VATICAN CITY — Jesus Christ is “knocking at the door of our heart in the Middle East,” as well as the Eastern nations of India and Ukraine, Pope Francis said on Thursday.
Meeting at the Vatican with members of the ROACO (Reunion of Aid Agencies for the Oriental Churches) Assembly, which raises funds for Christians in the Eastern-rite Churches, Pope Francis addressed papal representatives from Jerusalem, Lebanon, Syria, Ukraine, Iraq and Jordan, as well as the new Franciscan Custos of the Holy Land, Fr. Francesco Patton.
In his greetings to the group, Pope Francis thanked them for their work, in particular the task of helping to fund the restoration of the Basilica of the Nativity in Bethlehem and the small shrine of Christ’s tomb at the heart of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem.
In Bethlehem, the pope noted, recent restoration work has unearthed the mosaic of a seventh angel in the nave of the Basilica, “forming with the other six a sort of procession towards the place commemorating the mystery of the birth of the Word made flesh,” he said.
“Our ecclesial communities can also be covered by ‘incrustations’ as a result of various problems and sins,” he told ROACO representatives. “Yet all your work must unfailingly be guided by the certainty that, beneath material and moral incrustations, and the tears and bloodshed caused by war, violence and persecution, there is a radiant face like that of the angel in the mosaic.”
“All of you, with your projects and your activities,” he continued, “are part of a ‘restoration’ that will enable the face of the Church to reflect visibly the light of Christ the Word Incarnate.”
“He is our peace, and he is knocking at the door of our heart in the Middle East, as he does in India and in Ukraine, a country for which I determined last April that an extraordinary collection should be taken up among the Churches of Europe,” the pope said.
The ROACO meeting underway in Rome this week is focused principally on the presence of the Syro-Malabar and Syro-Manlankara Churches in the territories of India outside Kerala where they are based.
The group’s efforts, Pope Francis said, are “a sign of hope that progress can be made in respect for the proper rights of each, without a spirit of division, but rather fostering communion in witness to the one Savior, Jesus Christ.”
“That communion, in all those parts of the world where Latin and Oriental Catholics live side-by-side,” he urged, “needs the spiritual riches of East and West as a source from which coming generations of priests, men and women religious, and pastoral workers can draw.”
Quoting Pope John Paul II’s 1995 Apostolic Letter on the Eastern Churches, Orientale Lumen, he said: “The words of the West need the words of the East, so that God’s word may ever more clearly reveal its unfathomable riches. Our words will meet forever in the heavenly Jerusalem, but we ask and wish that this meeting be anticipated in the holy Church which is still on her way towards the fullness of the Kingdom” (n. 28).
In the same letter, Pope John Paul II exhorted Christians of East and West, on the brink of the third millennium: “Dearly beloved, we have this common task: we must say together from East and West: Ne evacuetur Crux! (cf. 1 Cor 1:17). The Cross of Christ must not be emptied of its power because if the Cross of Christ is emptied of its power, man no longer has roots, he no longer has prospects: he is destroyed! This is the cry of the end of the 20th century. It is the cry of Rome, of Moscow, of Constantinople. It is the cry of all Christendom: of the Americas, of Africa, of Asia, of everyone. It is the cry of the new evangelization.”
As Pope Francis concluded his audience with agencies assisting the Oriental Churches, he imparted his Apostolic blessing and asked for their prayers as he prepares for his June 24-26 pilgrimage to Armenia, “the first nation to welcome the Gospel of Jesus,” he said.
Diane Montagnais Rome correspondent for Aleteia’s English edition.