Vatican City (AsiaNews) - Today's meeting between Pope Francis and Greek-Melkite Patriarch Gregorios III Laham saw a renewed call for "a just and lasting solution" to the Syrian conflict, an exhortation to respect religious freedom and the reassertion of the value of the Eastern Catholic Churches, also in view of their ecumenical journey. The head of the Church of Antioch was accompanied by the Greek-Melkite Synod and about 350 faithful.
"My thoughts," the pope said, "go immediately to our brothers and sisters in Syria, who have endured a 'great tribulation ' for a long time. I pray for those who lost their life and for their loved ones. May the Lord dry the tears of his children. May the closeness of the whole Church comfort their anguish and keep them from despair. We firmly believe in the power of prayer and reconciliation," he added, "and we renew our heartfelt plea to those in power for an end to violence so that through dialogue we may arrive to a just and lasting solution to a conflict that has already caused too much harm. Specifically, I call for mutual respect among the various religious denominations to ensure everyone a future based on inalienable human rights, including freedom of religion. For centuries, your Church has been able to live peacefully with other religions and is called to play a role of brotherhood in the Middle East."
"Let me say this again: We are not resigned to imagine a Middle East without Christians. Still, many of your brothers and sisters have emigrated, and many representatives from the communities in the diaspora are present here. I encourage them to keep strong their roots in the Melkite human and spiritual tradition, preserving their Greek-Catholic identity everywhere, because the whole Church needs the heritage of the Christian East, of which you are also heirs."
"You," he said again, "are a visible sign for all of our Eastern brethren of the wished for communion with the Successor of Peter. On this feast day of Saint Andrew the Apostle, brother of Saint Peter, my thoughts go out to His Holiness Bartholomew, the Patriarch of Constantinople, and the Orthodox Churches. Let us pray that the Lord may help us continue our ecumenical journey, faithful to the principles of the Second Vatican Council. May He always help you cooperate in evangelisation, nurturing ecumenical and interfaith awareness."
"Divisions in our communities seriously hinder the life of the Church, communion and witness. I therefore join the Patriarch and the bishops in this effort, so that they may contribute this way to building the Body of Christ. But I would also like to encourage priests, men and women religious and lay people to offer their essential contribution."