Pope Francis and Middle East Church leaders arriving for the ecumenical prayer meeting at the seafront of Bari, southern Italy, July 7, 2018. (Vatican Media)
Here is a translation of the Letter that the Holy Father Francis sent to the Catholic Patriarchs of the Middle East who are celebrating today, on the occasion of the first “Day of Peace for the East”, a Divine Liturgy to invoke from the Lord the gift of peace in the Middle Eastern region and consecrate it to the Holy Family.
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To the Catholic Patriarchs of the Middle East
Dear Brothers in Christ,
With joy I accepted the invitation you addressed to me to join you on this special day, on which each of you celebrates a Divine Liturgy with your faithful, to invoke the gift of peace in the Middle East from the Lord and consecrate it to the Holy Family.
Since the beginning of my Pontificate I have sought to be close to your sufferings, both by making myself a pilgrim: first to the Holy Land, then to Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and finally a few months ago to Iraq, and by inviting the whole Church to prayer and concrete solidarity for Syria, Lebanon, so tried by war and social, political and economic instability. Then I remember well the meeting of July 7, 2018, in Bari, and I thank you because with your gathering today you are preparing hearts for the convocation of next July 1 in the Vatican, together with all the Heads of the Churches of the Land of the Cedars.
The Holy Family of Jesus, Joseph, and Mary, to whom you have chosen to consecrate the Middle East, represents your identity and mission well. First of all, it guarded the mystery of the Son of God becoming flesh; it was constituted around Jesus and by reason of Him. Mary gave Him to us, through her yes to the announcement of the Angel in Nazareth, Joseph welcomed Him, remaining even
while asleep listening to the voice of God and being ready to do His Will once reawakened. A mystery of humility and dispossession, as in the birth of Bethlehem, recognized by the little ones and those far away, but threatened by those who were more attached to earthly power rather than to be amazed at the fulfillment of God’s promise. To guard the Word made flesh, Joseph and Mary set out, going to Egypt, uniting the humility of the birth in Bethlehem with the indigence of people forced to emigrate. In this way, however, they remain faithful to their vocation and, unknowingly, anticipate that destiny of exclusion and persecution that will be Jesus’ when He becomes an adult, but which will, however, disclose the Father’s response on Easter morning.
The consecration to the Holy Family also calls each of you to rediscover, as individuals and as a community, your vocation to be Christians in the Middle East, not only by asking for the right recognition of your rights as original citizens of those beloved lands but by living your mission of custodians and witnesses of the first apostolic origins. During my trip to Iraq, I used the image of the carpet on two occasions, which the skilled hands of men and women of the Middle East know how to weave, creating precise geometries and precious images, the result of the intertwining of numerous threads that only by being together side by side become a masterpiece. If violence, envy, division, can come to tear even one of those threads, the whole is wounded and disfigured. At that time, human plans and agreements can do little if we do not trust in the healing power of God. Do not try to quench your thirst at the poisoned sources of hatred, but let the furrows of the field of your hearts be irrigated with the dew of the Spirit, as did the great Saints of your respective traditions: Coptic, Maronite, Melkite, Syriac, Armenian, Chaldean, Latin.
How many civilizations and dominations have arisen and flourished, with their admirable works and conquests on the ground, and then fallen: everything has passed. Beginning with our Father Abraham, the Word of God has continued to remain a lamp that has illuminated and illuminates our steps.
I leave you peace, I give you my peace, the Risen Lord said to the disciples still afraid in the Upper Room after Easter: I too, thanking you for your witness and your perseverance in the faith, invite you to live the prophecy of human brotherhood, which was at the center of my meetings in Abu Dhabi and Najaf, as well as in my Encyclical Letter Fratelli Tutti.
Really be the salt of your lands, give flavor to social life eager to contribute to the construction of the common good, according to those principles of the Social Doctrine of the Church so much in need of being known, as was indicated by the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Ecclesia in Medio Oriente and as you wished to recall by commemorating the 130th anniversary of the Encyclical Letter Rerum Novarum.
While I impart my heartfelt Apostolic Blessing to all those who took part in this celebration and to those that follow it through the means of communication, I ask you to pray for me.