Oriental Churches: Example of Unity in a Fragmented World

On Saturday in the Vatican, Benedict XVI received participants in the extraordinary Synod of the Syrian Catholic Church, which has just concluded. The assembly, held in the Vatican from April 26-28 and presided, in the Holy Father's name, by Cardinal Secretary of State Tarcisio Bertone S.D.B., was attended by His Beatitude Ignace Pierre VIII Abdel-Ahad, Patriarch of Antioch of the Syrians, Lebanon, and thirteen other bishops.

In his talk to them, the Pope affirmed that he had called the extraordinary assembly in order "to revive the secular ties that bind your Church to the Apostolic See and, at the same time, to express the esteem and interest of the Bishop of Rome for each one of you, pastors of a part of the People of God that is not large but ancient and important."

Recalling the traditional Easter readings from the Acts of the Apostles, Benedict XVI highlighted how they reveal the progress of the nascent Church "which was not always easy, but was rich in apostolic fruits. From the beginning there was no lack of external hostility and persecutions, nor of tensions and contrasts within the communities themselves." Yet, "despite the shadows and difficulties of various kinds which the first Christians had to face, the shining light of the Church's faith in Jesus Christ has never been extinguished."

Pope Benedict then went on to refer to John Paul II's concern for the Oriental Churches and how the late pontiff had always invited them to "to seek unity and reconciliation;" and he reaffirmed his own "profound conviction" that "today too, as at the dawn of Christianity, each community is called to give a clear witness of fraternity."

"Over these days," he went on, "you have reflected upon the means to overcome the obstacles that hinder the normal practice of ecclesial life. You are aware that this is necessary and even indispensable. It is required by the ministry of the Lord Who entrusted His flock to you; it is required for the good of the Syrian Catholic Church. It is required by the particular situation in which you live in the Middle East and the witness that the Catholic Churches together can give."

"At this time, Catholic communities have to face numerous challenges all over the world" because of dangers and problems that "can obscure the values of the Gospel. As for your own Church, the violence and conflicts suffered by a part of the flock entrusted to you represent supplementary difficulties that further endanger not only peaceful coexistence, but even people's lives."

"In such situations, it is important for the Syrian Catholic ecclesial community to announce the Gospel decisively, promoting appropriate pastoral activities to face the challenges of post-modernity, and as a shining example of unity in a fragmented world."

The Pope concluded his talk by recalling how Vatican Council II had highlighted that the Oriental Catholic Churches "are called to play a special role in furthering the ecumenical journey." And he invited the members of the Synod "to continue with enthusiasm, trust and perseverance in the missionary activity of St. Paul, following the footsteps of St. Ignatius of Antioch, St. Ephraim and the patron saints."

After the meeting, the Pope lunched with participants in the Synod at the Vatican's "Domus Sanctae Marthae."

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