Melkite Greek Catholic Church
 
Pope Benedict

His Holiness Pope Benedict's

Address to the
First General Congregation

October 11, 2010

Dear brothers and sisters,

On October 11, 1962, forty-eight years ago, Pope John XXIII inaugurated Vatican Council II. Back then, October 11 was the feast of the Divine Maternity of Mary, and by this action, on this date, Pope John wanted to entrust the entire council to the motherly hands, to the motherly heart of the Virgin Mary.

We are also beginning on October 11, and we also want to entrust this synod, with all its problems, with all its challenges, with all its hopes, to the maternal heart of the Virgin Mary, the Mother of God. Pius XI had introduced this feast in 1930, sixteen hundred years after the Council of Ephesus, which had legitimated Mary's title of "Theotókos," "Dei Genitrix". In this great expression "Dei Genitrix," "Theotókos," the Council of Ephesus had summarized the entire doctrine on Christ, on Mary, the entire doctrine of the redemption. And so it is worth it to reflect a little, for a moment, on the message of the Council of Ephesus, the message of this day.

In reality, "Theotókos" is an audacious title. A woman is Mother of God. One might say: how is this possible? God is eternal, he is the Creator. We are creatures, we are in time: how could a human person be Mother of God, of the Eternal, given that we are all in time, we are all creatures? So one realizes that there was strong opposition, in part, against this expression. The Nestorians said: one may speak of "Christotókos," yes, but of "Theotókos," no: "Theós," God, is beyond, above the events of history.

But the Council decided this, and precisely in this way brought to light the adventure of God, the greatness of what he has done for us. God did not remain within himself: he came out from himself, he united himself so much, so radically with this man, Jesus, that this man Jesus is God, and what we say about him we can always say about God as well. He was not born only as a man who had something to do with God, but in him God was born on earth. God came out from himself. But we can also say the opposite: God has drawn us into himself, so that we are no longer outside of God, but we are inside, inside God himself.

As we know well, Aristotelian philosophy tells us that between God and man there exists only a non-reciprocal relationship. Man exists in reference to God, but God, the Eternal, is in himself, he does not change: he cannot have this kind of relationship today and another kind tomorrow. He remains in himself, he does not have a relationship "ad extra," he does not have a relationship with me. It is a very logical reflection, but it is a reflection that makes us despair. With the incarnation, with the coming of the Theotókos, this has changed radically, because God has drawn us into himself, and God in himself is relationship and makes us participate in his interior relationship.

So we are in his being Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, we are inside his being in relationship, we are in relationship with him, and he has really created a relationship with us. In that moment, God wanted to be born of a woman while still remaining himself: this is the great event. And so we can understand the profundity of Pope John's action when he entrusted the conciliar, synodal assembly to the central mystery, to the Mother of God who is drawn by the Lord into himself, and so all of us with her.

The Council began with the icon of the "Theotókos." At the end, Pope Paul VI acknowledged the Virgin Mary with the title "Mater Ecclesiae." And these two icons, which begin and conclude the Council, are intrinsically connected, they are, in the end, a single icon.

Where Christ is born, there begins the movement of recapitulation, the moment of the calling, of the construction of his body, of the holy Church. The Mother of "Theós," the Mother of God, is Mother of the Church, because she is Mother of the one who came to reunite all in his risen body.

Saint Luke helps us to understand this in the parallelism between the first chapter of his Gospel and the first chapter of the Acts of the Apostles, which repeat the same mystery on two levels. In the first chapter of the Gospel, the Holy Spirit overshadows Mary, and so she gives birth and gives us the Son of God. In the first chapter of the Acts of the Apostles, Mary is at the center of the disciples of Jesus who are all praying together, imploring the cloud of the Holy Spirit. And so from the believing Church, with Mary at the center, is born the Church, the body of Christ. This twofold birth is the one birth of the Christus totus, of the Christ who embraces the world and us all.

Birth in Bethlehem, birth in the cenacle. Birth of the Child Jesus, birth of the body of Christ, of the Church. They are two events, or one single event. But between the two really stand the cross and the resurrection. And only through the cross does the journey toward the totality of Christ take place, toward his risen body, toward the universalization of his being in the unity of the Church. And so, keeping in mind that it is only from the grain that falls to the ground that the great harvest comes, from the Lord pierced on the cross comes the universality of his disciples gathered into his body, put to death and risen.

Keeping in mind this connection between "Theotókos" and "Mater Ecclesiae," our attention shifts to the last book of Sacred Scripture, Revelation, where, in chapter 12, this very same synthesis appears. The woman clothed with the sun, with twelve stars on her head and the moon under her feet, gives birth. And she gives birth with a cry of pain, she gives birth with great suffering. Here the Marian mystery is the mystery of Bethlehem extended to the cosmic mystery. Christ is always being born again through all the generations, and so he takes up, he gathers humanity into himself. And this cosmic birth is realized in the cry of the cross, in the suffering of the passion. And the blood of the martyrs belongs to this cry.

So, at this moment, we can take a look at the second psalm of this midday hour, Psalm 81, where a part of this process can be seen. God stands among the gods, still considered as gods in Israel. In this psalm, in a great act of concentration, in a prophetic vision, the gods are seen to be stripped of their power. What appeared to be gods are not gods, and they lose the divine character, they fall to the ground. "Dii estis et moriemini sicut nomine" (cf. Psalm 82 [81]:6-7 [Note: This is the citation of the Latin of the psalm that seems problematic to me; the Vulgate has "dii estis et filii Excelsi omnes 7 vos autem sicut homines moriemini"; so I think the word "nomine" must be "homines"]: the weakening, the downfall of the divinities.

