Vatican City, Feb 13, 2018 / 06:55 am (CNA/EWTN News).- At Mass at Santa Marta Tuesday, Pope Francis concelebrated Mass with the patriarch of the Melkite Greek Catholic Church, Youssef Absi, saying that offering the liturgy together is like an embrace between the two Churches.
“This is what the ceremony of today means: the embrace of the father of a Church with Peter. A rich Church, with its own theology within the Catholic theology, with its own wonderful liturgy, and with a people,” the Pope said Feb. 13.
Speaking in place of a homily, Francis noted how a great number of the people of the Melkite Greek Catholic Church are being “crucified, like Jesus.”
He also said that the Mass was being offered “for the people that suffer, for persecuted Christians in the Middle East, who give their lives, give their goods, their properties, because they are driven away. And we also offer Mass for the ministry of our brother Youssef.”
At the end of the Mass, Patriarch Youssef, who concelebrated, offered his own words to the Pope, saying that he was moved by “his fraternal charity, by the gestures of fraternity, of solidarity that he has shown to our Church during this Mass.”
“We promise to keep it always in our hearts, in the heart of all of us, clergy and faithful, and we will always remember this event, these historical moments, this moment that I cannot describe for how beautiful it is: this fraternity, this communion that binds all disciples of Christ.”
The Melkite Greek Catholic Church is an Eastern Catholic Church of the Byzantine rite in full communion with Rome. It consists of some 1.5 million members and is based in Syria and Lebanon, with most of its eparchies in the Arab world. It also has structures to serve the Melkite diaspora in Australia, Turkey, Canada, Mexico, the United States, Argentina, Brazil, and Venezuela.
On Feb. 12, Pope Francis met with bishops of the Greek-Melkite synod, assuring the patriarch and bishops of his closeness in prayer.
In his speech, the Pope remarked on the presence of their Church in the Middle East, in particular Syria, where their Church “is deeply rooted and performs a precious service for the good of the People of God.”
He also extended his prayer for all the people and priests of the Church throughout the world. “In this difficult historical period, many Christian communities in the Middle East are called to live their faith in the Lord Jesus in the midst of many trials,” he said.
“I sincerely hope that with their testimony of life, the Greek-Melkite bishops and priests can encourage the faithful to remain in the land where Divine Providence has wanted them to be born.”
Francis said that on Feb. 23 he has called for a special day of prayer and fasting for peace, and that on that occasion he would not fail to make special mention of Syria, which has been hit in recent years “by unspeakable suffering.”
Referencing the most recent assembly of the synod of the Melkite Greek Catholic Church, which took place in Lebanon earlier this month, he said that those meetings are both an important moment of communion and when important decisions are made for the faithful.
Among these decisions is the election of new bishops, which Francis said are called to be shepherds, accompanying their people and helping them to seek the things of Christ, not of the world.
“We need so many Pastors to embrace life with the breadth of God’s heart, without settling on earthly satisfactions, without being content to carry forward what is already there, but always aiming high,” he said.
He also asked the bishops and the patriarch, when they return to their offices, to remind the faithful, and the men and women religious, that they are “in the heart and in the prayer of the Pope,” and gave his apostolic blessing.