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Pope ‘will not rest’ while Christians are endangered in Middle East

Catholic World News - November 21, 2013

“We must not resign ourselves to thinking of a Middle East without Christians,” Pope Francis said as he met on November 21 with the patriarchs and major archbishops of the Eastern churches in communion with Rome.

The Pope was meeting for the first time with all the assembled leaders of the Eastern Catholic churches, as they gathered in Rome for a plenary meeting of the Congregation for Eastern Churches. The meeting of that Congregation had formally opened earlier in the day, with a celebration of the Divine Liturgy in the Vatican basilica, and a special prayer for the people of Syria.

In his private audience with the Eastern prelates, the Pope paid homage to the traditions of the Eastern churches. He cited the words of Vatican II that in these churches “there remains conspicuous the tradition that has been handed down from the Apostles through the Fathers and that forms part of the divinely revealed and undivided heritage of the universal Church.” The Eastern Catholic communities have maintained their ties to the universal Church “even at great cost, not infrequently unto martyrdom,” the Pope said. “The entire Church is truly grateful for this!”

Pope Francis called attention to the diversity of the Eastern churches, which include large Catholic communities in Eastern Europe, India, and the Middle East. Referring to those groups in turn, he said that in individual meetings with the prelates, he had heard reports about “the renewed vitality of those long oppressed under communist regimes, the missionary dynamism of those who refer to the preachings of the apostle Thomas, and the perseverance of those who live in the Middle East, not infrequently as a 'little flock' in environments riven by hostility and conflict, as well as hidden persecutions.”

Pope Francis dwelt at length with the difficulties facing Catholics in the Middle East. He said that “each Catholic has a debt of gratitude toward the churches that live in that region.” As tensions rise and Christians are threatened—especially in Syria, Iraq, and Egypt—he said that he “will not rest” until the Church is safe.

“I therefore turn to the entire Church to exhort her support in prayer, that may obtain reconciliation and peace from the merciful heart of God,” the Pope said. He remarked: “Prayer disarms ignorance and generates dialogue where there is open conflict.”

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