Members of the Aid Agency for the Oriental Churches were received in an audience by Pope Benedict this morning at the Vatican. At the audience, the Holy Father stressed the vital role of the Eastern Churches in working for peace and expressed his desire to visit the Holy Land.
Speaking to the group in Italian, English, German and French, the Pope said that the "everyday life and the special mission" of the Eastern Churches, "especially at the ecumenical and the inter-religious level, must be supported by the entire Catholic Church."
The Pope first spoke of the aid agency’s concern for religious communities in Armenia and Georgia "which were among the first to receive the light of Christ." These churches, he said, are able "by living humbly and fraternally with other Christian Churches, and by generously serving the poor … express in a very practical manner the communion of love proper to the universal Catholic Church."
Nonetheless, Pope Benedict said that he still worries about the difficult situation of Christians in Iraq, recalling the figure of Archbishop Paulos Faraj Rahho of Mosul of the Chaldeans, who died in tragic circumstances after being kidnapped on February 29 this year.
On the other hand, Lebanon is showing signs of change, and this, the Pope said, gives him "gratitude and relief." The recent success of negotiations between rival Lebanese factions led the Holy Father to say that the country has apparently "found the path of dialogue and understanding."
Given this progress, the Pope prayed that, "Lebanon may respond decisively to her vocation to be - for the Middle East and the entire world - a sign of the real possibility for peaceful and constructive coexistence between human beings". He then went on to mention Fr. Jacques Ghazir Haddad who will be beatified next Sunday in Beirut, speaking of his hope that the example of the new blessed "may touch the hearts of young Lebanese, showing them the sweetness of an evangelical life at the service of the poor and the weak, and bringing them to become faithful witnesses of the Catholic faith in the Arab world."
Finally, Pope Benedict recalled a recent visit by Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, prefect of the Congregation for the Oriental Churches, and other church officials to the Latin- and Eastern-rite communities in the Holy Land. The "cause" of these communities, said the Pope, "is vital for the entire Church.”
Saying that he shares “their trials and their hopes,” Pope Benedict XVI also fervently prayed that he “may be able to visit them in person, just as I pray that certain signs of peace, which I greet with immense hope, may soon be put into effect.”
"I appeal to the leaders of nations", he added, "that the Middle East - in particular the Holy Land, Lebanon and Iraq - may be offered its longed-for peace and social stability, while respecting the fundamental rights of the person, including that of real religious freedom. Peace", the Pope concluded, "is the only way to face the serious problem of displaced people and refugees and to halt immigration, especially Christian immigration which affects the Oriental Churches so deeply. I entrust these wishes to Blessed John XXIII, a sincere friend of the East and the Pope of 'Pacem in terris'."