VATICAN CITY, FEB. 12, 2001 (Zenit.org).- John Paul II this morning received Gregory III, the new patriarch of Antioch and leader of the Greek-Melkite Church, and expressed appreciation for this Church´s commitment to ecumenism.
“I exhort you,” the Pope told the patriarch and 1,000 fellow guests gathered in Paul VI Hall, “to find in the Divine Liturgy the sacramental strength and theological stimulus to participate ever more actively in the search for unity, with prudent courage, in union with the whole Catholic Church, so that the hour of full communion will arrive rapidly.”
The Pope described the patriarch as an “ardent defender of the weak” and “tireless architect of peace,” especially in the Middle East. This was the patriarch´s first visit to Rome, following his recent election as leader of this ancient Church.
The Greek-Melkite Church, of Eastern origin and Orthodox tradition, and submerged in the Islamic world, is like a hinge between Eastern and Western Christianity. It reached full communion with the Apostolic See in 1724, but maintains its own rites, liturgy and canonical peculiarities. It numbers 1.26 million faithful, half of whom live in the Mideast.
The Pope spoke affectionate words in his greeting to his guests, who assembled in Paul VI Hall after a concelebrated Mass. John Paul expressed his admiration for their proud fidelity to Eastern Christian traditions, and describing their Church as “strong, consistent, rooted in its own identity.”
For his part, in greeting the Pope, His Beatitude Gregory III, who succeeded Maximos V, made an appeal on behalf of Mideast Christians. The patriarch asked the Pope to “help Christians to stay in those lands.” He added: “The Arab world needs your presence, your word, your ministry, your international influence.”
Lastly, the Pope had a pastoral recommendation for all Greek-Melkite priests and bishops: “Go out to all, not with the power and wealth of men, but only with the disarming love of Christ who, being rich, became poor to enrich all men.”