Pope Benedict received a large delegation of Melkite Greek Catholics this morning at the Vatican. The Pontiff called on the clergy to refrain from becoming involved in politics and exhorted the local Church to open the path to peace by proposing the light of the Gospel.
The 300 Melkite Greek Catholics were lead by Patriarch Gregorious III Laham on a pilgrimage to Rome. The Melkite Greek Church is in communion with the Pope.
Noting that the Church lives in an area that is a cultural and religious crossroads, Pope Benedict praised "the vitality of the Melkite Church, despite the difficulties of the region's social and political situation."
Indeed, Damascus, the site of St. Paul’s conversion, is located in the same area, the Pope observed. It was his conversion that “opened the doors of Christianity to all the nations," Benedict said. With the beginning of the Pauline Year approaching (June 28), the Holy Father asked the patriarch to carry out "an intense pastoral outreach" to awaken in the faithful "a new impetus to know ever more closely the person of Christ, thanks to a renewed reading of Paul's writings". This focus," he emphasized, "will also guarantee a thriving future for the Melkite Church".
The internal functioning of the Melkite Church was also addressed by the Pope, who said that "the role of the Bishops' Synod is of primary importance” and “every time the right allows for it” the Synod should be given “the standing it merits."
After emphasizing the “urgent obligation” of Christians to tear down divisions between themselves, the Holy Father also praised the Melkite Church’s “good relations with the Muslims.”
The Holy Father also addressed the Church’s interaction with the secular realm in the “troubled" and “at times dramatic context of the Middle East."
This places the Church in situations where politics affects its life and makes it important to maintain contact with the various political parties, Pope Benedict said. “Nevertheless, it does not fall to the clergy to dedicate themselves to a political life. That is the duty of the laity.”
Instead, the Church can best carry out its mission by proposing “the light of the Gospel to all so that all may dedicate themselves to serve the common good and so that justice may always prevail, so that the path to peace for all peoples in this much loved region may be opened," he concluded.