Here is a ZENIT translation of the address Pope Francis gave Monday to participants in the 88th Plenary Assembly of the Reunion of Aid Agencies for the Oriental Churches (ROACO).
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I welcome you, who give your help and collaboration to the journey of the Catholic Eastern Churches. I greet Cardinal Sandri and thank him for his introduction. Last year we met a few days before my pilgrimage to the Holy Land and the subsequent prayer for peace. We all would have desired that the seed of reconciliation produce more fruits. Other events, which subsequently ravaged the Middle East, marked for years by conflicts, make us feel the cold of a winter and the chill in men’s hearts that seem endless. The earth of those regions is ploughed by the steps of all those seeking refuge, and irrigated by the blood of so many men and women, among them numerous Christians, persecuted because of their faith.
It is the daily experience of the sons and daughters of the Eastern Churches and of their Pastors, who share the sufferings with so many other persons; and you, in this session also, carry forward the work of listening and of service that distinguishes the statute of the Agencies that you represent, coordinated by the Congregation for the Oriental Churches.
In the recent trip to Iraq of one of your delegations, you met concrete faces, in particular the evacuees of the Plain of Nineveh, but also small groups from Syria. You took to them the gaze and blessing of the Lord. But at the same time you felt that in those eyes that asked for help and prayed for peace and return to their own homes that it was, in fact, Jesus himself who was looking at you, asking for that charity that makes us be Christians. Every work of aid, if it is not to fall into efficiency or assistance that does not promote persons and peoples, must always be reborn from this blessing of the Lord that comes to us when we have the courage to look at the reality and at the brethren we have before us, as I wrote in the Bull of Proclamation of the Jubilee of Mercy: “Let us open our eyes to see the miseries of the world, the wounds of so many brothers and sisters deprived of dignity, and let us feel ourselves stirred to hear their cry for help. May our hands hold their hands tightly, and let us draw them to ourselves so that they feel the warmth of our presence, of friendship and of fraternity. May their cry become our own and together may we be able to break the barrier of indifference that often reigns sovereign to hide hypocrisy and egoism” (n. 15).
In the tragedy of these months, it seems that the world has had its conscience shaken and opened its eyes, becoming aware of the millenary presence of Christians in the Middle East. Initiatives of awareness-building and aid have multiplied for them and for all the other innocents unjustly stricken by violence. Nevertheless, a further effort must be made to eliminate those that appear as tacit agreements by which the life of thousands upon thousands of families – women, men, children, elderly – on the scale of interest seems to weigh less than oil and arms, and while peace and justice is proclaimed, it is tolerated that traffickers of death act in those lands. Therefore, I encourage you while you continue the service of Christian charity, to denounce what tramples on man’s dignity.
Together with the Holy Land and the Near East, in these days you will dedicate particular attention to Ethiopia, Eritrea and Armenia. The first two constitute canonically from this year two realities, in as much as Metropolises sui iuris, but they remain profoundly linked to the common Alexandrian-Gheez tradition. You can help these very ancient Christian communities to feel they are participants in the evangelizing mission and to offer, especially to young people, a horizon of hope and growth. Without this, the migratory flow will not be able to be stopped, which sees so many sons and daughters of that region undertake the journey to reach to coasts of the Mediterranean, at the risk of their life. Armenia, cradle of the first nation that received Baptism, also has a great history rich in culture, faith and martyrdom. Support of the Church in that land contributes toward the path of the visible unity of all believers in Christ. May “the new generations [be able] to open themselves to a better future and may the sacrifice of many [be able] to become seed of justice and of peace” (Message to the Armenians, April 12, 2015).
I would like to end with the words of Saint Ephrem, invoking upon the Catholic Eastern Churches and upon each one of you here present the Lord’s Blessing through the intercession of the All Holy Mother of God: “Accept, our King, our offer and give us salvation in exchange. Pacify the devastated lands, rebuild the burnt churches so that, when there is great peace, we will be able to weave a great crown of flowers for you from every area, so that you are crowned the Lord of peace” (Saint Ephrem, Hymn on the Resurrection).
Thank you all for your work and, please, do not forget to pray for me.[Original text: Italian] [Translation by ZENIT]