says Gregorios III, just back from Homs (Syria)
On his return from Jordan, whither he had gone to welcome Pope Francis, Patriarch Gregorios III of Antioch and All the East, of Alexandria and of Jerusalem, went to Homs on a pastoral visit to strengthen and show solidarity with the city’s clergy and faithful.
Welcomed at the city gates by Metropolitan John (Abdo Arbash) of Homs, Hama and Yabrud, Patriarch Gregorios began by visiting the city’s governor, Talal Al-Barazi before going to the Khaled ibn Al-Walid mosque, where Sheikh Fathallah Al-Qadi, the Mufti of Homs Province, and Sheikh Issam Al-Masri, Director of the Waqfs (religious endowments) of Homs, were expecting him.
Then Gregorios III began the pastoral aspect of his visit by going to the Melkite Greek Cathedral of Our Lady of Peace where, flanked by Metropolitan John and his clergy, the patriarch proceeded to bless the cathedral by sprinkling with holy water before reciting the peace prayer of Pope Saint John Paul II during his jubilee trip to Syria in 2001.
The visit continued with stations at every one of the churches of all the Christian communities represented in Homs: the Evangelical church; the monastery of the Jesuit Fathers, where Gregorios III was welcomed by the Superior Rev.Fr. Ziad Hillal S.J. and where he was able to meditate a while at the grave of the late Father Frans van der Lugt S.J., killed because he had chosen to stay in Homs to serve everyone; the Greek Orthodox Cathedral of the Forty Martyrs, where Archbishop George (Abu Zakhem) was waiting for him; the Syriac Orthodox Cathedral of Our Lady of the Belt, where Archbishop Silwanos Boutros (Al-Nemeh) received him; the Maronite parish with Rev.Fr. Elias, and the Syriac Catholic Cathedral of the Holy Spirit, where the patriarchal vicar, Chorbishop Philip Barakat, was there to greet him.
At each stage, Patriarch Gregorios emphasised how important it was for Homs, and indeed everywhere in Syria, to “rebuild people and stones: restore souls and homes.”
Going on foot from one church to another, the patriarch realised he was “treading on rubble rather than the pavement,” and noted the desire of the inhabitants to restore and rebuild their homes, or even just one room, in order to shelter their families… On passing a group rebuilding a wall, Gregorios III took a trowel and took part in spreading cement, and the accompanying clergy quickly followed suit, turning their words into deeds by: “rebuilding people and stones: restoring souls and homes.”