Of Antioch and the All the East
Of Alexandria and of Jerusalem
The grace of the Holy Spirit gathers us together in this Holy Synod, symbol of our unity as pastors of our Church and guardians of the deposit of faith ensuring its transmission.
The Holy Father Francis’ concern for the Christian East
On the threshold of this Holy Synod we remember the letter that Pope Francis addressed to us Christians in the Middle East on 21 December 2014, a letter that we must disseminate in our eparchies and parishes to rekindle the flame of hope:
“Sadly, afflictions and tribulations have not been lacking, even more recently, in the Middle East. They have been aggravated in the past months because of the continuing hostilities in the region, but especially because of the work of a newer and disturbing terrorist organization, of previously unimaginable dimensions, which has perpetrated all kinds of abuses and inhuman acts. It has particularly affected a number of you, who have been brutally driven out of your native lands, where Christians have been present since apostolic times.
“…Every day I follow the new reports of the enormous suffering endured by many people in the Middle East. I think in particular of the children, the young mothers, the elderly, the homeless and all refugees, the starving and those facing the prospect of a hard winter without an adequate shelter.
“…Dear brothers and sisters, who courageously bear witness to Jesus in the land blessed by the Lord, our consolation and our hope is Christ himself. I encourage you, then, to remain close to him, like branches on the vine, in the certainty that no tribulation, distress or persecution can separate us from him (cf. Rom 8:35). May the trials which you are presently enduring strengthen the faith and the fidelity of each and all of you!
“…The situation in which are you living is a powerful summons to holiness of life, as saints and martyrs of every Christian community have attested. I think with affection and veneration of the pastors and faithful who have lately been killed, often merely for the fact that they were Christians. I think also of those who have been kidnapped, including several Orthodox bishops and priests of various rites.
“…In the midst of hostility and conflicts, the communion which you experience in fraternity and simplicity is a sign of God’s Kingdom. I am gratified by the good relations and cooperation which exist between the patriarchs of the Eastern Catholic Churches and those of the Orthodox Churches, and also between the faithful of the different Churches. The sufferings which Christians endure contribute immensely to the cause of unity. It is the ecumenism of blood, which demands a trusting abandonment to the working of the Holy Spirit.
“… May you always bear witness to Jesus amid your difficulties! Your very presence is precious for the Middle East. You are a small flock, but one with a great responsibility in the land where Christianity was born and first spread. You are like leaven in the dough. Even more than the many contributions which the Church makes in the areas of education, healthcare and social services, which are esteemed by all, the greatest source of enrichment in the region is the presence of Christians themselves, your presence. Thank you for your perseverance!
“… Dear brothers and sisters, almost all of you are native citizens of your respective countries, and as such you have the duty and the right to take full part in the life and progress of your nations. Within the region you are called to be artisans of peace, reconciliation and development, to promote dialogue, to build bridges in the spirit of the Beatitudes (cf. Mt 5:3:12), and to proclaim the Gospel of peace, in a spirit of ready cooperation with all national and international authorities.
“…Dear Christian brothers and sisters of the Middle East, you have an enormous responsibility and in meeting it you are not alone. That is why I wanted to write to you, to encourage you and to let you know how precious your presence and your mission are in the land which the Lord has blessed….”
A Church “with” and “for”
The Holy Father’s words are a roadmap for us Christians to remain united and remain united too as Christians and Muslims, citizens of a single country.
From our dearly beloved Lebanon we tell all our faithful in the Middle East, of the expansion and all emigration countries:
- We Muslims and Christians ought to stay together, to build together a better future for our upcoming generations and our shared future.
- We Christians and Muslims can stay together, to build together a better society for our rising generations and our joint future.
- We Muslims and Christians want to stay together to build together a better society for our rising generations and our common future.
We recall the words of Pope Saint John Paul II for the 2005 World Day of Peace, “An individual’s … social nature [consists in] his being `with` and `for` others”! Let us never forget that our presence is closely bound up with our mission, role and vocation.
Ecumenism of blood and communion
We Catholics and Orthodox are experiencing an ecumenism of blood and communion primarily in the field, not only undergoing together a daily crisis but also working, meeting and publishing addresses to our Churches together, not to mention also the summit meetings that occur regularly in Lebanon, bringing together Christian and Muslim community leaders representative of all denominations.
