Vatican City (AsiaNews) – For Pope Francis, the persecution of Christians of all denominations in the Middle East has strengthened "ever more the bonds of friendship and fraternity between the Catholic Church and the Syrian Orthodox Church”.
Indeed, “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of unity in the Church,” he said during his meeting this morning with Mor Ignatius Aphrem II, Syriac Orthodox Patriarch of Antioch and All the East. Yet, “it seems that the powers of this world are incapable of finding solutions” to such suffering.
After their private meeting and the exchange of words in the presence of the Syriac Orthodox delegation, the two leaders prayed together in the Redemptoris Mater Chapel.
In his address, Francis noted the now long history of "friendship and brotherhood" that binds the two Churches, from the Joint Declaration on joint profession of faith in the mystery of the Incarnate Word, true God and true man, to the meeting between Patriarch Mor Ignatius Jacob III and Pope Paul VI, which took place in Rome in 1971, up to the meetings between Patriarch Mor Ignatius Zakka Iwas and John Paul II, first in Rome and then in Damascus.
“How much has changed since these first encounters!” Francis said. “Yours, Holiness, is a Church of martyrs from the beginning, and it is so today, too, in the Middle East, where it continues to endure, together with other Christian communities and other minorities, the terrible sufferings caused by war, violence, and persecutions. So much suffering! So many innocent victims. In the face of all this, it seems that the powers of this world are incapable of finding solutions.
“Holiness, let us pray together for the victims of this brutal violence and of all the situations of war present in the world. In particular, we recall Metropolitan Mor Gregorios Ibrahim and Metropolitan Paul Yazigi of the Greek Orthodox Church, abducted together now more than two years ago. Let us recall, too, some priests and many other people, from diverse groups, [who have been] deprived of liberty. Let us ask the Lord, too, for the grace of always being ready to forgive and of being workers of reconciliation and peace. This is what animates the witness of the martyrs. The blood of the martyrs is the seed of unity in the Church and the instrument of the building up of the kingdom of God, which is a kingdom of peace and of justice.
“Holiness, dear brothers, in this moment of harsh trial and of sorrow, let us strengthen ever more the bonds of friendship and fraternity between the Catholic Church and the Syrian Orthodox Church. Let us hasten our steps along the common path, keeping our gaze fixed on the day when we will be able to celebrate our belonging to the one Church of Christ around the same altar of Sacrifice and of praise. Let us exchange the treasures of our traditions as spiritual gifts, because that which unites us is much greater than that which divides us.
“I make my own the words of your beautiful Syrian prayer: “O Lord, through the intercession of your mother and of all the saints, sanctify our and our dearly departed. May the memory of the Virgin Mary be a blessing for us; may her prayers be strength for our souls. Apostles, martyrs, disciples, and saints, pray for us, that the Lord might give us His mercy.”