Vatican City (AsiaNews) - "There are no religious reasons, political or economic conditions that can justify what is happening to hundreds of thousands of innocent men, women and children" who face "daily persecution" in the Middle East just because they are Christian or members of other religious minorities," said Pope Francis as he greeted Mar Dinkha IV, patriarch of the Assyrian Church of the East (pictured), this morning in the Vatican.
The Holy Father spoke to the leader of a Church that has about 400,000 members, many of whom have immigrated to America, about the persecution of religious minorities as well as the way towards unity between Catholics and members of the Assyrian Church of the East.
"Our meeting," the pope said, "is marked by the suffering we share over the wars that are going on in different regions of the Middle East; in particular, the violence that Christians and members of other religious minorities are subjected to, especially in Iraq and Syria.
"Many of our brothers and sisters are suffering daily persecution! When we think about their suffering, it is natural to go beyond the distinctions of ritual and confession. In them, there is the body of Christ that even today is hurt, stricken, [and] humiliated."
"There are no religious reasons, political or economic conditions that may justify what is happening to hundreds of thousands of innocent men, women and children. We feel deeply united in intercessory prayer and action of charity towards those members of the body of Christ who are suffering."
The Pope went on to say that the patriarch's visit "is another step on the way towards a growing closeness and spiritual communion between us, after the bitter misunderstandings of the past centuries."
"Already twenty years ago," he added, "the joint Christological Declaration signed by you and by my predecessor, Saint Pope John Paul II, was a milestone in our journey towards full communion. With it we recognised that we profess the same faith of the Apostles, the faith in the divinity and humanity of our Lord Jesus Christ, united in one person, without confusion or change, without division or separation."
"I accompany with prayer," he said in concluding, "the work of the Mixed Commission for Theological Dialogue between the Catholic Church and the Assyrian Church of the East, so that through it we may approach the blessed day when we celebrate on the same altar the sacrifice of praise, which will make us one in Christ."