.- Pope Francis concelebrated his daily Mass this morning with the Coptic Catholic Patriarch of Alexandria, offering prayers for peace, and renewing his call for religious freedom throughout the Middle East.
“‘Be strong, do not fear!’ Here are the consoling words that find their confirmation in fraternal solidarity,” the Pope stated during his Dec. 9 homily, adding that “I am thankful to God for this encounter that gives me a way to reinforce your hope and our hope, because they are the same.”
With these words Pope Francis began the reflections of his morning Mass, which he celebrated in the Saint Martha guesthouse of the Vatican alongside Egypt’s Coptic Patriarch, Ibrahim Isaac Sidrak.
Immediately turning his thoughts to the Coptic Catholics in the Middle East, the pontiff recalled the words of the prophet Isaiah in the day’s first reading, stating that “We feel that the encouragement for ‘the faint of heart’ is directed to so many in your beloved land of Egypt who are experiencing insecurity and violence, sometimes because of their Christian faith.”
Moving to the Gospel reading in which a paralyzed man was lowered through the roof by his friends in order to be healed by Jesus, the Pope highlighted how the passage presents “Christ who conquers the paralysis of humanity.”
However, the Pope also noted that “the paralysis of consciences is contagious.”
“With the complicity of the poverties of history and of our sin,” he continued, this paralysis “can expand and enter into social structures and into communities to block entire peoples,” adding that on the contrary, “the command of Christ: ‘Arise, walk!’ can reverse the situation.”
“Let us pray with confidence that in the Holy Land and all the Middle East peace might be able to rise from the often recurring and sometimes dramatic breaks (in the peace process),” urged the Pope.
“Rather, let hatred and divisions be ended forever! Let the peace agreements, often paralyzed by conflicting and obscure interests, be quickly resumed.”
“Let real guarantees of religious liberty be given to all,” he went on to say, “together with the rights of Christians to live peacefully in the places where they were born, in the native country they love as citizens of more than two thousand years, in order that they might contribute as always to the good of all.”
Recalling the flight into Egypt of the infant Jesus and the Holy Family, Pope Francis emphasized that they were welcomed into a “generous land,” and prayed that the Lord “watch over the Egyptians, that along the paths of the world they might seek dignity and security.”
Bringing his reflections to a close, the pontiff encouraged those present to “always go forward, seeking the Lord, seeking new paths,” and “new ways to come closer to the Lord.”
“If it necessary to open a hole in the roof in order for us to bring everyone closer to the Lord,” he stated, “may our creative imagination of charity bring us to do this: to find and to make new paths of encounter, paths of brotherhood, paths of peace.”
Patriarch Sidrak also spoke for a moment during the Mass, expressing his joy at celebrating the Liturgy of the Eucharist with the Pope, and stressing that the Egyptian Church needs the “paternal support” of the Bishop of Rome during this sensitive time in history.
Also offering a prayer for peace, the patriarch asked that “the light of the Holy Nativity might be the star that reveals the path of love, of unity, of reconciliation, and of peace, gifts of which my Land has such great need.”
Asking for Pope Francis’ blessing, Patriarch Sidrak affirmed to the pontiff that “we eagerly await it in Egypt.”