- His Beatitude Gregorios III, Melkite Greek-Catholic Patriarch Of Antioch and All the East, Of Alexandria and Of Jerusalem departed for the Middle East on Monday, 5 May, after eight days traveling in the US, a visit arranged at the request of and with the cooperation of the International Catholic Migration Commission (ICMC), of which he is Governing Committee Member for the Middle East.

The focus of his trip was to reinforce awareness of the urgent refugee situation in Syria, which continues unabated and is, in fact, worsening. To achieve this, the Patriarch undertook a grueling schedule of meetings and interviews. Shuttling among New York, Washington, and Boston, he was accompanied by John Klink, ICMC President.

While in New York, he was the guest of Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio of the Brooklyn Diocese and served a Patriarchal Divine Liturgy for the parishioners of Virgin Mary Melkite Church in Brooklyn. On the afternoon of his arrival in Boston, Patriarch Gregorios visited St George Antiochian Orthodox Church, in Boston's West Roxbury neighborhood, to afford its parishioners an overview of the situation in Syria and describe the relief efforts of his colleague and counterpart, His Beatitude John X, Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Antioch, Later that evening. the Patriarch's party was hosted at dinner by Bishop Arthur Kennedy, representing Boston's Cardinal Archbishop O'Malley, who was in Rome.

On Sunday, prior to a dinner event, His Beatitude served Divine Liturgies in English and Arabic at Our Lady of the Annunciation Cathedral, concelebrating with: Bishop Nicholas (Samra), Eparch of Newton of the Melkites; Bishop John (Elya), Emeritus Eparch; Father Archimandrite Philip Raczka, Rector of the Cathedral; and,  Father Georges El-Khalli, Pastor of Our Lady of the Cedars Maronite Church in the Jamaica Plain section of Boston.  

In homilies at both liturgies, Patriarch Gregorios addressed the urgent need for peace in the Middle East, stressing the urgency of both spiritual and material support to that end and to deal with the post-crisis needs of the hundreds of thousands of persons displaced by conflict between government and rebel forces.  He reported that 91 churches, Catholic and Orthodox, have been destroyed and many more have been damaged, as have important parts of the nation's spiritual infrastructure, such as schools and other community resources.  Included in that number are 24 villages which have been entirely obliterated.

His Beatitude noted that, while each of the Catholic and Orthodox Churches separately operate relief services, they all work together cooperatively in trying to meet the needs of both Christians and Moslems who have, in many cases, lost everything. He pointed out that the massive population displacement has had a tremendous effect  not only on Syria, but on neighboring countries, particularly Lebanon and Palestine, which are struggling to absorb those fleeing the strife. The Patriarch spoke of his gratitude for the generosity of the Melkite faithful in the US, who have donated more than $300,000.00 to assist in the Patriarchate's relief efforts.
Speaking of His Holiness Francis, His Beatitude praised the Pope's call for Catholics to pray and fast for peace in Syria, the Middle East, and elsewhere throughout the world. Voicing hope that hostilities would soon cease, he asked that all devote their prayers toward that end, while reminding the congregants that, even then, a tremendous amount of effort will be required to rebuild, once the armed crisis has been resolved. His Beatitude pledged that the Church will work closely with Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) and Western nations in that era to create an environment of peace in the Middle East that will benefit all of its inhabitants, Christian and non-Christian alike.

In concluding, the Patriarch voiced this Prayer for Peace in Syria and Assistance for its Refugees:

  • Almighty and Merciful God, grant that just as You made Yourself known to Saul on the road to Damascus, that You may soon convert hearts to peace in Syria, and that its people who have fled may soon return to their homeland.
  • We ask Your blessing on those who, like Your Son, have become refugees and have no place to call their own. Look with mercy on those who today are fleeing from danger, homeless and hungry.
  • Bless those who work to bring them relief; inspire generosity and compassion in all our hearts; through Jesus Christ, Our Lord. Amen.

Article by Neil Foley