Below is a Zenit translation of Pope Francis’ address to members of the Reunion of Aid Agencies for the Oriental Churches (ROACO) on Thursday, June 22, 2017 in the Vatican, who have been holding their 90th plenary assembly in Rome this week.
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Dear friends, I receive you warmly and thank Cardinal Sandri for his greeting in the name of all of you, gathered in Rome for ROACO’s 90th Plenary Session. I renew my gratitude for the work and constant effort of charity and solidarity, that since 1968 you guaranty to the Churches — Oriental and Latin — of the territories entrusted to the competency of the Congregation for the Oriental Churches: you support the pastoral, educational and welfare activities and come to the aid of their urgent needs, thanks also to the work of the Papal Representatives, whom I also have the pleasure of greeting. Through the Father Custos I greet and bless the Franciscan Friars of the Custody, who have begun to celebrate the eighth centenary of their presence in the Holy Land.
The Congregation for the Oriental Churches is celebrating its centenary, a long time during which it has assisted the Supreme Pontiffs – who were its Prefects until 1967 – in their solicitude for all the Churches. They were decades that witnessed a succession of dramatic events: the Oriental Churches were often assailed by terrible waves of persecutions and travails, be it in Eastern Europe as well as in the Middle East. Strong emigrations weakened their presence in territories where they had flourished for centuries. Now, thank God, some of them have returned to freedom after the painful period of totalitarian regimes, but others, especially in Syria, Iraq and Egypt, see their children suffer because of the continuance of war and the senseless violence perpetrated by fundamentalist terrorism.
All these events have made you go through the experience of Jesus’ Cross: it is the cause of disturbance and suffering but, at the same time, it is source of salvation. As I had the occasion to say the day after my election as Bishop of Rome, “if we walk without the Cross, if we build without the Cross and if we confess a Christ without the Cross, we are not disciples of the Lord” (Homily during the Holy Mass celebrated with the Cardinal Electors: Insegnamenti I, 1 , 3).
Therefore, I am happy that you were able to reflect, together with some representatives of the Churches, on the important reality of the initial formation of seminarians and the permanent <formation> of priests. In fact, we are aware of the choice of radicalism expressed by many of them and the heroism of the witness of dedication alongside their communities often very tested. But we are also conscious of the temptations that can be encountered, such as the search for a recognized social status of the consecrated in some geographic areas, or a way of exercising the role of guide according to criteria of human affirmation or according to schemes of the culture and of the environment.
The effort that the Congregation and the Agencies must continue to make is that of supporting the projects and the initiatives that genuinely build the Church. It is essential to nourish always the style of evangelical proximity: in Bishops, so that they live it in their relations with their presbyters, so that the latter feel the Lord’s caress to the faithful entrusted to them. But all guarding the grace of remaining the Lord’s disciples, beginning from the first that learn to make themselves last with the last. Thus the seminarian and the young priest will feel the joy of being collaborators of the salvation offered by the Lord, who bends down as the Good Samaritan to pour on the wounds of hearts and of human stories the oil of consolation and the wine of evangelical hope.
Let us feel ourselves always living stones close to Christ, who is the cornerstone! The Oriental Churches keep so many venerable memories, churches, monasteries, places of men and women Saints: they are kept and preserved thanks also to your aid, thus favouring the pilgrimage to the roots of the faith. However, when it is not possible to repair or maintain the structures, we must continue to be a living temple of the Lord, remembering that the “clay” of our believing existence was moulded by the hands of the “potter,” the Lord, who infused in it His vivifying Spirit. And we do not forget that in the Orient, also in our days, Christians – it does not matter if they are Catholics, Orthodox or Protestants –shed their blood as seal of their witness. May the Oriental faithful, if constrained to emigrate, be able to be welcomed in places where they arrive, and be able to continue to live according to the ecclesial tradition proper to them. In this way your work, dear representatives of the agencies, will be a bridge between the West and the East, be it in the countries of origin, be it in those from which you yourselves come.
I entrust you to the intercession of the All Holy Mother of God, and I assure that I accompany you with my prayer. From my heart I bless you, your communities and your service. And I ask you, please, to continue to pray for me. Thank you![Original text: Italian] [Translation by Virginia M. Forrester]