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Pope's Speech at Syrian Orthodox Cathedral in Damascus

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  • Thomas Daniel
    Message 1 of 1 , May 9, 2001
      Subject: Pope's speech at Syrian Orthodox Cathedral in Damascus

      OF DAMASCUS,MAY 6, 2001


      Your Holiness,
      Your Beatitudes,
      Eminences and Excellencies,
      Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

      1. As evening approaches on the Lord's Day, we are gathered in this
      sacred place - the Syrian Orthodox Cathedral of Saint George - to
      celebrate the undying light of the Most Holy Trinity. The fullness of
      the light of "the Lord God, who is and who was and who is to come"
      (Rev 1:8) shines in the face of Jesus Christ (cf. 2 Cor 4:6). Through
      him, in the Holy Spirit, we give God glory, for the sublime heritage
      of faith that is ours, and for the call to the ministry of truth and
      love which makes us servants of the Gospel.

      My heart is filled with gratitude to God that I have been able to
      come to Damascus as a pilgrim in the footsteps of Saint Paul. It was
      on the road to Damascus that the Apostle of the Nations was claimed
      by Jesus Christ; and it was here that he received the light of the
      Holy Spirit and was baptized. Here, the Holy Spirit has now gathered
      us for this common prayer - to listen to the word of God, to implore
      his forgiveness for our sins and divisions, and to praise his
      infinite mercies. In the peace of the Risen Christ, let us pray with
      one mind and one heart, eager to heed the call of the great Syrian
      theologian and mystic, Ab al-Faraj, who exhorts believers to "destroy
      in the depth of their hearts the roots of enmity between Christians"
      (Book of the Dove, IV).

      2. With fraternal affection, I greet His Holiness Moran Mor Ignatius
      Zakka I Iwas, whose guests we are in this magnificent cathedral. I am
      especially pleased to be able to return the visits made to Rome by
      Your Holiness and your predecessor Moran Mor Ignatius Jacoub III.
      Mutual contacts of this kind help to sustain and deepen our brotherly
      love; they seal the agreement of our Churches regarding the common
      profession of faith in the mystery of the Word Incarnate, truly God
      and truly man; and they encourage us to pursue still further the
      pastoral cooperation which we began seventeen years ago with our
      Common Declaration. Your Holiness, the marked ecumenical openness
      of your Church is a source of deep joy to many, and an encouragement
      to move steadily along the path towards full communion (cf. Ut Unum
      Sint, 62-63). It is a sign of the spiritual and pastoral vitality of
      your Church, to which the many vocations to the priesthood and
      monastic life also bear witness.

      In the same fraternal bond I greet His Beatitude Patriarch Ignatius
      IV and His Beatitude Patriarch Gregory III, as well as the
      Metropolitans and Bishops accompanying them. I welcome the Patriarchs
      and Bishops who have come from neighbouring countries and I thank
      them for honouring us with their presence. With a brother's love I
      greet His Beatitude Patriarch Emeritus Ignace Moussa Daoud I. When I
      appointed him Prefect of the Congregation for the Oriental Churches
      and created him Cardinal, I wished not only to draw upon his
      experience and wisdom, but also to pay tribute to the Churches of the
      East and to the Church in Syria in particular.

      I extend heartfelt greetings to the priests, monks and nuns,
      religious men and women, and all the faithful here present: I am
      truly happy to be among you!

      3. The joy of Easter flowered on the wood of the Cross. Here in
      Damascus the disciple Ananias was told in a vision to go to Saul, the
      persecutor of the Church. Despite his doubts and fears Ananias obeyed
      the Lord, and without hesitation he addressed the enemy of the
      Christians as "brother" (Acts 9:17). Here we see two essential marks
      of the Church's mission: courageous obedience to God's word and a
      willingness to forgive and be reconciled. When God acts, the
      impossible becomes possible. It is our task to say "yes" to
      God's saving will and to accept his mysterious plan with our whole

      When Ananias came to him, Paul was praying (cf. Acts 9:11). He was,
      in a sense, preparing to receive the mission which would bind him
      ever after to the Cross: "I will show him how much he must suffer for
      the sake of my name" (Acts 9:16). These are two further marks of our
      call to discipleship: prayer and endurance in the face of trials.
      Perhaps more than ever today, these will be the marks of our fidelity
      to God: to pray, to carry the Cross, to obey God's will and to honour
      everyone as a brother or sister. In following this path, we will walk
      in the footsteps of a "cloud of witnesses" (cf. Heb 12:1), including
      the countless monks and nuns who have gone before you in these lands.
      By God's providence, the whole of the Middle East is deeply marked by
      the culture of Syrian monasticism and its ardent witness.

      4. Here in Damascus I wish to pay homage to the entire Syrian
      tradition, with its rich unity in diversity. Saints Paul, Ignatius of
      Antioch, Ephraem, John Chrysostom, Simeon Stylites, John Damascene
      and so many others are luminous teachers for us all. In them we see
      that the obedience of faith and the suffering of the Cross never fail
      to bear fruits of salvation.

      The wonderful creativity of your tradition appears in a figure like
      Saint Ephraem of Nisibis, the "harp of the Holy Spirit", whose works
      were quickly translated into all the languages of Christian
      antiquity. May such an exchange of gifts never cease! It is my
      fervent hope that Christians everywhere will once again open their
      hearts to the spiritual and doctrinal treasures of the Churches of
      the Syrian tradition.

      Among the great host of those who followed the Lamb was that
      matchless saint of your country, Simeon Stylites, who was in his time
      a living icon of holiness and is now venerated by the Church
      throughout the world. His prayer was ceaseless and his charity
      universal, as he welcomed all who came to him from near and far, the
      greatest and the least. He also bore in his body the wounds of the
      Crucified Lord (cf. Theodoret of Cyr, Historia Religiosa, 26).
      In the account of his life written by his disciples fifteen years
      after his death, Saint Simeon's extraordinary vocation is described
      in these terms: "By the sufferings of his servant, God wished to
      rouse the world from its deep slumber". The world today needs to be
      awakened to God's love and to his saving plan. The Gospel reading has
      exhorted us: "Lift up your eyes, and see how the fields are already
      white for harvest" (Jn 4:35). The harvest is ready for reaping
      because the human heart is always hungry for "the Way, and the Truth,
      and the Life" (Jn 14:6). A more united witness on the part of
      Christians is essential if the world of the Third Millennium is to
      believe (cf. Jn 17:21). May the Holy Spirit hasten the day of our
      complete union!

      5. At the end of our brief meeting, I make my own the words spoken by
      the Bishop or priest at the end of the Divine Liturgy in the West
      Syrian Rite: "Go in peace, my beloved, as we entrust you to the grace
      and mercy of the holy and glorious Trinity. . . Saved by the
      victorious Cross of the Lord and sealed by the seal of holy Baptism,
      may the Holy Trinity forgive you your sins, remit your debts and
      grant peace to the souls of your departed ones". May all these
      blessings come upon you through the mighty intercession of the
      holy Saints and Martyrs, and of the All Holy Mother of God, the
      Theotokos - Yoldat Aloho. Amen.
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