Friendly loving greetings, first from the Holy Land of Palestine, cradle of Jesus' birth, and then from all the holy lands, those Arab countries that were the cradle of Christianity's birth! We bring you greetings from your original homelands, each of your motherlands that are not just your geographical, earthly ancestral lands, but, as you are Christian, your spiritual homelands too. Psalm 87 tells us that all people are children of Jerusalem. Indeed, every person is born in her through the spirit and through faith. With the Venerable Pope John Paul II, we repeat that the Holy Land is the homeland of every Christian, since it is the homeland of Jesus and Mary.
The cordial greeting that I bring you comes from the heart of one who was impatient to see you, the heart of your Patriarch. That is why I am telling you what I have always said, I love you. I am also bringing you greetings from your brothers and sisters in the Christian East.
We should always keep a feeling for our Arab homeland and our belonging to the East, although you should also be completely integrated into your new homelands, as you are. Many of you have been born here and perhaps have never known or visited the homeland of your parents and their forebears.
It is important to work for the prosperity of the nations where God has planted us, here in the countries of emigration and also in the Arab world, for Christians everywhere are working like their Master, who said that he had come "that they might have life, and have it more abundantly." (John 10: 10)
So you baptised persons, wherever you are, feel that you are at home in your earthly homeland, but also in a relationship with your spiritual homeland, the land of your faith and indeed with your heavenly homeland. According to this way of thinking, your forebears worked to develop their homeland, for its prosperity at all levels, especially in the Arab world alongside our Muslim brethren.
So we remain, here and in the Arab world, completely involved in our mission and role of being witnesses of Jesus Christ, present where we are, active, interactive, in solidarity with all our fellow-citizens.
And we remain faithful to our role of being, in the Arab world and here in our new homeland, as Jesus in the Gospel asked us to be, "light, salt and leaven."
Ex Oriente lux (Light from the East)
Christianity began in the East: Jerusalem, Antioch, Damascus (place of Saint Paul's conversion and meeting with Jesus), Alexandria and then Constantinople, whence it spread to Greece, Rome and throughout the whole world. Here, you represent that most noble East, which John Paul II so well described in his beautiful letter Orientale Lumen. He also said that the Church must breathe with both lungs: East and West.
You, dear friends, make that happen by remaining faithful to your Church, your rite, your liturgy, your spirituality, prayers, Easternness and holy faith.
Keep all that in your hearts, so that your eparchies and exarchates in the countries of expansion, our parishes, bishops, priests, monks, nuns, churches and sanctuaries may be real examples of that Eastern spirituality in celebrating the Divine Liturgy and in the way of administering the Church sacraments, especially baptism and chrismation with holy chrism, the Eucharist and marriage. We are the bearers of a very rich heritage here. Through our Eastern presence, we become agents for Church unity, in the variety of its Western and Eastern rites, traditions and canonical disciplines.
This sign of unity between East and West is very important: it is a means of progress in the work for complete unity between Christians, so that we may realise what Jesus said in his prayer to the Father, "That they may be one, as we are...that the world may believe..." (John 17: 11 and 21) and that there be one flock and one Shepherd.
We Melkite Greek Catholics have realised in part, in the history of our Church, that unity between East and West, although for that we have paid a steep price: we have nevertheless remained faithful to that unity, since we remain faithful to our Eastern Orthodox heritage, with great openness to the Christian West. That is what happened at the First Vatican Council and at the Second Vatican Council, with Patriarchs Gregorios II and Maximos IV, respectively.
Openness and interaction, dialogue and living together
My dear friends, we have experienced, in our Arab homelands, in our Holy Land, the values of faith, the humane values of civilisation, social, political, cultural values and Christian, Muslim and Jewish values.
We have lived all that with our fellow-citizens in our Arab countries, and at the same time we have kept openness and our characteristic identity, whilst remaining faithful also to interaction, solidarity, dialogue, and living together. Together, we have made the history of our Arab countries alongside our Muslim brothers, and we continue to work to make history together, extending every effort to develop our society in order to attain worthy living conditions, so that our children do not have to leave, so that we can ensure that that magnificent Holy Land does not remain without Christians, that the Holy Places not remain without faithful people able to praise the Lord, and that the Church of stone not remain without the human Church. What a loss that would be for the East, for Muslims and Christians, for the unique plurality of these countries!
