Vatican City, 19 June 2015 (VIS) – Following a tradition established in 1971 by the Syriac-Orthodox Patriarch of Antioch and All the East, His Holiness Ignatius Jacob III and Blessed Paul VI, this morning Pope Francis received in the Vatican His Beatitude Patriarch Ignatius Aphrem II, accompanied by a Syriac-Orthodox delegation, recalling that the historic first meeting was the beginning of a “holy pilgrimage” towards full communion between the two Churches.
Francis also mentioned the Joint Declaration on the common profession of faith in the mystery of the Incarnate Word, the true God and the true man, signed in that year by the Patriarch and the Pope, which laid the foundations for a path to unity among disciples. Subsequent meetings between Patriarch Ignatius Zakka Iwas and St. John Paul II, first in Rome and then in Damascus, represented important steps toward the concrete pastoral collaboration for the good of the faithful.
“How much has changed since those first meetings!” exclaimed the bishop of Rome. “Yours, Beatitude, has been a Church of martyrs since the very beginning, and continues to be so to this day in the Middle East, where, along with other Christian communities and other minorities, it suffers greatly as a result of war, violence and persecution. How much pain! How many innocent victims! Faced with all this, it seems that those in power seem unable to find solutions”.
“Let us pray together for the victims of this brutal violence and for all the situations of war throughout the world. In particular, let us remember the Metropolitan Gregorios Ibrahim and the Metropolitan of the Orthodox Church Griega Paul Yazigi, abducted at the same time two years ago. Let us also remember the priests and the many other people, of different groups, deprived of their freedom. And let us ask of the Lord the grace always to be willing to forgive and to be builders of reconciliation and peace. This is what inspires the witness of the martyrs. The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the unity of the Church and the tool for the edification of the kingdom of God, which is the kingdom of peace and justice”.
“Beatitude, dear brother, in this moment of tension and pain”, concluded the Pope, “let us increasingly strengthen the bonds of friendship and fraternity between the Catholic Church and the Syriac-Orthodox Church. Let us hasten our steps on the common path, looking towards the day in which we will be able to celebrate our common belonging to Christ's single Church around the same altar of the Sacrifice and of worship. Let us exchange the treasures of our traditions as spiritual gifts, as what unites us is far greater than what divides us”.
The Holy Father and the Patriarch then prayed together in the Redemptoris Mater chapel.