ADDRESS OF HIS HOLINESS MAR AWA III
Catholicos-Patriarca della Chiesa assira dell'Oriente
Rome, 19 November 2022
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 profound joy and gratitude to our Lord and Savior that I personally greet Your Holiness as the Bishop of Rome, here in your apostolic see, for the very first time since my accession to the patriarchal see of the Assyrian Church of the East. Our gathering today is, in essence, the fraternal embrace in Christian charity of the ancient and apostolic Churches of Rome and of Seleucia-Ctesiphon through the person of their Arch-Pastors and Fellow Ministers of the Gospel. I echo today the words of the blessed apostle St. Paul befitting our gathering as brothers: “We give thanks to God always for you…and we remember you in our prayers continually; and we call to remembrance before God the Father the works of your faith, the labor of your love, and the patience of your hope in Jesus Christ” (I Thessalonians 1:2-3).
My presence here today, along with my brother hierarchs and the clergy comprising our delegation, is to express in person my sincere prayers and esteem for Your Holiness and the ministry which you carry upon your shoulders. Ever since your election as the Bishop of Rome, I have not ceased to implore the blessings and divine aid of Almighty God for you and the Church over which you preside as Chief Shepherd and Minister. Indeed, the words of the Prophet are fitting: “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who proclaims peace, who brings glad tidings of good things, who proclaims salvation…” (Isaiah 52:7). May the Lord grant you strength of body and soul in order to continue proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ to all men.
My visit to Your Holiness at the Vatican also coincides with the meeting of the Joint Commission for Theological Dialogue between the Catholic Church and the Assyrian Church of the East. Our journey of dialogue and pilgrimage of fraternal love began in 1984, with the first official meeting at the Vatican of our late predecessors of blessed and eternal memory, Pope John Paull II and Patriarch Mar Dinkha IV. Since that historic moment, our two Churches have accepted the call to dialogue and ecumenical exchange as being an invitation coming to us from the Lord himself—he who prayed for the unity of His holy Church and her children (cf. John 17:21). Since then, we have both actively engaged in ecumenical gatherings, official dialogue meetings and fraternal exchanges on an international level in order to heal the sad wounds of divisions of the past.
Your Holiness: the present unstable condition of our world requires ever more that we demonstrate together a common witness to the Risen Lord Jesus Christ and to his saving Gospel. Everywhere around us and in many regions of the world today, there are wars and rumors of war, ethnic strife and religious sectarianism and violence. Peace and justice do not reign in many parts of our world, and yet we as Christians and shepherds of the Church have the perpetual commission from our Lord to be promoters of peace to those who especially need it most. Therefore, the unity of the Churches of Christ is an imperative for all of us, in order that we might bring about concrete change in the world for the betterment of all of humanity. With this mind also, the Assyrian Church of the East is in agreement with the recommendation to establish a common date for the Feast of the Resurrection, the heart of our Christian faith and witness. We pray that this might become a reality that will be realized in our age, so that all of the Churches may together proclaim the victory of the Son of God over sin and death.
I would like to express my gratitude to Your Holiness for your ardent advocacy on behalf of the Christians of the Middle East. As you are aware, the Christian demography of the entire East has changed dramatically these last almost 20 years. And particularly in the Iraqi context, continued sectarian violence since 2003 and the rise of fundamentalism which culminated in the catastrophic advent of ISIS in 2014 continues to promote and also encourage the exodus of the Christian population from our countries in the East, particularly Iraq and Syria. What’s more, ISIS also attempted to wipe out the ancient monuments and the very cultural existence of the ancient Assyrian people in the Nineveh Plains region of Iraq. Our flock has been faithful to Christ and the Gospel, but as time goes on, they are gradually growing weary of carrying their Cross alone. Without a doubt, Your Holiness’ historic visit to Iraq in March of last year gave a renewed vigor and spirit to all of the Christian faithful of our ancient land. Their firm resolve to preserve their fidelity to Christ was renewed, and the government of Iraq as well as our Muslim neighbors at large came to further understood the good will of their Christian fellow-citizens, as well as the vital importance of preserving the Christian presence in Iraq in particular—the ancient region of ‘Mesopotamia’ enjoying a prominent place in the Old Testament Scriptures—and in other neighboring countries of the Middle East such as Syria, Turkey, Iran, etc.
The East is the birthplace of Christianity, and the world cannot fathom a Middle East void of Christians, as this would be a catastrophic tragedy for all of human civilization. Furthermore, we are committed to living in harmony with all of our neighbors irrespective of faith or ethnicity. However, at the same time we insist that the rights of the Christians—which include the freedom of religion, full civil liberties and proprietary rights—must be guaranteed and protected by the constitutions and the civil authorities of the states comprising the entire region. I thank Your Holiness for utilizing the means at the disposal of the Holy See to continually stress these essential points to the concerned governments of the Middle East.
In conclusion, I thank Your Holiness for your warm and fraternal welcome to the Vatican. May the grace and peace of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ remain with Your Holiness always, and strengthen you as you continue your apostolic ministry as shepherd of the holy flock entrusted to your archpastoral care.
Given at the Vatican, on this 19th day of November, in the year of our Lord 2022.
By Grace: Catholicos-Patriarch of the
Holy Apostolic Catholic Assyrian Church of the East.