This process, which took place over Israel's long journey of faith, and is summed up here in a remarkable vision, is a true process of the history of religion: the downfall of the gods. And so the transformation of the world, the knowledge of the true God, the weakening of the forces that dominate the earth, is a process of suffering. In the history of Israel, we see how this liberation from polytheism, this recognition -- "only he is God" -- takes place amid much suffering, beginning with the journey of Abraham, the exile, the Maccabees, up until Christ. And it continues in history, this process of weakening spoken of in chapter 12 of Revelation; this speaks of the fall of the angels that are not angels, are not divinities on the earth. And it is truly realized precisely in the time of the emerging Church, where we see how with the blood of the martyrs there is a weakening of the divinities, all these divinities, beginning with the divine emperor. It is the blood of the martyrs, the suffering, the cry of the Mother Church that knocks them down and so transforms the world.

This downfall is not only the knowledge that these are not God. It is the process of the transformation of the world, which costs blood, costs the suffering of the witnesses to Christ. And, if we look closely, we see that this process is never finished. Even today, in this moment, in which Christ, the only Son of God, must be born for the world with the downfall of the gods, with suffering, the martyrdom of the witnesses.

We think of the great powers of today's history, we think of the anonymous capitals [note: here, as I said above, the translation seems inadequate; it would be better as "anonymous financial interests" or something similar] that enslave man, that are no longer something belonging to man, but are an anonymous power that men serve, and by which men are tormented and even slaughtered. They are a destructive power that threatens the world. And then the power of the terrorist ideologies.

Violence is done apparently in the name of God, but this is not God: these are false divinities that must be unmasked, that are not God. And then drugs, this power that, like a ravenous beast, stretches its hands over all parts of the earth and destroys: it is a divinity, but a false divinity, which must fall. Or even the way of life promoted by public opinion: today it's done this way, marriage doesn't matter anymore, chastity is no longer a virtue, and so on.

These ideologies that are so dominant that they impose themselves by force are divinities. And in the suffering of the saints, in the suffering of believers, of the Mother Church of which we are part, these divinities must fall, what is written in the letters to the Colossians and Ephesians must come true: the dominations and powers fall and become subjects of the one Lord Jesus Christ.

This fight in which we find ourselves, this weakening of the gods, this fall of the false gods, who fall because they are not divinities but are powers that destroy the world, are spoken of in chapter 12 of Revelation, and with a mysterious image for which, it seems to me, there are nonetheless different fine interpretations. It is said that the dragon directs a great stream of water against the fleeing woman, to sweep her away. And it seems inevitable that the woman will drown in this river.

But the good earth absorbs this river, and it can do no harm. I think that it is easy to interpret what the river stands for: it is these currents that dominate everyone, and want to eliminate the faith of the Church, which seems to have nowhere to stand before the power of these currents that impose themselves as the only way of thinking, the only way of life. And the earth that absorbs these currents is the faith of the simple, which does not allow itself to be swept away by these rivers and saves the mother and saves the son. This is why the psalm says, the first psalm of the midday hour: "The faith of the simple is true wisdom" (cf. Psalm 118:130). This true wisdom of simple faith, which does not let itself be devoured by the waters, is the power of the Church. And we have come back to the Marian mystery.

And there is also a final expression in Psalm 81, "Movebuntur omnia fundamenta terrae" (Psalm 82 [81]:5), the foundations of the earth are shaken. We see this today, with the climatic problems, how the foundations of the earth are threatened, but they are threatened by our behavior. The outer foundations are shaken because the inner foundations are shaken, the moral and religious foundations, the faith that leads to the right way of life. And we know that the faith is the foundation, and, without a doubt, the foundations of the earth cannot be shaken if the faith, the true wisdom, stands firm.

And then the psalm says: "Rise up, Lord, and judge the earth" (Psalm 82 [81]:8). So let us also say to the Lord: "Rise up in this moment, take the earth in your hands, protect your Church, protect humanity, protect the earth." And let us entrust ourselves again to the Mother of God, to Mary, and pray: "You, the great believer, you who have opened earth to heaven, help us, open the doors today as well, so that the truth may be triumphant, the will of God, which is the true good, the true salvation of the world." Amen.


Index of the Documents Concerning the Council for the Middle East

 
Icon of Pentacost

Final Report of the

Synod of the Melkite Greek Catholic Church

at the

Patriarchal Summer Residence, Ain-Traz

June 21- 26, 2010

Introduction

The Synod of Bishops of the Melkite Greek Catholic Church was held at the Patriarchal Residence of Ain Traz, Lebanon, from 21 to 26 June 2010. It was presided over by His Beatitude, Patriarch Gregorios III with the participation of hierarchs of the Melkite Greek Catholic Church who had come from the Church's eparchies in Lebanon, Syria, Egypt, Jordan, the Holy Land, the United States of America, Canada, Brazil, Argentina, Venezuela, Mexico, Australia and New Zealand, together with the superiors general of the religious orders and of the Society of Missionaries of Saint Paul.

