Eastern Patriarchs 'watchful guardians' of unity, Pope says

Pope Francis at General Audience 9 25 13 05 Credit Elise Harris CNA Vatican Catholic News 9 25 13 Pope Francis addresses pilgrims on Sept. 25, 2013 during his General Audience | Elise Harris/CNA

Pope Francis spoke with Patriarchs of various Oriental Churches during a four day gathering in Rome, stating that it is their task to help foster unity in the Church, and to remember the persecuted.

"You are watchful guardians of communion and servants of ecclesial unity," said the Pope, quoting his predecessor during a Nov. 21 morning meeting with the church leaders.

The Holy Father's comments came as the second address to the Patriarchs and Major Archbishops of Eastern Churches, who are gathered in Rome Nov. 19-21 for the Plenary Assembly of the Congregation for Eastern Churches.

Headed by Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, prefect of the Congregation for the Oriental Churches, the assembly is reflecting on the theme of the magisterium of Vatican Council II with regard to the Christian East.

During his address, the Pope highlighted how the Second Vatican Council mentioned that within the liturgies of the Oriental Churches, "there remains conspicuous the tradition that has been handed down from the Apostles through the Fathers and that forms part of the divinely revealed and undivided heritage of the universal Church."

"From an evaluation of the path taken so far," the pontiff explained that "guidelines will emerge intended to support the mission entrusted by the Council to our brothers and sisters in the East."

That mission, he noted, is the promotion of "the unity of all Christians, especially Eastern Christians."

Recalling the many difficulties which the Oriental Churches have had in "nurturing their faith in Christ…not infrequently unto martyrdom," the Pope exclaimed that "the entire Church is truly grateful to you for this!"

Drawing attention to "those who live in the Middle East, not infrequently as a 'little flock' in environments riven by hostility and conflict, as well as hidden persecutions," Pope Francis stressed that the dispersion of people from their homeland is a problem which is increasing in every continent.

In light of this situation, Pope Francis encouraged the patriarchs to do everything possible to facilitate "pastoral care both in the original territories and where the oriental communities are long established."

"My thoughts turn especially to the blessed land where Christ lived, died and rose again," the Pope reflected, "and where the light of faith has not been extinguished, but instead burns brightly."

"It is the 'light of the East,'" he stated, which "has illumined that universal Church, from the moment when a rising sun appeared above us: Jesus Christ, our Lord."

"As a consequence, each Catholic has a debt of gratitude towards the Churches that live in the region."

"From these we may learn, among other things," continued the pontiff, "the patience and perseverance of the daily exercise, at times wearisome, of the ecumenical spirit and interreligious dialogue."

Showing particular concern for those in the Middle East who suffer because of current conflicts, the Pope stressed that "the Bishop of Rome will not rest while there are still men and women, of any religion, whose dignity is undermined, who are deprived of the basic requirements for survival, robbed of their future, or forced to live as fugitives or refugees."

"Today, along with the pastors of the Oriental Churches," he implored, "we make an appeal for the respect of the right to a dignified life and to freely profess one's own faith."

"We must not resign ourselves to thinking of a Middle East without Christians."

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Pope Francis concluded his address by asking turning "to the entire Church to exhort her support in prayer," that she "may obtain reconciliation and peace from the merciful heart of God."

"Prayer," he explained, "disarms ignorance and generates dialogue where there is open conflict. If it is sincere and persistent, it will make our voice humble and firm, capable of being heard by the leaders of nations."

Referring to Jerusalem as "our spiritual birthplace," the Pope stated that "I hope for every consolation, so that it may truly be a prophesy of that definitive convocation, from east to west, promised by God."

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