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Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Letter of His Beatitude

Gregorios III,

Patriarch of Antioch and All the East,

Of Alexandria and of Jerusalem,

For the Feast of the Nativity 2012

 

Gregorios, by the grace of God,
Patriarch of Antioch and of All the East, of Alexandria and of Jerusalem:
To my brother bishops, members of the Holy Synod
and all the faithful clergy and laity of our Melkite Greek Catholic Church

“Grace be unto you, and peace, from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ.”(1 Cor. 1: 3)

 

Christmas: Call to Reconciliation

Feast of the Nativity of our Lord, God and Saviour, Jesus Christ

25 December 2012

 

Christmas: Call to Reconciliation

Christmas, the Nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ, returns once more in an atmosphere of terror, war, death, displacement, emigration and destruction. Despite that, we are determined to sing the angels’ hymn on Christmas night which summons us to glorify God the Creator of us all: peace on earth and goodwill and joy for all.

We, (my brothers and I) as members of the Synod of our patriarchal Church in Arab countries and overseas, feel that we are pastors responsible before God and our people, the sons and daughters of our parishes. We should like to assure them that we are close to them and walking with them along the painful road at this time, especially during the Feast days of Christmas and the New Year.

We remember the words of St. Paul, who told us, “Rejoice with them that do rejoice, and weep with them that weep.” (Romans 12: 15); and again, “…whether one member suffer, all the members suffer with it; or one member be honoured, all the members rejoice with it.” (1 Corinthians 12: 26) We remember also the Pastoral Constitution of the Second Vatican Council: “The joys and the hopes, the griefs and the anxieties of the men of this age, especially those who are poor or in any way afflicted, these are the joys and hopes, the griefs and anxieties of the followers of Christ.” (Gaudium et spes, Preface)

 

Christmas night angelic hymn: reconciliation hymn

The angels’ hymn on Christmas night is the hymn of reconciliation between God and men and women. Reconciliation is God’s programme for his children on earth. On Christmas night, the angels sang this hymn, proclaiming the Gospel’s content: “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace, goodwill toward men.”(Luke 2: 14)

This hymn really contains the basic expressions of the message of Jesus Christ, which is a Gospel in brief – a useful summary that reveals to anyone meditating on it splendid dimensions, vast horizons, visions and spaces of light and beauty, allowing us to hope for a more just, brotherly, supportive, communicative future for humanity, opening the way for living together, dialogue, respect, acceptance of others and their dignity; to charity.

That is the real future of humanity, where God himself is the great glad tidings for all people, in the multiplicity of their tendencies, denominations, parties and countries. All are sons and daughters of God, Lover of mankind, who came to earth and took flesh and was born in time, at a particular point in history and geography, in a little cave in the little town of Bethlehem, for he so loved the world that all earth’s sons and daughters might have life and might have it more abundantly. (John 10: 10) That is the Feast of the Nativity, the birth of the Gospel. That is Christmas, the birth of the Gospel! It is a call for reconciliation, as the Apostle Paul says, “[Christ] is our peace, who hath made both one, and hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us; having abolished in his flesh … enmity” (Ephesians 2: 14) and thereby giving us the ministry of reconciliation.

 

His Holiness’ visit to Lebanon: call to reconciliation

It was a subject of pride for our Church that the Holy Father Benedict XVI decided to sign the Apostolic Exhortation in our Church of Saint Paul in Harissa, where I had the honour of addressing the first words of welcome to him (14 September 2012).[1]

The Pope’s speeches during his visit to Lebanon (14-16 September 2012) and the speeches and attitudes of civil and religious leaders similarly confirmed considered values, faith values, Lebanese, Arabic, Christian, Muslim and purely evangelical universal human values. These values can comprise the elements of a spiritual charter for a real Arab Spring, proclaiming salvation at the height of the crises, wars, revolts, difficulties, deaths, destruction, feelings of enmity, vengeance and selfishness that fill our Arab world with blood and spread before our eyes a cloud of sadness, suffering and grief for millions of our children from different religions and denominations in our Arab countries. This represents a real danger for our countries, which are rightly called the cradle of religions and cultures and even the region described in the Bible as being the location of Paradise where Adam and Eve lived before their transgression and expulsion. This danger is actually the main cause of Christian emigration in the current tragic state of affairs that threatens their presence and Muslim-Christian living together.

