Pope Francis in the Consistory for canonisations: we cannot resign ourselves to a Middle East without Christians, and also spoke on peace, reconciliation and religious freedom in the Middle East

Vatican City, 20 October 2014 (VIS) – This morning, in the New Synod Hall, there commenced the Ordinary Public Consistory, presided at by Pope Francis, for the canonisation of Blessed Joseph Vaz, priest of the Oratory of St. Philip Neri, founder of the Oratory of the Holy Cross of Miracles in Goa. and Maria Cristina of the Immaculate Conception, foundress of the Oblation Sisters of the Holy Sacrament.

The Holy Father wished to dedicate the opening of the Consistory to the Middle East, and in particular, the situation experienced by Christians. Francis thanked those brothers from the region for their presence, remarking that “We share a desire for peace and stability in the Middle East, and the will the promote the resolution of conflicts through dialogue, reconciliation and political commitment. At the same time, we would like to give all the help possible to Christian communities to support them in remaining in the region. … We cannot resign ourselves to imagining a Middle East without Christians, who have profess the name of Jesus there for over two thousand years”.

The Pope emphasised his concerns regarding recent events, especially in Iraq and Syria. “We are witnessing a phenomenon of terrorism on an unimaginable scale”, he commented. “Many of our brothers and sisters are brutally persecuted and driven from their homes. It seems that an awareness of the value of human life has been lost; it as is if people do not count and can be sacrificed to other interests. And unfortunately all this encounters indifference on the part of many”.

“This unjust situation requires, aside from our constant prayer, an adequate response on the part of the international community. I am sure that, with the Lord’s help, today’s meeting will produce valid reflections and suggestions to enable us to help our brothers who suffer, and also to face the crisis of the reduction of the Christian presence in the land where Christianity was born and from where it spread”.
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Consistory: peace, reconciliation and religious freedom in the Middle East

Vatican City, 20 October 2014 (VIS) – The Ordinary Consistory began with greetings from the Holy Father and the report from the Secretary of State, Pietro Parolin, on the meeting of apostolic nuncios and diplomatic representatives in the Middle East, which took place in the Vatican from 2 to 4 October.

Immediately after, the Cardinals and Patriarchs present in the Synod Hall intervened. The Patriarchs of the Middle Eastern Churches described the situations and principal problems faced by the Churches in the countries concerned (Iraq, Syria, Egypt, the Holy Land, Jordan, Lebanon). There were approximately thirty interventions, focusing mainly on the need for peace and reconciliation in the Middle East, the defence of religious freedom, support for local communities, the great importance of education for creating new generations able to engage in dialogue, and the role of the international community.

With regard to the first point, it was underlined that the Middle East urgently needs to redefine its future; the importance of Jerusalem was highlighted, in its role as “capital of faith” for the three great monotheistic religions, and the need was emphasised for a solution to the Israeli-Palestine and Syrian conflicts. In relation to the violence perpetrated by Isis, it was reiterated that no-one may kill in the name of God.

In relation to religious freedom, it was remarked that, along with freedom of worship and conscience, it is a fundamental human right, innate and universal, and a value for all humanity. Alongside this right, the need was underlined for Christians to recognise the civil rights of other citizens, especially in countries where religion is not currently separate from the State.

Furthermore, with regard to the support for local communities in the region, it was repeated that a Middle East without Christians would be a grave loss for all, as they have a fundamental role in maintaining equilibrium in the region, and have important commitments in the education sector. It is therefore essential to encourage Christians to stay in the Middle East and to persevere in their mission, as they have always contributed to the wellbeing of the countries where they live. From this perspective, there was a reflection on the problem of the migration of Christians: they must be welcomed in the Churches and in the States to which they emigrate, where it is hoped there will be adequate pastoral structures for the various rites. Moreover, it was requested that humanitarian aid to the Middle East be continued, to encourage Christians to remain in the area, and that the various manifestations of solidarity possible on the part of the Churches of other countries be cultivated, also by means of journeys and pilgrimages.

In relation to education, it was noted that in many Middle Eastern countries, school text books do not refer positively to beliefs other than the State religion, and that this requires reflection on the part of local institutions. From this point of view, it was hoped that greater interreligious dialogue with Muslims, starting from the common foundation of reason, would be of use, along with lively ecumenical cooperation, so that all the Churches of the Middle East might make their voices heard as one.

A request was made for the International community to guarantee to Christian refugees the possibility of returning to their homes as soon as possible, creating “safety zones”, for instance on the Nineveh Plain. Finally, an appeal was made for all those who have been kidnapped in the Middle East, in order that the world not forget about them.

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