Their names and ranks are as follows:

  1. The Rt. Rev. Boulos Borkhosh, Metropolitan of Bosra, the Hauran and Jabal Arab
  2. The Rt. Rev. André Haddad, Archbishop of Furzol, Zahlé and all the Beqaa
  3. The Rt. Rev. John Adel Elia, Bishop emeritus of Newton (USA)
  4. The Rt. Rev. Ibrahim Nehmé, Metropolitan emeritus of Homs, Hama and Yabrud
  5. The Rt. Rev. Georges Riashi, Archbishop and Patriarchal Administrator of Tripoli – Lebanon
  6. The Rt. Rev. Georges Kwaiter, Archbishop emeritus of Saida and of Deir-el-Kamar
  7. The Rt. Rev. Yuhanna (John) Assaad Haddad, Metropolitan emeritus of Tyre
  8. The Rt. Rev. Cyril (Salim) Bustros, Archbishop-Bishop of Newton
  9. The Rt. Rev. Boutros Mouallem, Archbishop emeritus of Saint John of Acre, Haifa, Nazareth and all Galilee
  10. The Rt. Rev. Isidore Battikha, Metropolitan of Homs, Hama and Yabroud
  11. The Rt. Rev. Georges el Murr, Archbishop emeritus of Petra, Philadelphia (Amman) and of all Transjordan
  12. The Rt. Rev. Jean-Clement Jeanbart, Metropolitan of Aleppo, of Seleucia, of Cyr
  13. The Rt. Rev. Farès Maakaroun, Archbishop-Bishop of São Paulo (Brazil)
  14. The Rt. Rev. Georges Kahhalé Zouhairaty, Apostolic Exarch of Venezuela, titular Bishop of Abila, Lysania
  15. The Rt. Rev. Issam John Darwish, Bishop of Sydney (Australia and New Zealand)
  16. The Rt. Rev. Joseph Kallas, Metropolitan emeritus and Patriarchal Administrator of Beirut and Jbeil
  17. The Rt. Rev. Nicolas Sawaf, Archbishop of Lattakieh and Christian Valley – Syria
  18. The Rt. Rev. Selim Ghazal, titular Archbishop of Edessa and Patriarchal Auxiliary emeritus
  19. The Rt. Rev. Joseph Absi, Patriarchal Vicar in Damascus and titular Archbishop of Tarsus
  20. The Rt. Rev. Joseph-Jules Zerey, Patriarchal Vicar in Jerusalem and titular Archbishop of Damietta
  21. The Rt. Rev. Georges Nicolas Haddad, Archbishop of Paneas and Marjayyoun (Caesarea Philippi)
  22. The Rt. Rev. Ibrahim Michael Ibrahim, Bishop of Montreal (Canada)
  23. The Rt. Rev. Elias Rahhal, Archbishop of Baalbek
  24. The Rt. Rev. Georges Bacouni, Metropolitan of Tyre
  25. The Rt. Rev. Elias Shakkour, Archbishop of Saint John of Acre, Haifa, Nazareth and all Galilee
  26. The Rt. Rev. Georges Bakar, Patriarchal Vicar in Egypt and Sudan, titular Archbishop of Pelusium
  27. The Rt. Rev. Michel Abrass, Patriarchal Auxiliary (Bishop of Curium) and titular Archbishop of Myra
  28. The Rt. Rev. John Abdou Arbash, Apostolic Exarch in Argentina and titular Bishop of Palmyra
  29. The Rt. Rev. Elia Beshara Haddad, Archbishop of Saida and Deir-el-Kamar
  30. The Rt. Rev. Yasser Ayyash, Archbishop of Petra and Philadelphia (Jordan)
  31. Archimandrite Gabriel Ghanoum, Patriarchal Administrator of the Eparchy of Mexico
  32. Archimandrite Jean Faraj, Superior General of the Basilian Order of the Most Holy Saviour
  33. Archimandrite Samaan Abdel-Ahad, Superior General of the Soarite Basilian Order
  34. Archimandrite Najib Tobji, Superior General of the Aleppine Basilian Order
  35. Father Elia Aghia, Superior General of the Society of Missionaries of Saint Paul

Absent and excused were the following:

  1. The Rt. Rev. Hilarion Capucci, titular Archbishop of Caesarea in Palestine and Patriarchal Vicar ad extra of Jerusalem
  2. The Rt. Rev. Gregory Haddad, titular Archbishop of Adana and Metropolitan emeritus of Beirut and Jbeil
  3. The Rt. Rev. Boulos Antaki, titular Archbishop of Nubia and Patriarchal Vicar emeritus in Egypt and Sudan
  4. The Rt. Rev. Spiridon Mattar, Bishop emeritus of São Paulo (Brazil)
  5. The Rt. Rev. Nicolas James Samra, titular Bishop of Gerasa and Auxiliary Bishop emeritus of the Eparchy of Newton (United States of America)

The secretariat was provided by:

The Rt. Rev. Michel Abrass, Secretary General of the Synod,

assisted by Father Elias Shatawi, Economos General and Father Antoine Dib, Chancellor of the Patriarchate.

Opening

His Beatitude Patriarch Gregorios III opened the Synod, before a delegation of journalists, with a speech welcoming the hierarchs and superiors general:

The Patriarch in his opening remarks called to mind the late Rt. Rev. Antoine Hayek, Archbishop emeritus of Paneas-Marjayyoun (Caesarea Philippi), who had departed this life on Saturday, 1 May 2010, and asked the Lord in his mercy to receive him. (Text of His Beatitude's Opening Speech)

The Patriarch then moved on to the main topics, first of all inviting the faithful children of our Church to adhere to their faith and religious obligations and bear the difficulties and pressures which affect the Christian community today.

He proposed as examples the apostles and martyrs whose shrines he had visited, and where they had proclaimed the Gospel of Jesus Christ and been martyred for his sake: the Apostle Thomas in India, the Apostle Paul in Malta and the Apostle James in Saint James of Compostela in Spain.

His Beatitude repeated his appeal to the faithful not to be afraid of the future, exhorting them to optimism and trust in God, who never abandons his children.

His Beatitude similarly called to mind the preparations for the Synod of Bishops' Special Assembly for the Middle East The Catholic Church in the Middle East: Communion and Witness, convoked by His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI for October 2010.