His Holiness expressed his sorrow for the situation in the “region which seems to endure interminable birth pangs… Why is their life so turbulent? God chose these lands, I think, to be an example, to bear witness before the world that every man and woman has the possibility of concretely realizing his or her longing for peace and reconciliation! [2]

The Holy Father reminded us of the Gospel’s core values:

“Unity, on the other hand, is not the same as uniformity… [but] respect for the dignity of each person and the responsible participation of all… The energy needed to build and consolidate peace also demands that we constantly return to the wellsprings of our humanity. …Our first task is to educate for peace in order to build a culture of peace…Social cohesion requires unstinting respect for the dignity of each person and the responsible participation of all in contributing the best of their talents and abilities. The energy needed to build and consolidate peace also demands that we constantly return to the wellsprings of our humanity…The effectiveness of our commitment to peace depends on our understanding of human life. If we want peace, let us defend life! This approach leads us to reject not only war and terrorism, but every assault on innocent human life, on men and women as creatures willed by God.

His Holiness emphasises repentance and metanoia, calling us to say no to vengeance and yes to forgiveness. “Only forgiveness, given and received, can lay lasting foundations for reconciliation and universal peace (cf. Romans 12: 16b, 18).”

 

The way of reconciliation is the Gospel’s way

I should like to address my fellow-citizens in the Arab world, especially the real revolutionaries, to tell them that their just demands are also sought by Christians, who express them non-violently.

We do not wish to be enfeoffed by anyone; no-one has the right to speculate on us, confine us to a faction, own us, arm us, or entice us to adopt this or that attitude. We stand for reconciliation and just demands.

That is what we expressed, I as Patriarch in my letters, and also the Assembly of Catholic Hierarchy in Syria (report of 25 April 2012[3]), and the declaration of the three Patriarchs in Syria (May 2012[4]).

 

Reconciliation: the lifeline

The Gospel’s logic, method, principles of conduct, spirituality and culture; Gospel-Jesus’s way of thinking inspires the Church in all its attitudes and actions.

I have taken this as my starting point in my conduct and have taken various initiatives to live out the Gospel in the difficult conditions that the region is experiencing. I made a European tour, visiting the capital cities, took part in congresses, gave talks, met Christian and other Arab and non-Arab statesmen from various countries, even some who did not share my viewpoint.

At the end of all that I concluded that the only real way out of this current crisis of the Arab world - especially in Syria, Lebanon, Egypt, Jordan, Palestine and so forth - is reconciliation. On 30 August, 2012, I had published a paper called, “For Syria, reconciliation is the only lifeline[5],” and circulated it worldwide, to Catholic and other Christians, to Arab heads of state and others, to non-governmental institutions (NGOs), MPs, and various celebrities and so on.

In that paper I described how the Church’s mission, based on the Gospel, is a ministry and service of reconciliation.

 

The importance of Reconciliation

Here is my analysis of the importance of Reconciliation in all areas. However the situation in Syria develops, reconciliation is the only lifeline, today and tomorrow.

 

  • Reconciliation avoids partiality to any particular group.
  • Reconciliation makes an appeal that is equally balanced to all groups.
  • Reconciliation is important for healing wounds, overcoming enmity and hatred and building bridges of social, religious and political dialogue.
  • Reconciliation is important for building up stone and flesh, for fellowship, for regaining life’s normalcy, supporting the poor, refugees and disaster-stricken.
  • Reconciliation is important for resuming dialogue between communities, acceptance of others and mutual respect.
  • Reconciliation is important for bringing back love to every home, town, village, party and person.
  • Reconciliation is important as a global mission. We are all called to take part in it, locally, in the Arab region and globally.
  • Reconciliation is the way for the future of the whole region and not just for Syria.       This can be said of inter-Arab, Arab-European, Arab-(Israeli) Jewish and Christian-Muslim reconciliation throughout the world.
  • Reconciliation is the essence of the Gospel and the content of all Christian doctrines: Trinity, Incarnation and Redemption.
  • Reconciliation has then a global dimension. It is not only linked to the Syrian or other crisis in the region. The future of humanity is at stake. As the Gospel tells us; Jesus would die to “gather together in one the children of God that were scattered abroad.” (John 11: 52)

