Early this afternoon, the Holy Father met with participants of the Plenary Assembly of the Congregation for the Oriental Churches who are gathered in Rome from November 19-22nd. The meeting will reflect on the theme of the magisterium of the Second Vatican Council with regard to the Christian East.
After the opening address by Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, Prefect of the Congregation, Pope Francis began by expressing the importance of the ancient liturgies of the Oriental Churches as a tradition handed down by the Apostles, thereby forming part of the “undivided heritage of the Universal Church.”
The purpose of the Plenary Assembly, he explained, is to ”re-appropriate for itself the grace of the Second Vatican Council and of the subsequent teaching on the Christian East.” The guidelines that will emerge from the meeting will support the mission entrusted to the Eastern Churches: to promote the unity of all Christians.
“The Holy Spirit has guided them in this task on paths through history that have not always been easy, nurturing their faith in Christ, in the universal Church and in Peter’s Successor, even at great cost, not infrequently unto martyrdom. The entire Church is truly grateful to you for this!” the Pope exclaimed.
Recalling his earlier meeting with the Patriarchs and Major Archbishops of the Eastern Churches, the Holy Father stated that he learned more of the current situations facing the Churches in the Middle East. Among the situations that were expected to be discussed by the Patriarchs to the Holy Father is increasing violent conflicts that are causing Christians to flee.
“Everything possible must be done so that the conciliar hopes are realized, facilitating pastoral care both in the original territories and where the oriental communities are long established, favouring at the same time communion and brotherhood with communities of the Latin rite,” he stressed. “To this effect, it would be useful to promote renewed vitality in existing entities of consultation between the single Churches and the Holy See.”
Pope Francis also turned his thoughts to the Holy Land, where the light of faith “burns brightly.” The Holy Father told participants that each Catholic owes a debt of gratitude to the Churches in the region that keep the faith alive.
“From these we may learn, among other things, the patience and perseverance of the daily exercise, at times wearisome, of the ecumenical spirit and interreligious dialogue,” the Pope said. “The geographical, historical and cultural context in which they have lived for centuries has indeed made them natural interlocutors with numerous other Christian confessions and with other religions.”
Expressing concern for those Christians in areas of conflict such as Syria, Iraq, Egypt and areas of the Holy Land, the 76 year old Pontiff confirmed his solidarity with those suffering.
“The Bishop of Rome will not rest while there are still men and women, of any religion, whose dignity is undermined, who are deprived of the basic requirements for survival, robbed of their future, or forced to live as fugitives or refugees,” he said.
“Today, along with the pastors of the Oriental Churches, we make an appeal for the respect of the right to a dignified life and to freely profess one’s own faith. We must not resign ourselves to thinking of a Middle East without Christians, who for two thousand years have proclaimed Christ’s name, integrated as citizens to all effects in the social, cultural and religious life of the nations to which they belong.”