In order to be forever salt and leaven in this land of ours,” says Gregorios III.
Today, Monday, 16 June, 2014, the Holy Synod of the Melkite Greek Catholic Church opened at Ain Traz (Lebanon), the summer seat of the patriarchate, with an inaugural address from His Beatitude Gregorios III, Patriarch of Antioch and All the East, of Alexandria and Jerusalem.
Work will continue until Saturday, 21 June. Below follow extensive extracts from the opening speech of His Beatitude Gregorios III:
This annual event returns bringing the joy of reunion. This is a deeply ecclesial meeting since we have arrived here from our eparchies all over the world, bringing their worries, their projects, their sorrows and hopes … and we shall return to them from the Holy Synod bringing new vision and new hope.
Comforted by the Holy Spirit that sustains our weaknesses, we support each other. United and strong with the strength of the Holy Spirit, we shall put together our restoration plans for rebuilding walls and restoring hearts and souls. So our Church will live out the aim of the Synod for the Middle East (2010), by being Communion and Witness.
The theme of our Synod will be that of Pope Francis’ Apostolic Exhortation, The Joy of the Gospel, which will be the lynch-pin of our thinking and our meditation for better pastoral service of our faithful.
This 2014 Holy Synod is, on the one hand, a synod that should see the election of the new Eparch of the Eparchy of Galilee and, on the other, will be devoted to the study of the particular situation of the eparchies, namely, the crisis situation experienced by Lebanon, Syria, the Holy Land and Iraq.
Lebanon is in crisis, the presidency of the republic is vacant, beloved Iraq is back again to fire and blood. We hope that Egypt quickly regains its stability and security with its new president, to whom we express all our good wishes for him to lead his country to that stability and security to which it aspires.
What can be said about Syria, which is in its fourth year of bloody crisis, a real way of the cross for an entire nation, a country where people and buildings are devastated. Ninety-one churches have been destroyed or damaged, including thirty-seven Melkite Greek Catholic ones. Throughout the course of this Synod the bishops of our Syrian eparchies will be presenting detailed reports about the situation on the ground. Our Church, both in the East and in the diaspora, needs to show solidarity with and be present for our Syrian brothers and sisters and our Church in Syria, so that it may continue to fulfil its role and place in rebuilding people and buildings!
Let us never forget the suffering of our brothers and sisters in the Holy Land and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that engenders the whole region’s crises. We thank our Pope Francis for his concern, his appeals and all his initiatives for peace in our region and in every one of our countries. We also thank the Congregation for the Oriental Churches and all Christian associations, especially Catholic ones, which support us and are there for us in this critical period.
During the Holy Father’s trip to the Holy Land, we gave him a petition in Amman, signed by us seven Eastern Catholic patriarchs, asking him to fix the Paschal celebration to a set date.
Amidst these challenges we remain alongside and with our people, to whom we say, with Pope Francis, “never let the flame of hope be extinguished” and repeat with him “let us not lose the courage of prayer.”
Pope Saint John Paul II said that the essence of being human is being “with” and “for.” Today our greatest pastoral care and responsibility lies in conserving and maintaining our presence and role to enable us to be salt and leaven for ever in this land of ours … to dwell in this land where God has placed us, despite crises, wars, the rise of fundamentalism and rejection by others … And to each of our children we say, “Don’t go away! Wait! Resist! You are the little flock, the little flock with a big role.”
Despite all these crises we are pleased to announce:
- that we are working to rebuild ruined churches;
- we have begun building a new parish church in Jaramana;
- the Synod of the Damascus Eparchy will take place in the course of 2014-2015;
- we are celebrating the 150th anniversary of the rebuilding our Cathedral in Damascus destroyed during the events of 1860, it was rebuilt by Patriarch Gregorios II (Youssef) in 1864, and so we invite you all to come and enjoy with us these celebrations, culminating in the Feast of the Dormition, 15 August, 2014;
- we have undertaken to collect the requisite money to help our people rebuild their homes, but this is only possible with everyone’s help and support.
To conclude we shall take from the exhortation of Pope Francis, The Joy of the Gospel, plenty of food for thought to sustain us on our way of reflection.
Let us not flee from the resurrection of Jesus, let us never give up, come what will. May nothing inspire more than his life, which impels us onwards! (3) [Let us not be] Christians whose lives seem like Lent without Easter. (6) We become fully human when we become more than human, when we let God bring us beyond ourselves in order to attain the fullest truth of our being. (8) The Gospel offers us the chance to live life on a higher plane, but with no less intensity: “Life grows by being given away, and it weakens in isolation and comfort. Indeed, those who enjoy life most are those who leave security on the shore and become excited by the mission of communicating life to others.” When the Church summons Christians to take up the task of evangelization, she is simply pointing to the source of authentic personal fulfilment. For “here we discover a profound law of reality: that life is attained and matures in the measure that it is offered up in order to give life to others. This is certainly what mission means.” Consequently, an evangelizer must never look like someone who has just come back from a funeral! Let us recover and deepen our enthusiasm, that “delightful and comforting joy of evangelizing, even when it is in tears that we must sow… And may the world of our time, which is searching, sometimes with anguish, sometimes with hope, be enabled to receive the good news not from evangelizers who are dejected, discouraged, impatient or anxious, but from ministers of the Gospel whose lives glow with fervour, who have first received the joy of Christ”. (10) We entrust our Holy Synod to Our Lady, the Mother of God and with Pope Francis we say:
Star of the new evangelization, help us to bear radiant witness to communion,
service, ardent and generous faith,
justice and love of the poor,
that the joy of the Gospel may reach to the ends of the earth,
illuminating even the fringes of our world.
Mother of the living Gospel,
wellspring of happiness for God’s little ones, pray for us.