 

Good wishes for the Feast

May this letter bring joy, peace, hope, faith and love to the hearts of all who read it! I hope that our brother bishops will transmit it to their parishioners, bringing to one and all good wishes for the Feast and Christmas joy, though they are confronting the surge of difficult, tragic situations that our faithful and fellow-citizens in general are experiencing in our Arab world, especially in Syria.

Through this letter, we offer our good wishes for the Feast to everyone reading this letter in print or on the Patriarchate’s website in Arabic, French and English. May they find joy in it, especially children, young people, lay-persons committed serving the Church and those who remember the poor, especially refugees, to relieve their distress, despair and doubt.

We offer our good wishes to our Muslim friends, who are in contact with us in everyday life and through this letter, and are very aware that God has created us to bring to each other and the world the proclamation of goodness, faith, hope, love and mutual respect.

 

Thanks

The Church continues to make assiduous efforts to help refugees and internally displaced persons in Syria and outside. We thank all those who support our efforts, to be able to stay alongside our faithful who need our love and service.

We thank especially His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI who always remembers the suffering East, especially Syria, with gracious concern. He gave a donation expressive of his concern, first one hundred thousand and then a million dollars. The latter donation was largely from members of the synod held in Rome last October on the topic of the New Evangelisation. This gift is a sign of solidarity from the Catholic world on four continents with displaced Syrians: our gratitude goes to His Holiness and them all.

I would even call the Synod Syrian, because during the sessions and private meetings the Synod Fathers listened to us very carefully to find out about the situation.

We should also like to thank the Eparchies of our patriarchal Church, in Arab countries and throughout the world, the religious orders, laity, benefactors and organisations who have given aid to support our faithful displaced from Homs and elsewhere to Damascus.

We ask everyone, pastors and faithful, to help us continue our service to everyone in distress.

 

Call to prayer

At the end of this letter, I lift my hands in fervent prayer for the Christmas lights to dissipate the black clouds covering our countries’ sky.

I pray to the Christ Child for all those who have fallen victim to the current situation, especially all our parishioners and relatives! May God bestow on them his abundant compassion and love!

I pray especially for the fearful, refugees, displaced persons, orphans, widows, the sick, bereft and doubting, that God may give them hope, strength and courage! I ask it of him especially for my Syrian fellow-citizens, in wounded Syria and the countries linked with it, especially our dear Lebanon, vacillating, divided, torn apart from within and without. Even Jordan is exposed to serious dangers. Palestine has been martyred for 64 years, a martyr to its internal divisions and the divisions of the Arab world and the whole world, where international law counts for nothing; and Israel which does not know that its salvation is in the Arab world and not elsewhere.

We call for special prayers to be raised in our churches everywhere for peace and reconciliation. In praying for peace in the Middle East, we are praying for the peace and security of the whole world, for we are sure that peace in the Middle East and the promotion of justice and legality, especially as far as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is concerned, are factors for peace for the whole world and will solve many of the Middle East’s problems. We emphasised that in our speech to the Holy Father, Benedict XVI, during his visit to Lebanon in September 2012.

 

Palestine: a State

God has heard our prayers: the international community has heard our appeal and the appeal of the Palestinian people and voted in favour of giving non-member observer status to the Palestinian State at the United Nations on 29 November, international solidarity day with the Palestinian nation. That was an historic day, and we hope that this step from the international community can be a step towards a brave, lasting peace in the region and the world.

