“We must not resign ourselves to thinking of a Middle East without Christians”: the exhortation of Pope Francis

These are the words spoken by Pope Francis at the audience held on 21 November in the Clementine Hall of the Vatican Apostolic Palace for those taking part in the Plenary Assembly of the Congregation for the Oriental Churches (the complete speech can be found on: vatican.va).

“This morning I was able to learn from the Patriarchs and Major Archbishops themselves about the situation of the various Eastern Churches: the blossoming vitality of those long oppressed under Communist regimes; the missionary dynamism of those which hail from the preaching of the Apostle St Thomas; the perseverance of those who live in the Middle East, not infrequently as a “little flock” in areas riven by hostility, conflict as well as by hidden persecution.

(…) My thoughts turn in a special way to the Holy Land where Christ lived, died and rose again. In that land — I heard it today too from the voice of the Patriarchs present — the light of faith is not extinguished, indeed it shines resplendent. It is “the light of the East” which “has illumined the universal Church, from the moment when ‘a rising sun’ appeared above us (cf. Lk 1:78): Jesus Christ, our Lord” (Apostolic Letter Orientale Lumen, n. 1). Every Catholic therefore owes a debt of thanks to the Churches that live in that region. From these Churches we may learn, among other things, the effort of the daily exercise of the spirit of ecumenism and of interreligious dialogue. The geographical, historical and cultural context in which they have lived for centuries has indeed made them natural interlocutors with numerous other Christian confessions and with other religions.

Great concern arises from the condition of life faced by Christians who in many parts of the Middle East suffer gravely as a consequence of the current tensions and conflicts underway. Tears still flow in Syria, Iraq, Egypt and other areas of the Holy Land. The Bishop of Rome will not rest while there are still men and women of any religion, whose dignity is wounded and who are deprived of their basic needs for survival, robbed of their future, or forced to live as fugitives and refugees. Today, we join the Pastors of the Oriental Churches, in appealing that the right of everyone to a dignified life and to freely profess one’s own faith be respected. We must not resign ourselves to thinking of a Middle East without Christians, who for 2,000 years have confessed the name of Jesus, and have been fully integrated as citizens into the social, cultural and religious life of the nations to which they belong.

The suffering of the smallest and weakest, coupled with the silence of the victims poses the insistent question: “What of the night?” (Is 21:11). Let us continue to keep watch, like the watchman in the Bible, certain that the Lord will not withhold his help from us. I turn therefore to the entire Church to exhort her to pray, that she may obtain reconciliation and peace from the merciful heart of God. Prayer disarms ignorance and leads to dialogue where there is open conflict. If our prayer is sincere and persistent, it will make our voice humble and firm, capable of being heard by the leaders of nations.

Lastly, my thought goes to Jerusalem, our spiritual birthplace (cf. Ps 87[86]:5). I wish her every consolation, so that she may truly be a prophecy of that definitive convocation, from East to West, promised by God (cf. Is 43:5). May Blesseds John XXIII and John Paul II, who were tireless peacemakers on earth, be our intercessors in Heaven, with the All Holy Mother of God, who has given us the Prince of Peace.”

All of the activities ATS pro Terra Sancta has been carrying out in recent years, in Jerusalem, Bethlehem and the entire Holy Land including Syria and Egypt, are fundamentally oriented in the direction outlined by Pope Francis in this beautiful speech: providing support to the Christian communities, to this “little flock” of which the Holy Father speaks, who are surviving there with great difficulty, and the will to maintain alive this “light of the East”, the Mother Church of Jerusalem from which we all descend.