The Patriarch recalled that he had addressed a letter to the Heads of State of Arab countries to explain to them the meaning and objectives of that special Synodal Assembly and its importance for the Christian presence and for co-existence in the Middle East, developing faith values, human rights, freedom of religion and conscience, the value of women and the protection of families: all values common to Christians and Muslims.

His Beatitude had received a letter from His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI with his good wishes for the success of the Synod, for continuous renewal in the mission particular to the Melkite Greek Catholic Church, and on the eve of the Synod of Bishops' Special Assembly for the Middle East, for the Church to be a communion and witness among Christians, and a stabilising factor for peace and brotherhood among the peoples of the region.

At the beginning of the session, the Fathers of the Synod had addressed a letter to the Holy Father, asking for His Holiness' blessing on the work of the Synod.

His Beatitude spoke again on the first day of the Synod in a meditation for the half-day of recollection:

The Patriarch presented the main points from his Christmas Letter 2009 for the Year for Priests, emphasising the duty of holiness for each bishop and priest, and the need for permanent formation, commensurate with the rapid progress in all sectors; he also emphasised the need for openness on the part of priests towards working with lay-people.

The Patriarch communicated some good news:

  1. He will make a pastoral visit to Latin America (August-September 2010) to our eparchies of Brazil, Venezuela and Argentina. In the last country, he will take part in the seventh congress of the eparchies of the expansion.
  2. In 2011, the jubilee of the bicentenary of the Patriarchal Residence of Ain Traz will take place.
  3. In the spring of 2011, there will take place in Rabweh the inauguration of the Al-Liqa'a international centre for the dialogue of civilisations and next year there will be the first conference, in memory of the late Archbishop Elias Zoghby, who was a great voice calling for Christian unity.

Agenda

Various topics figured in the Synod's agenda.

The Rt. Rev. Bishop Issam John Darwish presented, on the occasion of the Year for Priests, a study, submitted for discussion by the Fathers of the Synod, entitled "Priestly Integrity," calling attention to priestly training and vocations.

The Fathers discussed ways and means of our Church's participation in the Synod of Bishops' Special Assembly for the Middle East and decided upon the topics to be dealt with by each of them during the Synod.

The topic of ecclesiastical courts also drew the Fathers' attention, particularly, how to enable competent and qualified lay-people to take part in the business assigned to these tribunals. They underlined the importance of preparing priests specialising in canon law prior to their taking office. They recommended expediting the verdicts on matrimonial cases and not prolonging the trials. They decided that a Council for Family Protection should be formed in each eparchy, as families are the foundation of Church and society.

The Fathers reviewed the activities that had marked the Year for Priests, in the Patriarchate in general and the eparchies in particular. Then, they were expecting progress in the beatification and canonisation process of the Servant of God, Beshara Abou Mrad, hieromonk of the Basilian Order of the Most Holy Saviour.

Reports

The Fathers examined the report on the Patriarchal Major Seminary of Saint Anna (Rabweh, Lebanon). For the ad hoc Committee supervising the Seminary, the Fathers elected Archbishop Joseph Absi, Patriarchal Vicar in Damascus, to succeed Archbishop Georges Kwaiter, who has resigned from the Committee.

A report was presented about the Community Fund. The Fathers asked the Canonical Commission to prepare an internal statute to help develop the fund to meet the increasing needs of the Eparchies and institutions in realising their projects.

The Patriarchal Liturgical Commission, presided over by His Beatitude, and whose Secretary is the Economos, Elias Shatawi, presented a report on its work, especially with regard to the re-printing of the Evangelion, the Epistolarion, the little Euchologion and the Typikon. Attached to the report was a list of all the liturgical books, texts and hymns published by the Commission since 1992. His Beatitude recalled the obligation for everyone to respect liturgical norms, according to the Church's requirements regarding unity and discipline.

Some Fathers also provided data on developments in the eparchies, which are workshops for the glory of God, the service and preservation of faith and the development of man and society.

Then Mrs. Neveen Haj Shaheen, director of the patriarchal quarterly Le Lien, gave a presentation about the magazine, asking for it to be circulated and asking for news from the eparchies, as the review is our Church's window opening onto the western world and our children in all the regions of our Church's expansion.

Resolutions and Appeals

The Fathers of the Synod strongly condemned the harassment, even killings, perpetrated by extremist groups against our Christian brethren in Iraq, who are the oldest inhabitants of the country and are good citizens, having lived in peace for centuries with their non-Christian fellow-citizens.

The Fathers launched a world-wide appeal for help for Iraq's Christians, bishops, priests and faithful (including university students), to protect their presence in the country and to work for peace in that country, so that all its inhabitants, Christians and Muslims, can work to promote their living together according to the age-old tradition of that country.

The Fathers of the Synod did not fail to register the repercussions of the situation in Palestine, particularly in Gaza and Jerusalem. They strongly condemned the blockade imposed by the Israeli authorities on the Gaza strip, which deprives its inhabitants of many of the basic necessities for life. They appealed to international bodies to intensify their pressure for the delivery of aid to the Gaza strip.

They stressed the importance of the restoration of Palestinian rights and peace in the Middle East, because it is the key to peace in the world. They also appealed to all governments and regional principalities and powers to impose a quick solution to this grave crisis. Similarly, they appealed to Palestinians for national unity to ensure the achievement of their supreme goal of establishing a worthy Palestinian homeland.