 

Appeal to the world

Once more, we call for the cessation of arms and the cycle of violence. Save human beings from destruction and murder.

Enough of weapons! Enough of warfare! Enough of violence, mutual killing, divisions and hostility! Make way for reconciliation.

 

“Fear not, little flock” (Luke 12: 32)

A strong saying from this Gospel, repeated some 365 times[6] in the Bible, the number of days in the year, is addressed to you: “Fear not, little flock.” Jesus gives us thus from day to day a dose of the Gospel, our daily bread, for us not to be afraid.

The little flock was the main theme of my speech (on 11 October, 2012[7]) in the Roman Synod. I emphasised the fact that Jesus gave the little flock a big role for the sake of the big flock, so that the meaning of the presence, role and mission of this little flock in the Arab world, where Jesus and Christianity were born, is being with and for the big flock, and bringing it the most beautiful proclamation that the earth has ever heard, and that the angels heralded on Christmas night. “I bring you good tidings of great joy! …Unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.” (Luke 2: 10-11) Jesus is born for us! The Gospel is born!

       Fear not, little flock! Live with courage, strength, joy, enthusiasm, optimism, vision, light in the darkness of these days. Be bearers of Jesus-Gospel’s call to you, “Be light, be salt, be leaven.”

       Together, let us sing in our churches, chapels, monasteries, institutions, meetings, encounters and homes, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.[8]”(Luke 2: 14)

       Happy Feast!

       Happy New Year!

                                     + Gregorios III

 

                                       Patriarch of Antioch and All the East,

                                       Of Alexandria and of Jerusalem


Appendices

Prot. 538/2012R                                                                                                         Rabweh 29/11/2012

 

Call to solidarity

 

As Christmas draws near, given the present situation of our faithful in Syria, I address my brother Bishops in our Eparchies in Arab countries and worldwide, our male and female religious congregations, priests, monks, and nuns and lay-persons, especially businessmen and women who have global relations at various levels!

I call upon them to show solidarity with our faithful in Syria, to help us meet the immediate, urgent needs, especially of internally displaced persons in the country.

We ought to think also of the future, when we shall have to cope with more serious problems, such as

- Rebuilding or repairing damage to our churches (especially in the Eparchy of Homs)

-    Rebuilding or repairing damage to many institutions, presbyteries, old people’s homes…

-    Rebuilding or repairing the homes of thousands of our faithful, in co-operation with the state and other organisations.

-    Coping with problems such as rent, costs of education, health care.

Your aid can be given as monetary donation, advice, a word to persons able to help, NGOs, associations, institutions…

Your help is valuable! Your solidarity is vital! We put great trust in you!

Help us to help and serve, to console and support our Christians in their land, homeland and homes, in this country which is rightly called the cradle of Christianity.

Thank you! May the Lord reward you!

Blessed Feast of the Nativity and Happy New Year

 

With my blessing, prayer and affection

+ Gregorios III

 

Patriarch of Antioch and All the East,

Of Alexandria and of Jerusalem


 

Prot. 593/2012R                                                                                                         Rabweh 29/11/2012

 

Call to prayer

This kind can come forth by nothing, but by prayer and fasting.

 

            The disciples came to find Christ their Master and Lord and asked him, “‘Why could not we cast [the demon] out [of the sufferer]?’ And he said unto them, ‘This kind can come forth by nothing, but by prayer and fasting.’” (Mark 9: 28-9)

            Beloved, I exhort you to respond to Jesus as he now calls all of us pastors and parishes to prayer and fasting in these days of wars, drama and tragic upheavals prevalent in our Arab world, especially in Syria, which have caused thousands of deaths and made hundreds of thousands homeless.

