19 February 2018

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Eastern Patriarchs to meet pope to discuss the future of Christians in the Middle East

The meeting, which will run from today to Friday, is set to focus on the Eastern churches in the 50 years since Vatican II. Eastern patriarchs will talked to the Pope about the plight of Christians in Syria, Iraq and Lebanon. The prelates will also discuss the relationship with Orthodox Churches and the problem of the exodus of Christians from the region.

Rome (AsiaNews) - The pope and the patriarchs of the Eastern Churches are meeting on 19-22 November to discuss the future of Christians in the Middle East, the Catholic Church's role in Arab countries affected by conflict, its relations with the Orthodox Church and the problems of stability in the region.

Maronite Patriarch Card Beshara al-Rai, Chaldean Patriarch and Archbishop of Baghdad Raphael Louis Sako, Melkite Patriarch of Antioch Mgr Gregorios III Laham, Syrian Catholic Patriarch Ignatius Joseph III Younan, and Armenian Catholic Patriarch Nerses Bedros XIX are expected at the three-day meeting that will focus on the Eastern churches in the 50 years since Vatican II.

Led by Card Leonardo Sandri, prefect of the Pontifical Council of the Eastern Churches, the conference comes at a critical moment for Christians in the Middle East, whose communities are under constant attacks from Islamic extremists, especially in Syria.

Vatican sources cited by the Lebanese newspaper al-Joumhouria noted that the meeting will mark a change of direction in Vatican policy towards the Middle East. The final statement is expected to reflect the fears of Christians in the region.

Speaking a few days before leaving for the meeting, Melkite Greek Catholic Patriarch Gregorios III Laham told Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), "We want to consult with the Holy Father on the situation in Syria and Iraq, but we also want to discuss fundamental issues regarding the role of Christians in the Middle East, interreligious dialogue and ecumenism with regard to Orthodoxy."

For the Melkite patriarch, the leaders of the Eastern Churches will suggest setting up "a permanent consultative body with the Pope, which could perhaps meet every other year".

For Gregorios III, Christians in the region are in a dire situation and the Vatican must undertake a concerted diplomatic campaign through its nuncios around the world and help Eastern Churches develop their relations with the Orthodox.

"We are very happy at our communion with the Holy See," he said. "However, Rome should not forget that we have Orthodox roots. We are the Catholic branch of the Orthodox Church."

For his part, Mgr Raphael Louis Sako recently spoke to ACN about the union of Catholic patriarchs and ecumenism with the Orthodox.

"We are hoping for greater closeness towards our Churches in these difficult times," he said. "We need more support from the Holy See, more encouragement and more solidarity".

For the patriarch of Baghdad, the crisis in the Middle East is forcing Christians to leave their lands and that this poses a serious threat to the Church's survival.

"Emigration is threatening our present and our future. We fear for our survival," he explained. "Muslims need our witness of human and Christian values", he added.

See also

13/09/2014 MIDDLE EAST
Patriarch Laham: Unity among Muslims and Christians, to save the Arab world
The Greek-catholic patriarch opened the ecumenical conference of In Defense of Christians (IDF, 9-11 September). Arab society "needs all of us and together we can build a better world”. The need to reject being regarded as "the cradle of fundamentalism, violence and terrorism."

02/10/2014 VATICAN
Pope: nothing justifies the suffering imposed on Christians in the Middle East
In his meeting with Mar Dinkha IV, patriarch of the Assyrian Church of the East, Francis slammed the "daily persecution" of Christians and members of other religious minorities. The patriarch's visit "is another step on the way towards a growing closeness and spiritual communion between us, after the bitter misunderstandings of the past centuries."

Patriarch Youhanna of Antioch: The encounter with Pope Francis was warm and historic
Between September 26 and October 1 the pontifex met Greek Orthodox Patriarch: "Together against the crises afflicting the Mashreq countries".

Pope and Patriarchs meet to discuss the future of the Church in the Middle East
The audience with the Pope of the heads of the region’s seven Catholic Rites will focus on the growth of fundamentalism in the Middle East and the concerns it is generating among Christians as well as on the importance of Islamic-Christian dialogue, the status of Eastern Catholic Patriarchs in the Universal Church and the Ecclesiastic jurisdiction in Kuwait and the Gulf States.

30/01/2015 VATICAN
Pope feels "dismay and deep sadness at what is happening in the Middle East, especially in Iraq and Syria"
In a meeting with the Joint International Commission for Theological Dialogue between the Catholic Church and the Oriental Orthodox Churches, Francis prays "for a negotiated solution" to this "immense tragedy".

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