The Fathers addressed the Lebanese authorities, especially the police, requesting that they redouble their effective vigilance and take care to thwart sedition and the spread of lawlessness, such as the distribution of leaflets calling for the expulsion of Christians east of Saida from their villages. They also appealed for the Government to work effectively against the epidemic sweeping our young people, such as drugs, moral confusion, etc., so that Lebanon can always remain an oasis of peace, and be worthy of the popular proverb, "Blessed is he who owns a goat-shelter in Mount Lebanon!"

Elections and next Synod

The Fathers went on to elect bishops to eparchies that had become vacant: the names of those elected were sent to the Congregation for Oriental Churches.

They also specified the dates of the Synod for next year, from 20 to 25 June, 2011.

Conclusion

The Synod concluded with the Divine Liturgy, presided over by His Beatitude, surrounded by the Fathers of the Synod, praying ardently for the sons and daughters of our Church, clergy, monks, nuns, and lay-people committed to serving the Church and all our faithful throughout the world, especially for strengthening faith and bringing about justice, love and peace.

Translation from the French: V. Chamberlain
 
Patriarch Gregorios III (File Photo)

Speech of His Beatitude Patriarch Gregorios, III

at the opening of the

Holy Synod of the Melkite Church

Beloved brother Bishops,

Members of the Holy Synod and right reverend Fathers,

Beloved Superiors of our religious congregations

We thank the Savior who has brought us together today in this year's synod as brothers in faith and partners in care, as pastors and servants of the Word of God and of our fellow human beings.

Hearty greetings and best wishes to you, and my prayer for you and the faithful of your eparchies and the members of your religious orders and congregations!

We remember the soul of our deceased brother Archbishop Antoine Hayek who departed into the joy of his Lord on the first Saturday of April. We presided over the funeral in his hometown of Maghdouche with a group of brother bishops.

In this year dedicated to the priest and the priesthood, our parishes have engaged in different activities to commemorate this year. God arranged in his divine mercy for us to encounter this year three Apostles, three Messengers of Jesus Christ's glory. I would like to review for you aspects of these three Apostles Thomas, Paul and James.

I visited India with my brother His Grace Archbishop Joseph Absi, Patriarchal Vicar General in Damascus, and His Grace Archbishop Jules Zerey, Patriarchal Vicar General in Jerusalem, and Economos Elie Chataoui, Patriarchal Steward and Archimandrite Antoine Dib, Patriarchal Chief of Staff. Together we visited the Church of South India, the Syro- Malankara Church, where the believers are called, "Saint Thomas' Christians," because Thomas brought them the Gospel of Jesus Christ in about the year 54 AD! We see Thomas the Apostle doubting as stated in the Gospel. However, we believe in going to India (through Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and Iran) he acquires another aspect! He is the brave, courageous Apostle! And his courage and daring (despite doubt) were the basis of his search for the revealed truth! Besides, this boldness and courage underlay his great struggle for the sake of the Holy Gospel, and the dissemination of its divine values in India, a country with a culture that was completely different from Hellenism or the Middle Eastern culture ... He was venturing into the unknown, in order to preach the gospel of the unknown God, to the point of witnessing with his blood. The words of the Apostle Paul seem to apply to him: "For God hath not given us the spirit of fear, but of power and of love!" (2 Timothy 1: 7) Thomas is an example to us of living in the service of our master, Jesus Christ and living our calling, and withstanding hardships in the service of the Gospel, and spreading the word of God in today's world.

I visited Malta with my brother, his Grace Archbishop Joseph Absi, Patriarchal Vicar General and Archimandrite Mtanios Haddad, Apocrisary to the Holy See of Rome. The island has 365 churches, of which 50 have the name of St. Paul. Paul arrived in Malta in an extremity of vulnerability, humiliation and shame: he was a prisoner - bound - ashamed - shivering from the cold, caught between barbarians on the one hand and the ruthless Roman soldiers on the other. After he had spent fifteen days in danger of sinking from the waves, his ship was wrecked on the island... as he was on his way to witness for his master and God Jesus Christ! Before him lay a great mission though he was in the depths of misery and humiliation!

When he arrived at the island he changed from a weak, miserable, tremulous, pitiable man into the missionary wonder-worker, leading the island's governor and all its inhabitants to know Christ and his love! It was like a marvelous, new transformation such as he had undergone at the gates of Damascus, where he was converted from persecutor into preacher of Christ.

And it was as he said, describing the weakness in a letter to the Corinthians: "Of such an one will I glory: yet of myself I will not glory, but in mine infirmities. For though I would desire to glory, I shall not be a fool; for I will say the truth: but now I forbear, lest any man should think of me above that which he seethe me to be, or that he hearth of me. And lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure. For this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me. And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ's sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong." (2 Corinthians 12: 5-10)

Together with Archimandrite Gabriel Ghanoum and Archimandrite Mtanios Haddad, I visited a great western place of pilgrimage, the largest after the Church of the Resurrection and the Holy Land, the place of St. James the Apostle in Spain in Santiago de Compostela, which translates as: St. James of the field of the star!

We have in him an example: James travelled from the east to the far west, the end of the inhabited world (so-called in the French, Finistères) from the Mediterranean region, to the wide ocean in order to convey the Gospel of his Master Jesus from East to West! ...

In all that there is a lesson for us as pastors and successors of the apostles. Here are three exemplary Apostles, and indeed the example of all the apostles provides guidance for us in our Christian life and pastoral ministry, especially at this critical juncture in the Middle East and as we are preparing for the Synod of Bishops on the Middle East. Many feel fear and frustration due to the difficulties faced by the Christian society in particular. We need the courage of the apostles and fathers in the faith!