            That is what the first Christian community did when faced with dangers threatening it, as Saint Luke describes in the Acts of the Apostles, where we read, “And at that time there was a great persecution against the church which was at Jerusalem; and they were all scattered abroad throughout the regions of Judaea and Samaria, except the apostles.” (Acts 8: 1)

And we read elsewhere: “And when they heard that, they lifted up their voice to God with one accord, and said, ‘Lord, thou art God, which hast made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and all that in them is: who by the mouth of thy servant David hast said, “Why did the heathen rage, and the people imagine vain things? The kings of the earth stood up, and the rulers were gathered together against the Lord, and against his Christ.” For of a truth against thy holy child Jesus, whom thou hast anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles, and the people of Israel, were gathered together, for to do whatsoever thy hand and thy counsel determined before to be done. And now, Lord, behold their threatenings: and grant unto thy servants, that with all boldness they may speak thy word, by stretching forth thine hand to heal; and that signs and wonders may be done by the name of thy holy child Jesus.’ And when they had prayed, the place was shaken where they were assembled together; and they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and they spake the word of God with boldness. And the multitude of them that believed were of one heart and of one soul: neither said any of them that ought of the things which he possessed was his own; but they had all things common.” (Acts 4: 24-32)

            I call you to a spiritual initiative based on prayer. I invite you to offer a daily prayer-service in all parishes and churches for peace from above and peace for the whole world and peace for our holy land and our Arab countries, especially Syria. This prayer-time ought to be between fifteen to thirty minutes per day. Continuity will be provided by groups from the parish in the presence of the priest and with his participation or led by a nun, or lay-man or -woman and young people. Every priest should draw up a programme for this service of meditation and peace litanies. To this end, we attach to this letter the prayer made by Blessed Pope John Paul II at Quneitra during his visit to Syria in 2001. This is a prayer for the whole Middle East and particularly for Syria, and we add another prayer by an anonymous author.

We can also add some of the intentions addressed to God after the proclamation of the Gospel in the book of the Divine Liturgy (numbers 9-11, 39, 43). And let us sing, “Save, O Lord, thy people and bless thine inheritance. Grant peace to thy world and by the virtue of thy Cross, preserve thy habitation.” “Remembering our most holy, pure, blessed, and glorious Lady, the Mother of God and ever Virgin Mary, with all the saints, let us commend ourselves and one another and our whole life to Christ our God.”

 

With my blessing, prayer and affection

+ Gregorios III

 

Patriarch of Antioch and All the East,

Of Alexandria and of Jerusalem

 


 

Prayer of Blessed Pope John Paul II

On the occasion of the Jubilee Pilgrimage to Syria

Monday 7 May 2002

Quneitra prayer

 

"Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God" (Mt 5:9). From this place, so disfigured by war, I wish to raise my heart and voice in prayer for peace in the Holy Land and in the whole world. Genuine peace is a gift from God. Our openness to that gift requires a conversion of heart and a conscience obedient to his Law…

 

God of infinite mercy and goodness,
with grateful hearts we pray to you today
in this land where Saint Paul once walked.

To the nations he proclaimed the truth that God was in Christ
reconciling the world to himself (cf. 2 Cor 5:19).

May your voice resound in the hearts of all men and women,
as you call them to follow the path of reconciliation and peace,
and to be merciful as you are merciful.

Lord, you speak words of peace to your people
and to all who turn to you in their hearts (cf. Ps 85:9).
We pray to you for the peoples of the Middle East.

Help them to break down the walls of hostility and division
and to build together a world of justice and solidarity.

Lord, you create new heavens and a new earth (cf. Is 65:17).
To you we entrust the young people of these lands.

In their hearts they aspire to a brighter future;
strengthen their resolve to be men and women of peace,
and heralds of new hope to their peoples.

Father, you make justice spring forth from the earth (cf. Is 45:8).
We pray for the civil leaders of this region
that they may strive to satisfy their peoples’ rightful aspirations,
and educate the young in the ways of justice and peace.

Inspire them to work generously for the common good,
to respect the inalienable dignity of every person
and the fundamental rights which have their origin
in the image and likeness of the Creator, impressed upon each and every human being.

In a special way we pray for the leaders of this noble land of Syria.
Grant them wisdom, farsightedness and perseverance;
may they never yield to discouragement in their challenging task
of building the lasting peace for which their people yearn.

