VATICAN CITY, 8 MAY 2008 (VIS) - This morning in the Vatican, Benedict XVI received 300 members of the Melkite Greek Catholic Patriarchate, headed by His Beatitude, Patriarch Gregorios III Laham, who are on pilgrimage to Rome.
The Pope praised "the vitality of the Melkite Church, despite the difficulties of the region's social and political situation", affirming that "on drawing near to the beginning of the year dedicated to St. Paul, I cannot forget that the seat of your patriarchy is established in the city of Damascus, on the road to which the apostle lived the event that transformed his existence and opened the doors of Christianity to all the nations".
The Holy Father used the occasion of the Pauline Year to invite the patriarch to carry out "an intense pastoral outreach" to awaken in the faithful "a new impetus to know ever more closely the person of Christ, thanks to a renewed reading of Paul's writings". This focus," he emphasized, "will also guarantee a thriving future for the Melkite Church".
"In order to ensure the evangelical dynamism and unity of the communities, as well as the proper functioning of the ecclesial work in the patriarchal Churches," Benedict XVI observed, "the role of the Bishops' Synod is of primary importance. That is why it is necessary, every time the right allows for it, above all when it has to do with questions related to those same bishops, to give this venerable institution and not only the Permanent Synod, the standing it merits".
Referring to ecumenical outreach, the Pope recalled that "the commitment to the search for unity of all Jesus' disciples is an urgent obligation" and therefore "everything possible must be done to tear down the walls of division and mistrust that prevent us from achieving it. Nevertheless, we cannot lose sight of the fact that the search for unity is a task that concerns not only a particular Church but the entire Church, in respect of its nature".
"I also appreciate," he added, "your good relations with the Muslims (.) as well as your efforts to resolve, with a sincere and objective spirit of fraternal dialogue, problems that may arise. (.) In line with Vatican Council II, the Melkite Church has sincerely sought mutual understanding and the promotion and a shared defense of social justice, moral values, peace, and freedom with the Muslims to the benefit of all".
On achieving its mission in the troubled and at times dramatic context of the Middle East," he concluded, "the Church finds itself faced with situations where politics plays a role that is not indifferent to its life. That is why it is important to maintain contacts with the political authorities and institutions and the different political parties. Nevertheless, it does not fall to the clergy to dedicate themselves to a political life. That is the duty of the laity. The Church, however, should propose the light of the Gospel to all so that all may dedicate themselves to serve the common good and so that justice may always prevail, so that the path to peace for all peoples in this much loved region may be opened".
AC/PATRIARCHY GREEK MELKITE/GREGORIOS IIIVIS 080508 (515)