Patriarch's Welcome Address to Pope John Paul
- ADDRESS OF HIS HOLINESS
MORAN MOR IGNATIUS ZAKKA I IWAS
SYRIAN ORTHODOX PATRIARCH OF ANTIOCH AND ALL THE EAST
ON THE OCCASION OF THE VISIT OF
HIS HOLINESS POPE JOHN PAUL II
TO ST. GEORGE SYRIAN ORTHODOX PATRIARCHAL CATHEDRAL
IN DAMASCUS - SYRIA, MAY 6, 2001
Great is our joy to have such a significant historic event, which is
the visit of His Holiness Pope John Paul II to Syria, at the very
beginning of the twenty first century.
1. It gives us great pleasure to receive His Holiness today at our
St. George Patriarchal cathedral in Damascus. On my own behalf and on
behalf of Their Graces, the Metropolitans, members of the Holy
General Synod of our Syrian Orthodox Church of Antioch all over the
world, and in the presence of the Heads of sister Churches, their
Beatitudes, the Patriarchs, their Eminences, the Metropolitans, and
all the Representatives of different denominations with whom we share
the joy of receiving His Holiness, We extend to His Holiness our
2. The Apostolic See of Antioch, was established by Saint Peter and
blessed by the Apostles Paul and Barnaba; the rest of the disciples
and followers of our Lord who came to Antioch following the martyrdom
of St. Stephen, the proto martyr and chief of deacons. The Church of
Antioch consisted of believers in the Lord Jesus Christ from both the
Jews and the Gentiles. The Apostles Peter and Paul consecrated two
bishops, St. Ignatius to minister believers of Jewish origin and St.
Evodius to minister believers of the gentiles.
After the demise of St. Evodius the Church of Antioch of both groups,
came under the leadership of Ignatius who called her the Universal
The Church of Antioch embraced diverse Cultures in the lead of which
were the ancient cultures of Syria, especially Syriac Aramaic, the
ancient language of Syria which was spoken by our Lord Jesus Christ
and His blessed Mother St. Mary and His Apostles who knew no other
language but Syriac, according to Eusebius the Church historian of
the fourth century AD.
Our Syrian Church of Antioch still preserves the Holy Syriac language
as its official and liturgical language.
It is a well-established fact that it was at Antioch that the
followers of our Lord were first called Christians. We are thankful
to God and proud that the fathers of our Church have preserved the
ancient historic roots of the Syrian Church of Antioch and spread the
light of the Gospel in different regions in the world.
In the early history, Christianity in the East and West, enjoyed
communion in one faith. It is noteworthy that the Apostolic Sees in
Rome, Alexandria, Antioch and Constantinople were all united in one
faith; and the Shepherds of these churches who were enthroned on
their Sees accepted one another. The schism took place after the
Council of Chalcedon 451, when the one Christian church split into
groups that proclaimed mutual anathemas and exchanged false
accusations. This situation continued until the middle of the
twentieth century. No one then could have expected or even imagined
that His Holiness the Pope, Head of the Roman Catholic Church would
visit the Syrian Orthodox Church or that the Syrian Patriarch of
Antioch would visit the Vatican, exchange the kiss of peace and love
and would sign a common declaration.
3. It was in 1971 that my predecessor Patriarch Mor Ignatius Jacob
III of blessed memory paid a visit to His Holiness Pope Paul VI of
blessed memory at the Vatican. I had the honour to be one of the
bishops who accompanied His Holiness. It was a historical meeting in
Mathilda Chapel where the two Holy Pontiffs prayed together in Latin
as well as in Syriac. The Pope and the Patriarch made significant
speeches. In his address the Syrian Patriarch of Antioch said:
"After 1520 years of separation and mutual excommunications, both the
Heads of these two most ancient Churches in Christianity meet each
other as brothers in an atmosphere of love and brotherhood. Really
And His Holiness the Pope in his speech said:
"We greet in your person a Church which sees in the faith of the
Apostles at Antioch, the roots and basis for our common Christian
witness. Nine years ago, Your Holiness accepted the invitation of our
predecessor John 23rd and sent a representative to the second Vatican
Council as an Official Observer. Since then the exchange of letters
and visits by officials from our Church to Your Holiness helped in
strengthening the relations between our churches. Now I am glad to
meet you personally and to exchange points of view and desires which
enliven us. Your visit greatly assures us that our two churches will
find better means and ways to cooperate with each other in our common
mission, and at the same time will open the way to full communion
which we all warmly long for."
In the Common Declaration the following was stated:
"Progress has already been made and Pope Paul VI and the Patriarch
Mar Ignatius Jacob III are in agreement that there is no difference
in the faith they profess concerning the mystery of the Word of God
made flesh and become really man, even if over the centuries
difficulties have arisen out of the different theological expressions
by which this faith was expressed. They therefore encourage the
clergy and faithful of their Churches to even greater endeavors at
removing the obstacles which still prevent complete communion among
them. This should be done with love, with openness to the promptings
of the Holy Spirit, and with mutual respect for each other and each
other's Church. They particularly exhort the scholars of their
Churches, and of all Christian communities, to penetrate more deeply
into the mystery of Christ with humility and fidelity to the
Apostolic traditions so that the fruits of their reflections may help
the Church in her service to the world which the Incarnate Son of God
On this occasion, may I state that ever since my enthronement as
Patriarch by the Grace of God in 1980, I have followed in the
footsteps of my predecessors of blessed memory in cooperating with
other sister Churches. I have been striving for the good of
Christianity and for achieving Christian unity. With this objective
in mind I exchanged cordial letters with Your Holiness on various
occasions, and I also visited Your Holiness at the Vatican in 1984.
