Today in the Vatican, the Holy Father received His Holiness Mar Dinkha IV, Catholicos Patriarch of the Assyrian Church of the East in an audience.
Recalling the previous meeting of the patriarch with Pope John Paul II in 1994, Benedict brought to mind the joint declaration the two leaders signed concerning Christology. The visit also marked the founding of a joint Theological Commission for promoting dialogue.
The rest of the encounter centered around the discussion of how to promote greater inter-religious dialogue in the current violent and uncertain circumstances. The pope mentioned the troubling situation in much of the Middle East for Christians and pointed to the “successive waves of emigration” of “Christians from the Eastern Churches are now living in the West.”
"The Assyrian Church of the East is rooted in ancient lands whose names are associated with the history of God's saving plan for all mankind. .... Today, tragically, Christians in this region are suffering both materially and spiritually. Particularly in Iraq, the homeland of so many of the Assyrian faithful, Christian families and communities are feeling increasing pressure from insecurity, aggression and a sense of abandonment. Many of them see no other possibility than to leave the country and to seek a new future abroad.
"These difficulties," the Pope added, "are a source of great concern to me, and I wish to express my solidarity with the pastors and the faithful of the Christian communities who remain there, often at the price of heroic sacrifices.
"New hopes and possibilities sometimes awaken new fears, and this is also true with regard to ecumenical relations." Nonetheless, "it is to be hoped that the fruitful labor which the commission has accomplished over the years can continue, while never losing sight of the ultimate goal of our common journey towards the re-establishment of full communion."
"However long and laborious the path towards unity may seem, we are asked by the Lord to join our hands and hearts, so that together we can bear clearer witness to Him and better serve our brothers and sisters, particularly in the troubled regions of the East, where many of our faithful look to us, their pastors, with hope and expectation."