I would like to be a prophet of optimism and spread optimism around me, in my Church and beyond. As shepherds do not we all wish to have optimism? We want to be optimistic. I want to be optimistic about the issues of our existence and our presence, our history, our testimony and our present and future role and mission in the Arab East, the cradle of Christianity, where the little Arab Christian flock can trace its roots back over more than two thousand years of co-operation in the making of history, civilization and culture, industry, philosophy, science, literature, thought and creativity, architecture, business and politics in the Arab world....

There are undeniable reasons for pessimism, but there are also genuine reasons for optimism. And you and I would prefer to be optimistic, so that our optimism may alleviate the pessimism of others who have genuine reasons to be pessimistic.

For me this was my position throughout my priestly service in southern Lebanon, my episcopate in Palestine, and my Patriarchy, especially in Syria and Lebanon, and at present in the Arab world in Arab countries and among Muslim Arab leaders. I have been in constant dialogue with them at all stages of my life and still am, and in my project and plans for encounter and intellectual exchange in Lebanon (as well as the Encounter Centre in Palestine) and in my views expressed in my letters...

Dearly beloved brothers!

In our Synod, we have to prepare for the Synod of Bishops' Special Assembly for the Middle East, which is entitled, "The Catholic Church in the Middle East: Communion and Witness."

You have all studied the guidance document (Lineamenta) and the answers sent in late April or early May. On that basis, the first document issued was redrafted into a valuable new document and His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI handed over to us Patriarchs this working paper (Instrumentum Laboris) when he invited us to meet him during his pilgrimage to Cyprus in the steps of St. Paul (4 to 6 June 2010.) And no doubt you are aware of this new document.

Now we have to prepare to take part in this Synod and we are all invited to participate. We have the right to give a speech during the Conference in Rome (10-24 October 2010.) It may be a long or a short intervention. It is important not to take more than the allocated time specified for each intervention (there will be help in this regard.)

The topics raised in the paper work are not foreign to us, but are the subject of our constant attention, as we see reflected in the letters of the Eastern Catholic Patriarchs since the nineties. My messages and letters (especially those catalogued since 2003) have addressed many of the themes.

I have been considering very carefully the work of our fathers of the Second Vatican Council, and in particular our predecessor the late great Patriarch Maximos IV Sayegh and the bishops who participated in the assembly, including especially Bishops Edelby and Zoghby and Tawil and Nijme and Medawar... We all know that among the principal luminaries of the Second Vatican Council numbering over 2500, there were some 15 outstanding persons, including two Greek Catholics: Patriarch Maximos IV Sayegh and Archbishop Elias Zoghy.

In the Second Vatican Council our fathers spoke from the Eastern point of view, in the deliberations on the Liturgy, the position of the Church in ecumenical dialogue, and with regard to Islam and Judaism.

The working document that will set the agenda for the Synod for the Middle East is of a pastoral, ecclesial and social nature... Just as our fathers and predecessors participated in the Second Vatican Council, there must be adequate preparation for effective participation in the coming Synod. In fact, the topics of this Synod are topics of concern to us all, in our parishes and our countries, and to our eparchies, as they are especially concerned with our existence, our history and witness and our present and future existence in the Arab East, the cradle of Christianity, where this little flock has been a continual and constant companion of the Arab world, in making history and civilization, culture and industry, trade, philosophy and literature, sciences and thought and poetry and creativity , architecture and medicine and politics.

We need everyone to create the subject-matter for an appropriate intervention. We will examine during the Synod how to divide the topics so that we address the largest number of topics for the Synod without simply repeating them.

I have sent a letter to Arab heads of state about the blockade on our children and our Palestinian brothers in Gaza and the participation of our brother, Bishop Hilarion Capucci in the freedom flotilla, and called for Palestinians to unite in order to obtain success in the defense of their just cause and their usurped rights.

I also sent a letter to the kings, princes and presidents briefing them about the Synod for the Middle East, which included this section:

"The aim of this letter is to tell you, your excellencies, that it is essential for you to acquaint yourselves with this document. It deserves your attention, because it concerns your Christian fellow-citizens, whom you already know and the meaning of whose existence and national, political, religious and social role and mission you appreciate.

" I tell you that you have power and duty to guarantee the continuing Christian presence and the future role of Christians and every Christian's security, integrity and confidence in the present and future of his family and livelihood ... All this is up to you! And it depends on our brothers, the Muslim citizens!"

You leaders! We are with you, and we are a support for our Arab countries in good times and bad, at home and abroad. We have been and still are faithful to our homeland throughout its history up to the present and we shall continue to maintain our service and our witness!

Very many distinguished leaders, writers and intellectuals have been keen to commend unequivocally the Christian role, and the importance of co-existence, and the Christian presence alongside Muslim citizens, saying that it is great loss for the Arab world to lose the presence of Christians...

Lebanon

We are holding our Synod in this dear country of Lebanon, the country of dialogue and meeting between all God's children. We consider that consensus on major issues of joint concern is the best way to discover factors for cohesion and unity among the variety of political and religious groups, which are essentially the real wealth of this country and region. We are keen to maintain our structure, our civilization and our presence, and anxious at the same time to maintain our living together and interaction with our Muslim fellow-citizens. Good interaction is a bridge linking the hearts and minds of people.

We are gratified at the promise of a return to fraternal relations between Lebanon and Syria, hoping that loving ties will be increasingly consolidated and strengthened, for the good of the two countries.

Our congratulations go to the Maronite Christian Church, its Patriarch, clergy and faithful people, on the occasion of the beatification of the venerable Brother, Blessed Stephen (Nehme).