During that visit a Common Declaration was made by Your Holiness and
my humble self on June 23, 1984 in confirmation of our joint effort
to achieve a better understanding and continue exerting efforts to
attain the sublime goal which is ultimately Christian Unity. May I
cite a few passages of that blessed historical declaration quoting
"Our Unity in faith, though not yet complete, entitles us to envisage
collaboration between our Churches in pastoral care, in situations
which nowadays are frequent both because of the dispersion of our
faithful throughout the world and because of the precarious
conditions of these difficult times. It is not rare, in fact, for our
faithful to find access to a priest of their own Church materially or
morally impossible. Anxious to meet their needs and with their
spiritual benefit in mind, we authorize them in such cases to ask for
the sacraments of Penance, Eucharist and Anointing of the Sick from
lawful priests of either of our two sister Churches, when they need
them. It would be a logical corollary of collaboration in pastoral
care to cooperate in priestly formation and theological education.
Bishops are encouraged to promote sharing of facilities for
theological education where they judge it to be advisable. While
doing this we do not forget that we must still do all in our power to
achieve the full visible communion between the Catholic Church and
the Syrian Orthodox Church of Antioch and ceaselessly implore our
Lord to grant us unity which alone will enable us to give to the
world a fully unanimous Gospel witness.
Thanking the Lord who has allowed us to meet and enjoy the
consolation of the faith we hold in common (cf. Rom 1:12) and to
proclaim before the world the mystery of the Person of the Word
incarnate and of His saving work, the unshakeable foundation of that
common faith, we pledge ourselves solemnly to do all that in us lies
to remove the last obstacles still hindering full communion between
the Catholic Church and the Syrian Orthodox Church of Antioch, so
that with one heart and voice we may preach the word: "The True Light
that enlightens every man" and "that all who believe in His name may
become the children of God" (cf. Jn1:9-12)". (The quotation ends)
The Common Declaration is unique indeed. It represented great steps
forward along the ecumenical movement because it went beyond
doctrinal professions of the two churches to embrace the pastoral
care of the faithful in both churches. The objectives of this
declaration have been implemented in many parts of the world.
4. At this unique and historical meeting, we do have the pleasure to
welcome our brethren, the Clergy from all denominations and thank
them for their participation in welcoming His Holiness Pope John Paul
II. We have to keep in mind that it's the duty of all of us to be
fully aware of our spiritual mission as clergymen to provide means of
salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ to all the faithful from all
Churches and continue praying and spreading love which is the first
sign of the true disciples of Jesus Christ abiding thus by the Lord's
commandment, "By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you
have love for one another" (Jn 13: 35).
While endeavoring to attain Complete Unity, we have to accept one
another. It's our message to convey the voice of people to God and
the voice of God to people.
It's through preaching and religious guidance that we have to warn
the sinners and exhort them to obey the divine laws.
We have to carry the cross of our Lord and follow Him, as did His
Holiness Pope John Paul II who set us the good example in his
courageous stand against immoral violations practiced nowadays in
some institutions that claim to represent Christianity permitting
abortion, homosexuality and what not.
In this generation invaded by many corrupt concepts we are badly in
need for a true witness, for courage to address these challenges and
adhere to our true faith in Christ our Lord and his divine law.
We can never claim to be Christians unless we adhere to this faith
because true Apostolic Christianity is the true profession of faith
and a life of virtues.
5. It goes without saying that Christians of good will from all
Churches and denominations do acknowledge that God Almighty has
chosen Your Holiness to be His instrument for spreading peace, love
and fraternity among people and for confronting all deviations from
Christian teachings in the world.
God Almighty has granted you both civil and religious authorities,
being the Pope of Rome and the head of the Vatican, the smallest
state in the world, yet the most powerful in its influence throughout
the world in relation to what might be useful for the accomplishment
of a just and comprehensive peace and for confirming man's faith in
God Almighty and upholding His virtues and values. So far you've
strived in this field for the attainment of such goals overlooking
the hardships and fatigue endured by true shepherds.
I beseech God to grant Your Holiness good health and long life. I
wish Your Holiness a pleasant stay in Syria and a safe journey back.
We are certain that your presence here is an affirmation of Christian-
Christian and Christian-Muslim fraternity. I'd like to assert that
we, as Christians enjoy a national Unity living with our Muslim
brethren a life full of love and pure amicability.
6. On this occasion, it is of great pleasure to us to greet His
Excellency President Bashar Al-Assad praying to God to bless him and
keep the banners of victory held in our country under his wise
(The text of the speech was received from Archbishop H.E. Mor Clemis
Eugene Kaplan, Patriarchal Vicarate of Western USA).