VATICAN CITY, JUNE 17, 2009 (Zenit.org).- The patriarch of Antioch of the Syrians expressed today to Benedict XVI his wishes for just peace in Iraq, reconciliation in Lebanon and the Holy Land, and the end of the Christian exodus from the Middle East.
His Beatitude Ignace Youssif III Younan was at the Vatican today to renew his union with the Successor of Peter. He has served as patriarch of that Church only since February, when he was enthroned a month after his election.
The patriarch was accompanied during his visit to the Pope by some 250 pilgrims from various nations. The new patriarch was born in Syria in 1944, but from 1986 until his election as patriarch, served at the eparchy of Our Lady of Deliverance in Newark, New Jersey.
“Our Church is small, but it dates back to apostolic times,” he told L’Osservatore Romano, “and it guards a grand tradition, a precious liturgical and spiritual patrimony.”
He added, “We are here to renew communion with the Successor of Peter and to afterward be able to better respond to the problems that oppress us and to continue giving witness to the Gospel in an afflicted situation, marked as well by violent fanaticism.”
The Syriac Catholic Church separated from Rome after the Council of Chalcedon in 451, but returned to full communion more than a millennium later.
Its see is in Beirut, Lebanon, and in its liturgy, it still uses Aramaic, the language spoken by Christ.
In his greeting to the delegation, Benedict XVI thanked them for their visit, “which maintains a living link with the Eastern Christian tradition and the Bishop of Rome.”
The Pope recalled that Thursday will be the official ceremony conceding ecclesial communion to the patriarch. It will be held in the Basilica of St. Mary Major, in the presence of the papal representative, Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, prefect of the Congregation for Eastern Churches.
The Holy Father assured his prayer for the Syrian Catholic Church and renewed his appreciation “to all the Eastern Catholic Churches, encouraging them to continue their ecclesial mission, despite the thousands of difficulties, to build unity and peace everywhere.”
There are some 150,000 Syrian Catholics in the world today. They live primarily in Iraq (42,000), in Syria (26,000), and in Turkey. About 55,000 Syrian Catholics live in other nations around the world.