Hopes are high, ahead of the meeting of the Catholic patriarchs of the Middle East with the Pope. Patriarch Louis Raphael I Sako, the head of the Chaldean Catholic Church, which is in full communion with Rome, spoke to the international Catholic pastoral charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), remarking that he expects much from the meeting. “We are hoping for greater closeness towards our Churches in these difficult times. We need more support from the Holy See, more encouragement and more solidarity.”
Patriarch Louis Raphael expressly thanked Pope Francis and his predecessors for being on the side of the Christians in the Middle East. During the approaching Plenary Assembly of the Congregation for the Eastern-Rite Churches, which will take place in Rome from 19 to 21 November, the Eastern Catholic patriarchs and archbishops will confer together with Pope Francis and pray for peace in the Middle East.
“We fear for our survival”
The Patriarch, who resides in Baghdad, described it as a great challenge for the Christians in the Middle East to live as full and equal citizens of their countries. “Emigration is threatening our present and our future. We fear for our survival!”, he said. In this connection, Mar Louis Raphael I called on all the Churches to support the Christians of the Middle East so that they could be bridges of dialogue and peace where others were building walls. “The Muslims need our witness of human and Christian values”, he added.
The Melkite Catholic Patriarch Gregory III Laham, who resides in Damascus, also expects much from the meeting in Rome. He told ACN, “We want to consult with the Holy Father on the situation in Syria and Iraq, but we also want to discuss fundamental issues regarding the role of Christians in the Middle East, interreligious dialogue and ecumenism with regard to Orthodoxy. We should endeavour to make this into a permanent consultative body with the Pope, which could perhaps meet every other year.”
Gregory III described the situation in the Middle East as “dramatic”. He therefore called on the Holy See to engage still more strongly than before for the cause of the Palestinians. “We need peace in the Holy Land at last. The Vatican has always spoken up for the rights of the Palestinians. But what is needed now is a concerted diplomatic campaign on the part of the Holy See and its nuncios around the world. The resolution of the Palestinian conflict, together with the question of Syria, is the key to peace in the region”, he said.
But in addition to the actual conflicts, he also wants to speak to the Pope about ecumenism in the Middle East. “We are very happy at our communion with the Holy See. However, Rome should not forget that we have Orthodox roots. We are the Catholic branch of the Orthodox Church.”
Patriarch Gregory also expressed his gratitude for the Middle East Synod in Rome held by Pope Benedict XVI in 2010. “That was on the eve of the crisis, which exploded in 2011. I believe that divine Providence had arranged things that way. For the synod and its concluding document were for us a preparation for these difficult times. In this way we Christians were prepared for our role as witnesses in the Middle East.”