Heavenly Father,
in this place which saw the conversion of the Apostle Paul,
we pray for all who believe in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Guide their steps in truth and love.

May they be one as you are one, with the Son and the Holy Spirit.
May they bear witness to the peace which surpasses all understanding (cf. Phil 4:7)
and to the light which triumphs over the darkness of hostility, sin and death.

Lord of heaven and earth, Creator of the one human family,
we pray for the followers of all religions.
May they seek your will in prayer and purity of heart;
may they adore you and worship your holy name.
Lead them to find in you the strength to overcome fear and distrust,
to grow in friendship and to live together in harmony.

Merciful Father,
may all believers find the courage to forgive one another,
so that the wounds of the past may be healed,

and not be a pretext for further suffering in the present.
May this happen above all in the Holy Land,
this land which you have blessed with so many signs of your Providence,
and where you have revealed yourself as the God of Love.

To the Mother of Jesus, the ever blessed Virgin Mary,
we entrust the men and women living in the land where Jesus once lived.
Following her example, may they listen to the word of God,
and have respect and compassion for others,
especially those who differ from them.
May they be inspired to oneness of heart and mind,
in working for a world that will be a true home for all its peoples!

Salam! Salam! Salam!
Amen!

Prayer for peace by Blessed Pope John Paul II

At the Peace Memorial, Hiroshima, Japan

25 February 1981

 

To you, Creator of nature and humanity, of truth and beauty, I pray:

Hear my voice, for it is the voice of the victims of all wars and violence among individuals and nations.

Hear my voice, for it is the voice of all children who suffer and will suffer when people put their faith in weapons and war.

Hear my voice when I beg you to instil into the hearts of all human beings the wisdom of peace, the strength of justice and the joy of friendship.

Hear my voice, for I speak for the multitudes in every country and in every period of history, who do not want war and are ready to walk the road of peace.

Hear my voice and grant insight and strength so that we may always respond to hatred with love, to injustice with total dedication to justice, to need with our own sharing, to war with peace.

O God, hear my voice and grant unto the world [and especially to the Middle East] your everlasting peace.

Amen.

 

 

 


 

Prayer for peace in Syria

God of Compassion,

Hear the cries of the people of Syria,

Bring healing to those suffering from the violence,
Bring comfort to those mourning the dead,

Strengthen Syria’s neighbours in their care and welcome for refugees,

Convert the hearts of those who have taken up arms,

And protect those committed to peace.

 

God of Hope,

Inspire leaders to choose peace over violence and to seek reconciliation with enemies,

Inspire the Church around the world with compassion for the people of Syria,

And give us hope for a future of peace built on justice for all.

 

We ask this through Jesus Christ,

Prince of Peace and Light of the World,

Amen.

 

 

 


 

Intercessions

 

Response: Lord, hear our prayer

 

For the Church, that our leaders continue to the bearers of the Good News and serve as examples of the peacemakers we are called to be, we pray to the Lord

Response: Lord, hear our prayer

 

For all government and political leaders, that they work to end the fighting in Syria and that their decisions and actions lead to a future of peace, we pray to the Lord

Response: Lord, hear our prayer

 

For Syrian community leaders that they understand the importance of their role and do what they can to ensure justice and peace, while protecting the most vulnerable, we pray to the Lord

Response: Lord, hear our prayer

 

For all communities, help us to be bearers of peace in our own communities as we walk with our sisters and brothers in Syria and around the world, so that we all will be called peacemakers and children of God, we pray to the Lord

Response: Lord, hear our prayer

 

Source: Catholic Relief Services http://uspartners.crs.org/downloads/syria-prayer-intercessions.pdf

 



[6] See, for example: http://365fearnots.com/

[8] The manuscript of this letter was completed in Rome on the Sunday of the Fathers of the Seventh Ecumenical Council 14 October 2012

 

Wisdom from the Church Fathers

December 29, 2006