After the address of the Congregation Prefect, Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, Pope Francis gave the following address which we translate below.
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Dear Brothers and Sisters,
“Christ is the light of the peoples”: so exhorts the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church of the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council. From East to West the whole Church renders this testimony to the Son of God; this Church that, as the same conciliar text evidences immediately, “is present in every nation of the earth […], in fact, all the faithful scattered throughout the world are in communion in the Holy Spirit” (n. 13). “Thus, it then adds, quoting John Chrysostom – one who is at Rome knows that the Indians are her members” (Homily on John 65, 1: PG 59, 361).
The memorable Second Vatican Council also had the merit of explicitly mentioning that in the ancient liturgies of the Oriental Churches, in their theology, spirituality and canonical discipline ‘there remains conspicuous the tradition that has been handed down from the Apostles through the Fathers and that forms part of the divinely revealed and undivided heritage of the universal Church’ (Decree Orientalium Ecclesiarum, 1).
Today I am truly happy to receive the Patriarchs and Major Archbishops, together with the Cardinals, the Metropolitans and the Bishops members of the Congregation for the Oriental Churches. I thank Cardinal Leonardo Sandri for the greeting he addressed to me and I am grateful for the collaboration I receive from the Dicastery and from each one of you.
This Plenary Session intends to re-appropriate for itself the grace of the Second Vatican Council and of the subsequent teaching on the Christian East. From an evaluation of the path taken so far, guidelines will emerge intended to support the mission entrusted by the Council to our brothers and sisters in the East: that of ‘promoting the unity of all Christians, especially Eastern 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!
Putting myself on the path traced by my predecessors, I wish to reaffirm that “within the ecclesiastical community, there exist legitimate particular Churches, with their own traditions, which however fully retain the primacy of the Chair of Peter, which presides over the universal communion of charity, protects the legitimate differences between them and ensures that the particularity of these Churches not only does not damage the unity of the whole, but instead serves it” (Lumen Gentium, 13). Yes, authentic variety, legitimate variety, that inspired by the Spirit, does not damage the unity but serves it; the Council tells us that this variety is necessary for unity!
This morning I was able to learn from the Patriarchs and the Major Archbishops themselves the situation of the different Eastern Churches: the renewed vitality of those long oppressed under communist regimes, the missionary dynamism of those who refer to the preachings of the apostle Thomas, and the perseverance of those who live in the Middle East, not infrequently as a ‘little flock’ in environments riven by hostility and conflict, as well as hidden persecutions.
In your meeting you are addressing several problems regarding the internal life of the Eastern Churches and the dimension of the diaspora, which has notably grown in every continent. 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. To this effect, it would be useful to promote renewed vitality in existing entities of consultation between the single Churches and the Holy See.
My thoughts turn especially to the blessed land where Christ lived, died and rose again. In it – I learned also today from the voice of the Patriarchs present – where the light of faith has not been extinguished, but instead burns brightly. It is the ‘light of the East’ that ‘has illumined that universal Church, from the moment when a rising sun appeared above us: Jesus Christ, our Lord’. As a consequence, each Catholic has a debt of gratitude towards the Churches that live in the region. 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 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.
Considerable worry is caused by the conditions of life faced by Christians who in many parts of the Middle East suffer gravely as a consequence of current tensions and conflicts. Tears often still flow in Syria, Iraq, Egypt and other areas in the Holy Land. 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. 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.
The suffering of the youngest and the weakest, with the silence of victims, poses the insistent question, ‘What is left of the night?’. We continue to watch, as the biblical watchman, certain that the Lord will not fail us in his help. I therefore turn to the entire Church to exhort her support in prayer, that may obtain reconciliation and peace from the merciful heart of God. Prayer disarms ignorance and generates dialogue where there is open conflict. If it is sincere and persistent, it will make our voice humble and firm, capable of being heard by the leaders of nations.
Finally, my thought goes to Jerusalem, our spiritual birthplace. I hope for every consolation, so that it may truly be a prophecy of that definitive convocation, from east to west, promised by God(cf. Isaiah 43:5). May the Blesseds John XXIII and John Paul II, tireless workers of peace on earth, be our intercessors in Heaven, with the All Holy Mother of God, who has given us the Prince of Peace. Upon each of you and upon the beloved Eastern Churches I invoke the Blessing of the Lord.[Translation by ZENIT]