Rome - On 18 September, there was a preparatory meeting held in the Vatican Palace between the Secretary of State, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone and the Eastern Catholic Patriarchs and Major Archbishops of Ukraine, Romania and India (of Malankar and Malabar.) Present also were Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, Prefect of the Congregation for Eastern Churches, Archbishop Cyril Vasil S.J., Secretary of the Congregation, and Mgr. Maurizio Malvestiti, Undersecretary of the Congregation. The meeting lasted two hours: an opportunity for the Patriarchs and Archbishops to speak (for seven minutes each) about the problems and issues of their Churches and for them to hear the comments from both Cardinals.
Saturday, 19 the above-mentioned Cardinals, Patriarchs and Major Archbishops went by coach to Castelgandolfo, the papal summer residence. At 11:15a.m. His Holiness opened the meeting with a short prayer from the Syriac Liturgy, followed by a brief address of greeting. He said, "You have asked several times for a meeting, as a sign of collegiality of the Holy Father with you. You are always in my mind and prayers. In this beautiful, brotherly meeting, I am happy to announce officially my decision to hold a Synod for the Middle East from 10-24 October 2010." The Cardinals each spoke in an introductory way and there was then an opportunity for each of the participants to make a seven-minute presentation to the Holy Father.
It was interesting to see how broad and varied were the issues mentioned by the different Churches and how all of them nevertheless shared certain features: especially in the field of ecclesiology, the jurisdictional question of the diaspora and the Eastern Catholic Churches' relationship with the Holy See and with their sister Orthodox Churches; the emigration problem, relations with Islam and the rise of fundamentalism and the need for peace in the Middle East.
The meeting closed with a short response from the Holy Father: he first emphasised the relationship between people and territory in order to solve the problem of patriarchal jurisdiction in the diaspora. Secondly, he emphasised that though Churches have different rites, their communion with Rome should not require them to lose their identity and rights. Thirdly, ecumenical work encounters real difficulties, especially when baptism is repeated in mixed marriages of Greek Catholics with Orthodox. Fourthly, there are difficulties in dialogue with Islam and Hinduism, but Eastern Churches play an important role in that respect. Fifthly, on the subject of peace in the Holy Land, Pope Benedict stressed how important it is for Europe and the United States to exert real pressure on Israel to make peace.
The meeting closed with prayers, after which Pope Benedict greeted all the participants and received different gifts from them and had his photograph taken with the whole group. The participants were then guests of His Holiness for lunch in the Swiss Hall of the Apostolic Palace. H.B. Patriarch Gregorios III offered sweets from Damascus to His Holiness. All participants then received a commemorative medallion of His Holiness.
Report from the Patriarchal Secretariat
On Sunday, 20 September, His Beatitude took the opportunity to celebrate the Divine Liturgy in Santa Maria in Cosmedin. Taking part were Archbishop Hilarion Capucci, resident in Rome, Archimandrite Mtanios Haddad, Rector of the church and Patriarchal Apocrisary of His Beatitude to the Holy See, Archimandrite Sleiman Abouzeid, former Superior General of the Salvatorian Order and Procurator of the Order in Rome and some Melkite student priests in Rome. From the Congregation for Eastern Churches, there participated also Mgr. Malvestiti, Undersecretary and Mgr. Max Cappabianca O.P., Minuting Secretary to the Congregation. Some one hundred faithful were present, including Melkite parishioners and people sympathetic to the Melkite Church. Afterwards, all clergy and some guests were invited to a convivial lunch in Queen Zenobia restaurant.