It is terribly sad to see how the crises that the Middle East is going through are driving an exponential growth in Eastern Christian emigration. Emigration can only have serious consequences for the very essence of their mission in the predominantly Muslim Middle East which is their homeland, a mission that many, following Father Corbon, S.J. have called Church of the Arabs, Church of Islam, phrases that sum up their mission, history and future.
But we are even sadder when we see emigration affecting the very balance of Lebanon and its Christian presence. According to the statistics that we have received, 60 % of Lebanese have decided to emigrate and 35 % are waiting for a visa. Most of them are Christian.
If that is the case with Lebanon, what then can be the situation and outlook for less stable countries, torn by war and ruled by chaos?
We have to work in our eparchies and parishes as well as in our diaspora to try to slow down this movement that can only be described as a haemorrhage.
Christian Emigration at the Sant’ Egidio Conference
On 29 and 30 April 2015, the Sant’Egidio Conference was held at Bari, on “Christians in the Middle East: what Future?”
Together with more than fifty other patriarchs, prelates, and representatives of international organisations, we made a contribution to this conference. We are also making this speech available for the consideration of this Holy Synod. (Copies of it are also available from our secretariat.)
Holy Synod’s Agenda
- The question of the family in our eparchies and parishes in preparation for the XIV Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops on the Family next October at the Vatican on the theme of The vocation and mission of the family in the Church and Contemporary World.
- The situation of our eparchies and parishes, which are experiencing head-on the consequences of the critical situation prevailing in our countries, starting with Lebanon and passing through Syria, which is in its fifth year of war and Iraq, dealing with the very serious refugee problem which weighs heavily on our eparchies, particularly that of Damascus, which is hosting most displaced person on a monthly budget of between forty and fifty thousand dollars. The bishops of our Syrian eparchies will describe the daily life of their eparchies…
- We shall establish the list of our episcopable priests and tackle a range of issues.
- We wish success to:
- The meeting of Melkite Greek Catholic Youth on 5 September next at the Liqa’a Centre in Rabweh, the organisation of which has been entrusted to Archbishop Issam Darwish.
- The consecrated persons’ congress (bishops, priests, monks, nuns, seminarians, novices…) the organisation of which has been entrusted to Archimandrite Antony Dib B.S., Father General of the Order of the Most Holy Saviour.
Shoulder to shoulder confronting the crisis
We are grateful to everyone who during these crises has stood alongside us, expressing solidarity through action and closeness, and most especially to our dear Lebanon which has received and continues to host the majority of Syrian refugees.
As for the expansion… our deep gratitude goes to our Eparchy in the United States and to its bishop, Nicholas Samra, for their unfailing, constant generosity. Thank you to our Eparchy in Canada which has also contributed something towards this surge of solidarity… but what has become of our faithful in the expansion? What are their bishops doing?
Saints for our Church
At the opening of this Holy Synod, we thank the Lord, for the graces he has deigned to grant us and our Christian East, and especially to our Melkite Greek Catholic Church, with the canonisation of the Carmelite Mary of Jesus Crucified, of the Carmel of Bethlehem and founder of the Carmel of Mangalore, parishioner of our parish in Marseille of Saint Nicholas of Myra as well as the canonisation of Marie Alphonsine Danil Ghattas, founder of the Dominican Sisters of the Holy Rosary.
We are very attentively following the dossier of the Venerable Father Beshara Abu Mrad. A new miracle has just been added to the dossier.
Next 7 August, we shall open the canonisation dossier for Dr. Boutros Wadih Kassab, founder of the Schools at Said in Egypt.
Nor can we forget Semaan Sruji, a Salesian, whose dossier is following its course.
We thank the media and media outlets accompanying the opening of this Synod and especially Télélumière, which is celebrating its 25th anniversary: a real jubilee of light!
May our Lord fill us with his grace, at the intercession of His Most Holy Mother, Our Lady of the Annunciation, patron of our summer residence here at Ain Traz, granting us the grace of living this Holy Synod in a real priestly, pastoral communion and enabling us to be really “of one heart and soul.”
May this Holy Synod be blessed, in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, One God! Amen !
Patriarch of Antioch and All the East
Of Alexandria and of Jerusalem
Névine Toutounji-Hage Chahine
+ 961 3 22 64 87