In a joint statement, Francis and the Catholic Patriarch of the Assyrian Church of the East note the progress on the path of unity and reiterate that "it is not possible to imagine the Middle East without Christians. This conviction is founded not simply on religious grounds, but also on social and cultural realities, since Christians, with other believers, greatly contribute to the specific identity of the region”.
Vatican City (AsiaNews) – Pope Francis and Mar Gewargis III, the Catholicos Patriarch of the Assyrian Church of the East, signed a joint statement underlining the progress the two Churches have made on the path of unity.
The declaration also stressed the primacy of the law, including respect for freedom of religion and equality before the law, based on the principle of citizenship, independent of ethnic origin or religion, as the bases on which to build peace in the Middle East, especially in Syria and Iraq.
“We share a particular reason for thanksgiving to God,” said Francis, namely “the Joint Committee for Theological Dialogue between the Catholic Church and the Assyrian Church of the East. Just one year ago, I had the joy of receiving its members on the occasion of the signing of the Common Statement on ‘Sacramental Life’. The Committee, itself the fruit of dialogue, shows that practical and disciplinary differences are not always an obstacle to unity, and that certain differences in theological expression can be considered complementary rather than conflicting. I pray that the work of the Committee, which in these days enters a third phase of study on ecclesiology, will help us to take one more step on our journey towards the much-desired goal of being able to celebrate the Sacrifice of the Lord at the same altar.”
The pontiff also noted that the two Churches “share the great suffering resulting from the tragic situation endured by so many of our brothers and sisters in the Middle East, who are victims of violence and frequently forced to leave the lands in which they have always lived. They tread the Via Crucis in the footsteps of Christ and, though belonging to different communities, they are forging fraternal relationships among one another and thus becoming, for us, witnesses of unity. Shortly we shall join in prayer for an end to all this suffering and implore from the Lord the gift of peace for the Middle East, above all for Iraq and Syria.”
“Shortly we shall join in prayer for an end to all this suffering and implore from the Lord the gift of peace for the Middle East, above all for Iraq and Syria.”
The joint statement goes on to reiterate the shared commitment to alleviating the suffering Christians endure in the region. “We wish to affirm yet again that it is not possible to imagine the Middle East without Christians. This conviction is founded not simply on religious grounds, but also on social and cultural realities, since Christians, with other believers, greatly contribute to the specific identity of the region: a place of tolerance, mutual respect and acceptance. The Middle East without Christians would no longer be the Middle East.”
“Convinced that Christians will remain in the region only if peace is restored, we lift up our earnest prayers to Christ, the Prince of Peace, asking for the return of that essential ‘fruit of justice’ (cf. Is 32:17). A truce maintained by walls and displays of power will not lead to peace, since genuine peace can only be attained and preserved through mutual listening and dialogue. We therefore call once again upon the International Community to implement a political solution that recognizes the rights and duties of all parties involved.”
“Christians do not want to be considered a ‘protected minority’ or a tolerated group, but full citizens whose rights are guaranteed and defended, together with those of all other citizens.
“Finally, we reaffirm that the more difficult the situation, the more necessary is interreligious dialogue grounded in an attitude of openness, truth and love. Such dialogue is also the best antidote to extremism, which is a threat to the followers of every religion.”