Pope: Blood of martyrs is the seed of unity in the Church
(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis welcomed the Patriarch of the Syrian Orthodox Church, Mor Ignatius Aphram II, to the Vatican on Friday.
In his address to the Patriarch, Pope Francis spoke about the “bonds of unity and fraternity” that unite the Church of Rome to the Church of Antioch, recalling the meetings between Patriarch Mor Ignatius Jacob II and Pope Paul VI in Rome, and between Pope Saint John Paul II and Patriarch Mor Ignatius Zakka Iwas in Rome and Damascus.
“How much has changed since those first encounters,” Pope Francis exclaimed. The Syrian Orthodox Church, he continued, “is a Church of martyrs from the very beginning, and it is so today, too, in the Middle East, where it continues to endure, together with other Christian communities and other minorities, the terrible sufferings caused by war, violence, and persecutions.” And yet, the Pope said, “it seems that the powers of this world are incapable of finding solutions.”
Pope Francis called for mutual prayers for “all the victims of this brutal violence” and for victims “of all the situations of war present in the world.” He especially remembered two Eastern Archbishops who were kidnapped in Syria more than two years ago, as well as all those who have been deprived of their liberty. The Holy Father also asked for prayers for the grace “to be always ready to forgive” and to always be workers of reconciliation and peace.” This, he said, “is what animates the witness of the martyrs. The blood of the martyrs is the seed of unity in the Church and the instrument of the building up of the kingdom of God, which is a kingdom of peace and of justice.”
Pope Francis concluded his message with a call to strengthen the bonds of unity between the Catholic Church and the Syrian Orthodox Church. “Let us hasten our steps along the common path, keeping our gaze fixed on the day when we will be able to celebrate our belonging to the one Church of Christ around the same altar of Sacrifice and of praise.”
Below, please find the complete text of Pope Francis’ address:
It is a great joy to be able to welcome you here, close to the tomb of St Peter, so beloved by Rome and Antioch. I give a most cordial welcome to Your Holiness and to the distinguished members of your delegation. I thank you for your words of friendship and spiritual closeness, and I extend my greetings to the Bishops, the clergy, and all the faithful of the Syrian Orthodox Church. “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom 1:7).
The visit of your Holiness strengthens the bonds of friendship and fraternity that unite our Churches, the See of Rome and the See of Antioch. Saint Ignatius, the teacher of unity among the faithful in Christ, in his letter to the Magnesians, echoing the prayer pronounced by Jesus at the Last Supper, prays that there be “one prayer, one supplication, one mind, one hope in charity” to gather “as into one temple of God, as to one altar, as to one Jesus Christ, who coming forth from the one Father has returned to Him united” (7:1-2).
When the Patriarch Mor Ignatius Jacob II and Pope Paul VI met here in Rome in 1971, they consciously began what we can call a “holy pilgrimage” toward full communion between our Churches. Signing the Common Declaration on our joint profession of faith in the mystery of the Incarnate Word, true God and true man, they laid the dynamic foundation necessary for that journey that we are undertaking together in obedience to the prayer of the Lord for the unity of the disciples (cf. Jn 17:21-23). Later, the encounters between the Patriarch Mor Ignatius Zakka Iwas and Saint John Paul II, first in Rome and later in Damascus, have marked new steps forward, introducing concrete elements of pastoral collaboration for the good of the faithful.
How much has changed since these first encounters! Yours, Holiness, is a Church of martyrs from the beginning, and it is so today, too, in the Middle East, where it continues to endure, together with other Christian communities and other minorities, the terrible sufferings caused by war, violence, and persecutions. So much suffering! So many innocent victims. In the face of all this, it seems that the powers of this world are incapable of finding solutions.
Holiness, let us pray together for the victims of this brutal violence and of all the situations of war present in the world. In particular we recall Metropolitan Mor Gregorios Ibrahim and Metropolitan Paul Yazigi of the Greek Orthodox Church, abducted together now more than two years ago. Let us recall, too, some priests and many other people, from diverse groups, [who have been] deprived of liberty. Let us ask the Lord, too, for the grace of always being ready to forgive and of being workers of reconciliation and peace. This is what animates the witness of the martyrs. The blood of the martyrs is the seed of unity in the Church and the instrument of the building up of the kingdom of God, which is a kingdom of peace and of justice.
Holiness, dear brothers, in this moment of harsh trial and of sorrow, let us strengthen ever more the bonds of friendship and fraternity between the Catholic Church and the Syrian Orthodox Church. Let us hasten our steps along the common path, keeping our gaze fixed on the day when we will be able to celebrate our belonging to the one Church of Christ around the same altar of Sacrifice and of praise. Let us exchange the treasures of our traditions as spiritual gifts, because that which unites us is much greater than that which divides us.
I make my own the words of your beautiful Syrian prayer: “O Lord, through the intercession of your mother and of all the saints, sanctify our and our dearly departed. May the memory of the Virgin Mary be a blessing for us; may her prayers be strength for our souls. Apostles, martyrs, disciples, and saints, pray for us, that the Lord might give us His mercy.” Amen.