Building Bridges with Christ

Patriarch Gregorios III attends the 99th German Katholikentag in Regensburg
28 May-1 June 2014

Patriarch Gregorios III of Antioch and All the East, of Alexandria and of Jerusalem arrived in Regensburg to attend this biennial event, which brings together Catholics and others from all over Germany and further afield to pray, celebrate, debate, learn and meet in Christian fellowship.

His Beatitude is a long-standing friend of Germany’s Catholic communities, since for more than fifty years he has been visiting this country to preach, talk and fund-raise for his Church in the Middle East and to make better known the Eastern Christian Catholic heritage to Western Christians.

His Beatitude presided at Vespers of the Byzantine rite in St Emmeram’s Church on Ascension Day, and celebrated the Divine Liturgy on Friday, 30 May in the same church, when Grand Archimandrite Michael (Schneider SJ) concelebrating. Also participating were some bishops and priests from various Latin Catholic dioceses. On both occasions, the service was sung in German by the choir from Frankfurt-am-Main to music from the Russian tradition. The church was packed, evening and morning with a devout congregation who greatly appreciated the opportunity to attend an Eastern-rite service and to hear about the situation in Syria.

His Beatitude in his sermon at Vespers explained the meaning of the Ascension in the light of Eastern spirituality, emphasising that just as Jesus was called Emmanuel (God with us) at his Nativity so he promised, at his Ascension, to be with his disciples always.

During the Divine Liturgy, His Beatitude preached on the Katholikentag theme, and on being with Christ and like him, a bridge-builder. Jesus first bridged heaven and earth at his incarnation; the Liturgy also serves to bridge heaven and earth; icons and other symbols in church are such bridges too. In Ephesians 2, St Paul describes how Jesus broke down the wall of enmity and built a bridge of love, reconciliation and peace. In our daily life, we have repeatedly to destroy walls of enmity and build bridges. There are many such walls of partition: Christian-Muslim-Jewish, Christian interdenominational, East-West, North-South. Though in Germany, people are celebrating the 25th. Anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, a partition wall has recently been erected between Israel and Palestine. There are two keys for destroying walls of enmity: they are as described in Pope Francis’ speech (Jordan 24 May) “lasting peace for the entire region …requires that a peaceful solution be found to the crisis in Syria, as well as a just solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.” Finally, His Beatitude described the tragic situation in Syria and asked the congregation to pray for peace there.

His Beatitude also attended a podium discussion on how far faith can cope with a secular society, at which the President of the Federal Republic, Dr Joachim Gauck, a former Lutheran pastor participated, together with Alois Glueck, President of the Katholikentag, Rabbi Dalia Marx from Jerusalem, and others from Catholic, Evangelical and Muslim backgrounds, notable for their work in culture, sociology of religion and social integration.

Today, another discussion touched on peace-making and the right to freedom of religion, a topic very pertinent to the current situation in Syria.

When walking on the streets of Regensburg, His Beatitude continues his outreach and pastoral work as he is continually greeted by old friends from his years as Patriarchal Exarch in Jerusalem, when he received at the Patriarchate thousands of pilgrims from all over the world and especially from Germany.

Tomorrow, His Beatitude will participate, with around one hundred other bishops from various countries in the Mass which closes the Katholikentag. “We hope and wish that more people would be willing to be peace-makers and bridge-builders, especially in Syria and the Middle East, and that the Church may continue its role and ministry of dialogue, reconciliation and peace,” says His Beatitude, at the same time inviting all readers and friends of the Patriarchate to pray for peace in Syria.

Report: V.C.