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On Sunday 15 May 2011, in the Patriarchal Cathedral of the Dormition, in Damascus, a solemn Divine Liturgy was concelebrated, presided over by His Beatitude Gregorios III, the Melkite Greek Catholic Patriarch of Antioch and All the East, of Alexandria and of Jerusalem, to give thanks to the Lord on the occasion of the sixth anniversary of the Pontificate of His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI, of the beatification of the beloved Pope John Paul II and of the tenth anniversary of his apostolic visit and historic pilgrimage to Syria "in the steps of Saint Paul" (May 2001), and also to beseech civil peace in Syria.
Concelebrating with the Patriarch were the Patriarchal Vicar, Archbishop Joseph Absi, the Cathedral’s priest, Archimandrite George Jbeil, and several other priests.
Present in the choir were Archbishop Mario Zenari, Apostolic Nuncio to Syria, accompanied by the Nunciature’s Counsellor Mgr Matthew Amponsah-Saamoa, as well as all the Catholic bishops of Damascus (the Syriac Metropolitan, the Maronite Archbishop and the Armenian Bishop and Patriarchal Exarch), and Mar Youssef-Massoud Massoud, the Maronite Bishop of Lattakieh, two bishops representing the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate and two others representing the Syriac Orthodox Patriarchate.
The Government of the Syrian Arab Republic was represented by Mr. Faissal Mekdad, Deputy Foreign Minister (accompanied by the Foreign Ministry’s Chief of Protocol, Dr. Hamza Dawalibi, and the director of European Affairs, Dr. Ghassan Nasser), as well as the chief of staff of the Ministry of the Awqaf (Religious Affairs), Mr. Nabil Sleiman.
Also present were the ambassadors of Lebanon, Poland, France, Italy, Austria, Hungary, Norway, Argentina, Brazil and Japan, the representative of the Iranian Embassy and several members of the consular staff.
The liturgical texts of the day (troparion, Epistle and Gospel) were inspired by those that the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments had prescribed for commemorating the new Blessed in the Roman liturgy.
After the proclamation of the Gospel, the Apostolic Nuncio read the words spoken on the same day, at noon, after the Marian prayer Regina coeli, by the Holy Father,1 calling for civil peace in Syria: “My thoughts also go to Syria, where it is urgent to restore a partnership geared towards harmony and unity. I ask God that there is no further bloodshed in the homeland of the great religions and civilizations, and urge the authorities and all citizens to spare no effort in seeking the common good and in accommodating the legitimate aspirations for a peaceful future and stability.”
Then, in his sermon, the Patriarch commented on the three commemorations of this celebration, then gave a summary, with textual citations, of the teachings of Blessed John Paul II during his pilgrimage to Syria in May, 2001.
After the sermon, the deacon and choir sang the great ektenia alternately, with lines read by several people (priests, religious and lay-persons) from the prayer for peace uttered by Blessed John Paul II at Quneitra on 7 May, 2001.2
Translation from French V. C.