Christians outside the administration, means Christians outside the country

We encourage our children to get involved in the armed forces and internal security forces, public security and state security and customs, in order to preserve Lebanon and to maintain our role of being in full partnership and responsibility in managing civil society. We call on the faithful to get involved in the civil service and the public sector, because if we are outside the public sector services, we will be outside the country. We call for equity in all sectors and categories of posts in order to preserve the spirit of national reconciliation.

And we thank always the civil leaders in Arab countries wherever our faithful and eparchies are to be found, stressing that we share the same concerns and issues, and that they are at the service of everyone in the community.

Dearly beloved brothers!

As you know during this Synod we shall hold an election of two new hierarchs or bishops of the Archeparchy of Beirut and Tripoli. Perhaps we can agree to add some names to the list of candidates for the episcopate (épiscopables). You will all appreciate the importance of creating good, holy shepherds for our Church, capable of serving the people of God and the wider community. It is most important that we all should create hierarchs of distinction!

We are pleased to inform you that next year (2011) we shall be celebrating the two hundredth centenary of the founding of these summer Patriarchal Headquarters in Ain Traz. We have begun preparations for this event and we shall bring you the details later.

On this occasion, we will encourage agricultural enterprises to invest in the vast territory of Ain Traz with a view to achieving self-sufficiency in our Church. We shall have especially the inauguration of the Al-Liqa'a Encounter Centre for the dialogue of civilizations, God willing, (please distribute the brochure on it) next spring 2011. We'll hold the first conference in this center after the opening in memory of the late Archbishop Elias Zoghby, one of the luminaries of the International Ecumenical Movement and one of the most distinguished men of the Second Vatican Council, together with our late predecessor, Patriarch Maximos IV Sayegh.

On the other hand I am pleased to inform you that I will be visiting our Greek Catholic children in Latin America in August and September next, in each of our parishes in Brazil as guest of His Grace, Bishop, Fares Maakaroun; the exarchate of parishes in Venezuela as guest of His Grace Bishop George Zuhairaty; in Argentina, we shall be hosted by His Grace Archbishop John Abdou Arbash. On this occasion, we shall undertake a visitation of churches and institutions established by our esteemed brother bishops, rejoice with them and congratulate them, as we celebrate the Seventh Conference of Bishops of the Expansion in Argentina. On this occasion of the most intensive efforts to communicate with our children in other parts of South America. I have been working to communicate with the Latin bishops, especially in northern South America.

We must also find ways to connect with our children in the UAE and the Gulf and Africa and everywhere.

At the beginning of this Synod I am bringing you greetings from about two hundred of our sons and brothers, the priests, who met together on the Day for Priests held in the seminary at Rabweh on 16th. June. This meeting was prepared thanks to the animation committee working with His Grace, our brother Bishop Salim Ghazal. It was a very agreeable meeting, in which a number of reverend bishops took part. We thank God very much for our beloved priests, who are our ambassadors, enabling us to spread our wings over our parishes. Ask the faithful to pray for increased vocations to the priesthood and consecrated orders in the holy Church.

In conclusion, may the Savior bless this Holy Synod and its deliberations and decisions, and our people in Lebanon, (which is hosting our Synod), in Syria and all Arab countries, especially Palestine and Iraq, and in countries of the Diaspora, in Europe and North and South America, Australia and New Zealand...

With the Apostle Paul we commend you, beloved brothers and reverend, esteemed members of our Synod, in the holy language of Saint Paul, saying: "I therefore... beseech you that ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called, with all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love; endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling; One Lord, one faith, one baptism, One God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all." (Ephesians: 1-6)

Gregorios III

Patriarch of Antioch and all the East,

of Alexandria and of Jerusalem

English language text, prepared from the Arabic: V. Chamberlain

 
Patriarch Gregory sitting on a chair on a porch

by His Beatitude Patriarch Gregorios III

Rebweh June 2, 2010

Protocol 308/2010R

PPCrest
Melkite Greek Catholic Patriarchate
of Antioch and All the East
of Alexandria and of Jerusalem

Prot. 308/2010R Rebweh June 5, 2010

Appeal to Arab kings, presidents and leaders

Dear brothers,

In these difficult times and tragic circumstances, we are addressing to you this appeal born of the sufferings that we are all living through alongside the Palestinian people. Arab and Palestinian blood, the cries of our children, the emigration of our young people and the despair of our senior citizens call us to work then by all means to restore order both in inter-Palestinian relations to achieve Palestinian unity, and in inter-Arab relations, to enable united Arabs to speak with a single voice gathering all together to urge the international community to put an end to the constant strife that is destroying our societies; for a house divided against itself cannot stand, as our Lord Jesus Christ says in the Holy Gospel.

The Melkite Greek Catholic Church has continually and repeatedly borne witness in favour of Arab causes in general and the Palestinian cause in particular, in the person of bishop Gregorios Hajjar, martyr for the Palestinian cause, as well as His Grace our brother bishop Hilarion Capucci, witness, campaigner and defender of that cause.

The presence of His Grace on board the peace flotilla to raise the blockade of Gaza is a symbol and affirmation of the involvement of our Church with Palestinians, Palestinian rights and the Palestinian cause. His Grace's campaign is moreover evidence of the Catholic Church's position and that of the Popes themselves, a firm and clear position towards the Palestinian cause and Palestinian rights, expressed by support given to Palestinian refugees by Catholic Christian institutions in our East and throughout the whole world.

In view of our support for the campaign of our brother bishop Hilarion, our patriarchal sovereignty has for some years now been minded not to allow our brother bishop Hilarion to be obliged to step down from his ecclesial function on grounds of being past the statutory retirement age. That is why His Grace continues to be styled Patriarchal Vicar General of Jerusalem and bishop in exile, everywhere representing the Church of Jerusalem.

