(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis on Thursday met with members of ROACO, (Reunion of Aid Agencies for the Oriental Churches) who have been holding their 90th plenary assembly in Rome this week.
The meeting brings Church leaders from countries across the Middle East, Asia and Eastern Europe together with donor organisations which raise funds for Christians in the Eastern-rite Churches.
Listen to Philippa Hitchen's report:
The four day meeting has been focused on the difficult situation of Christians in Egypt, Syria, Iraq and the Holy Land, as well as reflecting on the training of priests and seminarians in all the Eastern-rite Churches.
In his message to participants, Pope Francis thanked them for their constant work of charity and solidarity over the past half century in support of Latin and Eastern-rite communities under the care of the Vatican’s Congregation for Oriental Churches.
Persecution and emigration
These Churches of the Middle East, as well as in Eastern Europe, he said, have often suffered from “terrible waves of persecution and pain”. Emigration has also significantly weakened the presence of these Churches in places where they flourished for centuries.
Freedom has now returned to some of those regions, the Pope said, but others, particularly in Syria, Iraq and Egypt, are still devastated by “wars and absurd violence perpetrated by fundamentalist terrorism.” These experiences are a source of both suffering and salvation, he said, as we experience the Cross of Christ.
Temptations of social status
Speaking about the formation of priests and seminarians, Pope Francis noted the dedication and heroic witness of so many prelates. But he also warned about the temptations of seeking social status that is associated with the priesthood in some parts of the world.
The Congregation for Oriental Churches and donor agencies must continue to support projects and initiatives which build up the Church in an authentic way, the Pope said. We must remember we are living stones, built around Christ as our corner stone, he added.
Witness to the Gospel
Finally, the Pope remembered all those Christians – Catholics, Orthodox or Protestant – whose blood continues to be spilled because of their witness to the Gospel. When Eastern-rite Christians are forced to emigrate, he said, they must be welcomed in their new countries and allowed to continue their worship according to their own traditions