Pope tells Greek Melkite bishops not to forget Syria’s tragedy

The pontiff met today with members of the Greek Melkite Patriarchal Church on the day they begin their synodal work. He reminded them of the night of prayer in St Peter’s, which included Muslims, in the first year of his pontificate, as well as their episcopal task to bear “witnesses” to the faith. The Church’s large diaspora “undoubtedly represents a challenge, ecclesial but also cultural and social”.

Vatican City (AsiaNews) – Pope Francis met this morning with members of the Synod of Bishops of the Patriarchal Church of Antioch of the Greek Melkites, who began their work today.

In his address to the bishops, the pontiff said that the “tragedy” that has been covering Eastern Europe with blood over the past few months as a result of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine must not make us “forget” what happened "in your land", i.e., Syria, over the past 12 years.

Francis thanked Primate Youssef Absi, noting that during the first year of his pontificate, Syria was heavily bombed, which led him to convene “a night of prayer" in St Peter’s. People responded in great numbers, filling the square, including Muslims.

On that occasion, the expression ‘Beloved and tormented Syria’ was born, inspired by the “Thousands of dead and wounded, millions of refugees at home and abroad, the impossibility to start the necessary reconstruction.”

Although the conflict has been largely forgotten and is no longer on international agendas, the pontiff, as he has done repeatedly, urged the prelates to keep alive “the last spark of hope”, which still fills the hearts and eyes of young people and families. Thus, “I renew my appeal to all those who have responsibilities, within the country and in the international community, [. . .] that a fair and just solution to the tragedy in Syria may be found.”

The leaders of the Greek Melkite Church are in Rome for their annual synod on the tombs of Saints Peter and Paul, whose intercession is necessary so that “the Christian community may have the courage to bear witness to the name of Christ” in societies "that define themselves as ‘fluid’, with light bonds that multiply loneliness and abandon the most fragile,” Francis explained.

“You bishops are called to question yourselves on the way in which, as a Church, you bear your witness”; she is “indeed heroic, generous, but always in need of being placed in the light of God so that she may be purified and renewed" according to the principle of Ecclesia semper reformanda.

Francis stressed the importance of “living the communion of prayer and intent among yourselves and with the patriarch, between bishops, priests and deacons, with men and women religious, as well as the lay faithful” who make up the People of God.

The pontiff said he “fully” shares the concerns over “the survival of Christians in the Middle East”. At the same time, he spoke about the Melkite Church’s current situation, whose worldwide reach includes Australia and Oceania, the United States, Canada, South America as well as Europe itself.

“This aspect undoubtedly represents a challenge, ecclesial but also cultural and social,” the pope explained. It comes with “difficulties and obstacles.” Yet, “it is also a great opportunity: to remain rooted in your own traditions and origins, but open to listening to the times and places in which you are scattered, to answer the call the Lord has for your Church today.”

On the issue of episcopal appointments, the pontiff invites the bishops to overcome any partisan argument or quest for a balance among affiliated religious orders, because the only criterion in appointment is to “make the face of the Church shine by keeping away divisions and grumbling” that cause scandal.

On this point, Francis is insistent: “Be wary of gossip. If you have something to say to someone, do it to his face, charitably, directly. Do not ever bad-mouth someone with someone else [. . .].  This canker destroys the Church. Let us be brave. Let us look at how Paul said so many things to James’ face.” Only this way “is unity, true unity, achieved”.