and duties, including religious [rights], for individuals and communities.”
He recalled the main themes of last October’s synod on the Middle East: communion and witness.
“These are two indispensable commitments for all, but I wish to encourage above all the laity, called to live this in the family, at work, in the educational, charitable and social world,” the cardinal said. “The role of the family is essential in the parish community to transmit the faith to young generations and to cultivate vocations to the sacrament of marriage, to the priestly, religious and missionary life.”
The cardinal then turned his attention “to all pastors and faithful; to those suffering in body and spirit; to all those who have left their native land but are among us with their heart; and to all those who have preceded us in the sign of the faith after having prepared with their sacrifices this day of praise to the Lord and of celebration for his people.”
“May this be a day of blessing also for the other Churches and Christian ecclesial communities, as well as for brothers and friends of Islam and of the other religions, and for all men and women of good will,” he said.
Cardinal Sandri also reflected on the role of bishops, affirming their role as priest, teacher and guide, according to the mission entrusted them by Christ the Good Shepherd. Bishops, in their turn, must remain united to Peter, he said.
“Our faith says clearly: ‘ubi Petrus et Episcopus ibi Ecclesia.’ With Peter and with the bishop, there is the Church of Christ,” he stressed.
The cardinal also recalled the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, which begins tomorrow.
“We will make our own Jesus’ invocation to the Father: ‘that they all may be one,'” he said. "This is the mandate contained also in the synod convoked by the Pope in Rome last October for the bishops of the Middle East. Communion with God, first of all, from which flows unity in the heart of the Catholic Church between Latins and Easterners of every tradition. Only together will we then be able to pray and to work for unity among the baptized.”
The various denominations of Christians make up only 10% of Syria’s more than 22 million people.