As head of the Melkite Greek Catholic Church and Patriarch of Jerusalem and in the name of the Patriarchate of Jerusalem and in the name of the Council of Catholic Churches in Syria, let us by your side cry aloud and shout to all the nations of the world for peace and the resolution of the Palestinian case. The future of our rising generations is in danger and emigration, exile, depression, fanaticism and oppression are the source of wars and struggles, which, in the absence of intervention, will affect the whole world.

Condemnations are no longer any use and our peoples are weary of condemnations, while the world has heard it all before, so we are asking you all to take the necessary steps, regardless of cost, to work actively and in co-ordination with Western countries and the United States to oblige Israel to make peace, which is the only glimmer of hope for our future, that of our East and of the whole world.

Lastly, I am praying almighty God to grant peace to the land of Peace.

Gregorios IIISignature

Patriarch of Antioch and All the East,

of Alexandria and of Jerusalem


 

statement adopted by the

Standing Conference of

Middle Eastern Christian & Muslim Religious Leaders

Meeting in Englewood, New Jersey on Wednesday, November 8, 2000

Signed by:

The Most Reverend Metropolitan PHILIP, Chairman Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America

The Right Reverend Bishop Stephen Doueihi Eparchy of Saint Maron of Brooklyn

The Most Reverend Archbishop Oshagan Choloyan Prelacy of the Armenian Apostolic Church of America

Imam Fadhel Al-Sahlani Imam AI-Khoei Islamic Center, Jamaica, NY

The Most Reverend John A. Elya Eparch of Newton, Melkite Diocese of Newton

Very Reverend Chorepiscopus ]ohn Meno, For The Most Reverend Archbishop Cyril Aphrem Karim - Archdiocese of the Syrian Orthodox Church for the Eastern United States

Sheikh Sami T. Merhi, Chairman The Druze Council of North America

Sheikh Hamad Ahmad Chebli Islamic Society of Central New Jersey

The recent wave of violence in the Middle East is of grave concern. We condemn the violence, especially the excessive use of force by Israeli forces that has resulted in the killing of over 150 and the injury of 3,000 Palestinian civilians in the Occupied Palestinian Territory including Jerusalem.

The demonstrations and protests that have been taking place in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including Jerusalem, represent the collective expression by the Palestinian people against the long years of occupation and the difficulties of their daily lives under Israeli occupation. The protests have been an expression of deep frustration with the failure of the peace process to bring about better living conditions and a final peace settlement, including the long-awaited establishment of an independent Palestinian state.

They have been an expression of their determination to protect their holy places. They have been an expression in defense of their inalienable rights and their land.

Regrettably, the Palestinian people continue to be denied the ability to restore even their minimum rights as a people, including the right to self-determination. We express our solidarity with the Palestinian people, who have been the victims of a long and unjust military occupation, and we call for the realization of their rights.

We express our deep concern and strong feelings regarding the sacred religious sites in Occupied East Jerusalem. We stress the importance of Jerusalem and the need to ensure respect for all holy sites. Any final solution must ensure the freedom of access and of worship for all believers of the three monotheistic religions. Any solution must also ensure Palestinian sovereignty over East Jerusalem.

We believe that what is required now is an immediate cessation by Israel of the excessive, indiscriminate and unjustified use of force against the Palestinian people. The Israeli siege on the Palestinian people and the Palestinian land must be terminated. To restore calm, the understanding reached at the Sharm El-Sheikh Summit must be implemented. Only then can there be any true resumption of the peace process between the Palestinian and the Israeli sides. Such a process must require a sincere desire for peace and a full commitment on the part of all parties to its realization.

We believe that in order to resolve this tragic conflict between the Palestinians and the Israelis, the UN Resolutions 242, 338 and 425 (concerning the farmlands of Shib'aa Lebanon) must be fully implemented because they express the will of the international community. In addition, we strongly believe that Resolution 194 and the Geneva Convention of 1949, namely Article IV, give the Palestinian refugees, whether they are in Lebanon or Syria, etc. the right to return to their homes and land which they have inhabited from time immemorial. The right of refugees to return home is a most sacred right and it should be respected.

As for the role of the United States in the Middle East peace process, we stress our disappointment with the adoption by our American Congress of the very unfair and very biased resolution //426 against the leadership of the Palestinian people. We demand a more balanced American position reflective of American traditions and the wishes of more than five million Arab-Americans in support of human rights, justice and international law. Such a position would enable the United States to play a truly objective and supportive role as a sponsor of the peace process.

In conclusion, our support for the Middle East peace process is unwavering. Our support for the rights of the Palestinian people and their efforts to realize those rights, including their right to an independent state, is unwavering as well. The time has come for justice and peace to prevail in the Holy Land and the realization of the rights of the Palestinian people as well as security for all states in the region.

The Most Reverend Metropolitan Philip, Chairman Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America

The Right Reverend Bishop Stephen Doueihi Eparchy of Saint Maron of Brooklyn

The Most Reverend Archbishop Oshagan Choloyan Prelacy of the Armenian Apostolic Church of America

Imam Fadhel Al-Sahlani Imam AI-Khoei Islamic Center, Jamaica, NY

The Most Reverend John A. Elya Eparch of Newton, Melkite Diocese of Newton

Very Reverend Chorepiscopus ]ohn Meno, For The Most Reverend Archbishop Cyril Aphrem Karim - Archdiocese of the Syrian Orthodox Church for the Eastern United States

Sheikh Sami T. Merhi, Chairman The Druze Council of North America

Sheikh Hamad Ahmad Chebli Islamic Society of Central New Jersey

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