Dear brothers and sisters, in appealing to your friendship and faith, I am inviting you to keep what your parents and forebears have lived in the East, to keep in your new countries the same values of openness and dialogue, solidarity and living together with all your fellow-citizens, as you are the children of this blessed, magnificent land and also with the faithful of other Eastern Churches (Maronite, Syriac, Armenian), with Muslims, (Sunnis and Shi'ites) with Druzes, etc.
Thus you really become children of the one God, who wants all his children to be one as he is. That is what the Lord Jesus Christ brought about through his incarnation, since he came to bring light to those who were in darkness, and to gather together what was separated and scattered. He both loves the just and has compassion on sinners, calling all people to salvation, to the Kingdom of God, the Kingdom of the love of God for us all, of our Creator and the Saviour of us all.
Interaction with our homelands and support for our relatives, brothers and sisters and fellow-citizens
Dear brothers and sisters, you are the citizens of this country where you live, but despite the passage of time and the distance from your original homelands and history, despite emigration, you still remain the sons and daughters of the mother-country, sons and daughters of the Holy Land, of the Arab Christian East, where you have relatives, friends, houses, lands and heritage.
My dear friends, I ask you to remain in continual unity and relationship with the Arab Christian East. At the beginning of my Patriarchate, I launched the slogan, No to emigration!
I called our children scattered throughout the whole world, to consider the eventuality of returning to their countries of origin and in any case remaining in communion and relationship with their relatives to keep alive those ties of kinship and friendship, and also to support spiritually, culturally and economically their families and the faithful Christians who have stayed in their countries, so that they can have a decent life.
My dear friends, I regret - and apologise for - being so late in coming to visit you. I believe that it is some forty years since a Melkite Greek Catholic Patriarch - my venerable predecessor Maximos V - came to this country. Yet you are in my daily thoughts and prayers. We seek to serve you by all means and especially by sending to you as far as possible, Eastern priests to serve you, but we also need local vocations.
My visit is also being made in the name of the Holy Synod of our Church. We want to do all in our power to strengthen our relations with you. You know that the bishops of the countries of expansion hold congresses from time to time to see exactly what the problems are that affect your presence and Christian life, etc.
My dear friends, next October there will take place in Rome a Special Assembly for the Middle East of the Synod of Bishops of the Catholic Church, which concerns you too, since you remain, even here, part of the Middle East. Melkite Greek Catholic bishops from the countries of the expansion will also take part in this Synodal Assembly. We should like you to know about this Synodal Assembly and make your voices heard there.
So keep in touch with us. Please send us your addresses, even while I am here; I would like to have as many addresses as possible, telephone numbers, e-mail addresses, so as to remain in contact with as many of you as possible. Let us stay united in prayer.
May the Lord bless you and the Holy Virgin give you strength and courage, especially you young people, so that you continue on the way of your parents, and are able to pass on this faith that you have in your hearts to your sons and daughters, the next generation.
To young folk, I like to repeat this adage: a Church without young people is a Church without a future and young people without a Church are young people without a future. We hope always to have a Church and young people as good citizens and good faithful members of our Church.
Initiatives and proposals
With the aim of realising our objectives, I propose some possible initiatives to you, such as, for example, the co-ordination of the Church's work in the social sphere, relaunching the Melkite Solidarity initiative, the setting up of an annual or monthly voluntary donation or subscription from each Melkite family or individual to contribute to financing Church work, creating a bureau for job-seekers to help the unemployed, creating an association of Melkite Greek Catholic businessmen and women in your country.
On these matters, especially to do with the life of our Church here, I await your comments and suggestions, at the spiritual, material, moral, social and national levels.
Don't let yourselves become isolated, because every man and woman among you has to take on a role of solidarity for the spiritual and social development of our Church in the world and no-one is excused from this duty of solidarity with brothers and sisters in need.
I call upon all the Melkite Greek Catholics of this country to unite effectively to help those who have difficulties in their lives, in order to be really a community united beyond borders, a community with but a single heart.
Gregorios III, Patriarch of Antioch and All the East,
Of Alexandria and of Jerusalem
Translation from the French: V. Chamberlain