GREETING OF HIS HOLINESS MAR GEWARGIS III
Friday, 9 November 2018
His Holiness Pope Francis,
Bishop of Rome and Pope of the Roman Catholic Church:
Fraternal greetings in Christ Jesus our Lord and God.
Beloved and Venerable Brother!
It is with great joy in the Spirit, and with gratitude to our Lord Jesus Christ that for the second time I am greeting the Church of Rome and her Bishop, here in Your Holiness’ own apostolic see. Our meeting today is a concrete sign of the fraternal embrace in Christian charity of the two ancient and apostolic Churches of Rome and of Seleucia-Ctesiphon, in the persons of their respective chief-shepherds and fellow-laborers of the Gospel of Christ Jesus, our hope and salvation. I echo today the words of the blessed apostle St. Paul befitting our gathering as brothers: “Therefore I also… do not cease to give thanks for you, making mention of you in my prayers, that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give to you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him” (Ephesians 1:15, 16).
My presence here today, along with my brother bishops and the clergy comprising our delegation, is to declare and confirm, along with Your Holiness, our common dedication and commitment to religious freedom around the world as one of the most essential of human rights which perpetually sustains the dignity of the human person. Most especially, we raise our voice in a common and sincere concern for our Christian brothers and sisters, and indeed our very flock, who continue to suffer persecution for the sake of our Lord Jesus Christ in the very region where Christianity was born and the Gospel message was first proclaimed.
We declare solemnly that our common dialogue and pilgrimage as brothers in Christ our Lord who desires the unity of all his believers, in love and in the joy of the Holy Spirit, moves us as pastors to declare before the world community the sufferings which the Christians of the Middle East continue to undergo. The many decades of war, violence, religious hostilities and sectarianism has had immeasurable and, sadly, irreversible effects on the ancient Christian communities of the East. What we have witnessed in both Iraq and Syria within the last 15 years is a living testimony to this grievous situation of the forced departure and displacement (both internally and externally) of millions of Christians from the region of the Middle East. In addition, the rise of religious fundamentalism has scarred at least two generations of children and youth, who no longer have the experience of peace and justice in their lives. Rather, they have grown up with the understanding that war and religious violence is not only a normal part of daily human life, but indeed a dictate of religion. In addition, countless others among women, men and the elderly have been scarred and violated in their own way.
What this means, therefore, is that war and religious violence in the Middle East has not only left those who are most vulnerable in society—such as children, the youth and women—to suffer and to be exploited, but the greatest sin is that the human heart and soul have been damaged and altered beyond repair. The goodness of spirit, the deep sense of hospitality, and the deep-rooted religiosity of the peoples of the Middle East have been replaced by much suffering, un-charitableness towards the neighbor, and a great religious intolerance and exclusivity. The holy values and virtues which the peoples of that region had inherited from the patriarch Abraham who inhabited Mesopotamia, who was known for his faith in and walk with the Lord, have been marred and profaned.
In our Common Statement on the Situation of the Christians in the Middle East, which both Your Holiness and myself are confirming by our signature today, we proclaim that “…we stand together side by side with our persecuted brethren to be a voice for the voiceless. Together, we will do all we can to alleviate their suffering and help them to find ways to start a new life.” We solemnly pledge ourselves, therefore, to be heralds of hope and advocates on behalf of those faithful and long-suffering Christians communities, who since their founding by the holy apostles of our Lord in the first Christian century have existed and continue to exist to this very day, in the midst of a real threat of extinction. Indeed, we confirm that “The Middle East without Christians would no longer be the Middle East.” Let us commit these our most ancient Christians to the prayers and intercessions of the holy martyrs throughout the centuries—those martyrs whom our faithful emulate in their lives on a daily basis. I take this opportunity to thank Your Holiness on behalf of the Christians of Iraq, in particular, for all of the efforts of the Holy See in raising awareness before the international community to the continued plight and suffering of these ancient Assyrian Christians and other sister Christian communities, in Iraq, Syria and in other parts of the Middle East. Let us continue to pray and to hope that peace, justice and harmony among all the peoples and religions of the Middle East will became a reality that our Christian communities may really experience in their lives and in the lives of their children and future generations.
Our common journey in love and dialogue will further strengthen and give witness to our Common Statement today. During this week, our respective members of the ‘Joint Committee for Theological Dialogue’ between the Assyrian Church of the East and the Roman Catholic Church will be meeting in their ordinary session, and will have discussed the constitution of the Church, which comprises the third phase of our dialogue. I am aware that during this meeting they looked at the understanding of the Church as ‘mystery’ in the respective liturgical, patristic and exegetical patrimony of our two Churches. I am encouraged by our dialogue being based on mutual respect and deep sincerity that does not make use of former methods of coercion, but rather is based on examining the shared apostolic and common witness of the deposit of our faith in Christ. We pray for the committee members, that the Lord might render their work of study and dialogue fruitful unto the greater glory of God.
In conclusion, I thank Your Holiness for your warm and fraternal welcome to the Vatican this morning. Please receive the greetings of all the members of the Holy Synod of the Assyrian Church of the East, and be assured of our prayers. May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the wisdom of the Holy Spirit remain with Your Holiness always, strengthening you to continue to faithfully administer the See of Rome and to shepherd the holy flock entrusted to your arch-pastoral care.
Given at the Vatican, on this 9th day of November, in the year of our Lord 2018.
♰ GIWARGIS III Sliwa
By Grace: Catholicos-Patriarch of the
Holy Apostolic Catholic Assyrian Church of the East