Subject: Pope's speech at Syrian Orthodox Cathedral in Damascus
MEETING OF POPE JOHN PAUL II WITH THE CLERGY, RELIGIOUS AND LAITY OF
THE ORTHODOX AND CATHOLIC CHURCHES IN THE SYRIAN ORTHODOX CATHEDRAL
OF DAMASCUS,MAY 6, 2001
THE HOLY FATHER'S SPEECH
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
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.