On Friday morning, Pope Benedict XVI received the Patriarch of the Syriac Catholic Church at the Vatican. The meeting served as an opportunity for the Holy Father to emphasize the unity of the Roman and Syriac traditions.
His Beatitude Ignace Youssif III Younan was elected as the new Catholic patriarch of Antioch of the Syrians just this past January by the Syriac Church's synod in Rome.
"Divine Providence," Pope Benedict remarked, "has made us ministers of Christ and shepherds of His one flock. ...
The Church led by the patriarch follows the traditions of the Eastern rite and is nourished by teachings of the Church Fathers St. Ignatius of Antioch and St. Ephrem, among others.
Recalling that “Christ Himself, our Lord, appointed the Apostle Peter as the 'rock' upon which He founded the spiritual edifice of the Church,” Benedict XVI noted that the Syriac Church has brought its Eastern traditions in a complementary way to its “communion with the Bishop of Rome.”
The Pontiff then recalled how, in order to emphasise "the Eucharistic roots" of this communion, he had granted "ecclesiastica communio" to the patriarch when he was elected head of the Synod. Addressing the patriarch directly, he added: "With a public sign - yesterday's Eucharistic celebration in the basilica of St. Mary Major - you most appropriately demonstrated the close ties binding you to the bishop of Rome and the Universal Church."
Pope Benedict also underscored that the Eucharist “fuses our different traditions in the unity of the one Spirit, making them a source of wealth for all God's people.”
He pointed to the celebration of the Eucharist as a sure foundation and prayed that it would “keep you anchored in the ancient Syriac tradition which can claim to possess the language the Lord Jesus spoke, and at the same time open your horizons to ecclesial universality.
The Syriac Catholic Church exists primarily in the Holy Land, Iraq and Lebanon, and given the decades of turmoil in the region, the Pope pointed to “the Eucharist, Sacrament of unity and community,” as the source of strength to “overcome the difficulties your Church has faced over recent years, in order to rediscover the paths of forgiveness, reconciliation and communion."
"I pray continuously, among other things, for peace in the Middle East, especially for Christians living in the blessed land of Iraq, whose sufferings I offer every day to God during the Eucharistic sacrifice," the Holy Father said.