Gregorios III: “Frank, constructive conversations for the good of our Churches.”
Vatican City - Last Thursday 21 November 2013, the Feast of the Presentation of the Mother of God in the Temple, was the day when the Patriarchs and Major Archbishops of the Eastern Catholic Churches who had gathered together in Rome met with Pope Francis. This meeting followed in the wake of one organised by Benedict XVI in September 2009. Welcoming the Holy Father to Jordan in May of that year, Gregorios III had asked him to enable the Eastern Catholic Patriarchs to meet regularly with him.
The meeting of 21 November, which was characterised by ecclesial brotherliness, listening, frankness, sincerity and simplicity, took place during the work for the General Assembly of the Congregation for the Oriental Churches held from 19 to 22 November. On 24 November the Patriarchs will be with Pope Francis to celebrate the closure of the Year of Faith as “a sign of their determination to live out in full communion with Peter’s successor the mission entrusted to their Churches by the Council: generously witnessing witness to faith in order to foster Christian unity, especially in the East.”
The Eastern Catholic Churches fifty years after the Second Vatican Council was the central theme of the Assembly of the Congregation for the Oriental Churches. Five talks illustrated the theme: the role of Eastern Christians and their influence on Vatican II: ecclesial and ecumenical issues; pastoral mission between East and West; the diaspora of Eastern Christians; the impact of Vatican II on the relations between the Eastern Churches and Rome, and on the daily life of the Eastern Churches.
The work of the meeting allowed everyone to talk simply and frankly without any taboo or forbidden topic and this lead to a constructive dialogue which touched on critical issues such as: patriarchal authority outside patriarchal territories, the authority of patriarchs in the Gulf, lifting the prohibition on Eastern Churches appointing married priests outside their patriarchal territories, working relations with the Congregation for the Oriental Churches...
The meeting with Pope Francis began with a joint prayer, at the end of which Cardinal Leonardo Sandri addressed the Holy Father, who greeted all the participants. Cardinal Rai, Patriarch of the Maronites then took the floor to present to the Pope the various documents of the Assemblies of Eastern Catholic Patriarchs. The discussion was then opened up and everyone was able to talk simply and frankly.
No press release was issued after this meeting. The matters broached and addressed have to be further explored and studied before being re-submitted to the Holy Father, and only then will decisions be able to be taken.
What was important in this meeting was simply the quality of the debate and the possibility given to each one to speak directly to the Holy Father in a frank and constructive dialogue. The situation in Arab countries was obviously at the heart of all the issues discussed. All the Patriarchs had gratefully hailed Pope Francis’ call for 7 September to be a day of fasting and prayer for peace in Syria and in the Middle East, as they had requested constant efforts and appeals for prayer and peace and for them to be the subject of continuous focus on the part of the Congregation for the Oriental Churches and the Holy Father.
Peace is the primordial condition for the sustainability of Christians’ presence and role in their countries in the Middle East for everyone’s benefit; for curbing the exodus of Christians and its tragic consequences; for Muslim-Christian dialogue and knowing how to live together with Islam; for preserving liberties.
On the evening of 21 November, and on the occasion of Lebanon’s national day, Gregorios III together with the Maronite Patriarch, Cardinal Beshara Boutros al-Rai, the Armenian Catholic Patriarch, Nerses Bedros XIX, and the Syriac Catholic Patriarch, Ignatios Joseph III Younan, went to the Lebanese Embassy to celebrate the seventieth anniversary of Lebanese independence.