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In a meeting with aid agencies that support Eastern Churches, Pope Francis deplored the fact that the Middle East is “being stripped of Christians.”

“These lands are being stripped of Christians,” Pope Francis said of the Holy Land and the Middle East, while addressing the members of the Aid Agencies for the Oriental Churches (ROACO), whom he received at the Vatican on June 27, 2024. He urged his audience to encourage Christians from the Middle East “to rise above the temptation to abandon their lands, torn by conflicts.”

“Many Eastern Churches are bearing a heavy cross and have become ‘martyr Churches’. They carry the marks of Christ’s wounds. Just as the Lord’s flesh was pierced by nails and a lance, so many Eastern communities are suffering and bleeding because of the conflicts and violence they endure,” the Pope said, citing in particular the Holy Land, Ukraine, Syria, Lebanon, the whole of the Middle East, the Caucasus and the Tigray region (Ethiopia).

In recent years, Eastern Christians have suffered greatly from numerous conflicts, and many have chosen to leave their home regions. This is particularly true of Christians from Syria, who have experienced ten years of war, from Lebanon, who were hit by a serious economic and social crisis, and Iraq, where only 300,000 Christians remain, compared with almost three times as many before the start of the war in 2003.

Pope Francis met with the ROACO members as they concluded their plenary assembly in Rome, which lasted from June 24 to 27. Numerous organizations committed to helping Eastern Christians took part, including Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) and L’Œuvre d’Orient

A world that believes in the “non-violent power of peace”

In his address, Pope Francis thanked the ROACO members for their work and encouraged them to keep promoting peace. “Thank you for responding to destruction by reconstruction; to the deprivation of dignity by restoring hope; to the tears of children with a smile that speaks of love; to the malign logic of power with the Christian logic of service,” he said. “The seeds you plant in fields poisoned by hatred and war will surely blossom. They will be a prophecy of a different world, one that does not believe that might makes right, but in the non-violent power of peace.”

The populations affected, especially young people, “are weary of the rhetoric of war and the empty slogans that constantly put the blame on others, dividing the world into good and evil, weary of leaders who find it difficult to sit at a table, negotiate and find solutions,” the Pope explained. 

The Holy Land, Ukraine, Karabakh…

When speaking about the “dramatic situation in the Holy Land,” the Pope lamented the “awful situation: that these lands are being stripped of Christians.” “The faithful throughout the world are presently called to demonstrate their closeness and to encourage Christians, there and throughout the Middle East, to rise above the temptation to abandon their lands, torn by conflicts,” the Pope told his audience, while asking them to provide material and spiritual support to these populations. 

The Pope also spoke of the “terribly tragic plight of war-torn Ukraine.” “I pray daily, and I do not tire of inviting others to pray, that paths of peace may open for that beloved people, that prisoners of war may be freed and children repatriated,” he said. 

The Pontiff also thanked the ROACO members for their special attention to “the humanitarian issue of displaced persons in the Karabakh region.” He thanked Bishop Gevork Saroyan of the Armenian Apostolic Church (independent from Rome) for his participation, and asked him to convey his “fraternal greetings” to His Holiness Karekin II. 

Keep Eastern Churches’ traditions alive in the diasporas

Lastly, the Pope spoke of Eastern Christians’ current situation, underlining how many of these populations now find themselves to be more numerous outside of their home countries than within. “Today, many Eastern Christians, perhaps more than ever before, are fleeing conflicts or migrating in search of work and better living conditions,” he lamented.

He encouraged the Dicastery for the Eastern Churches to establish norms to help Latin Church pastors to “aid the Eastern Catholics living in the diaspora,” in particular by keeping their “rites alive and flourishing.” 

ROACO’s mission, the Pope insisted, is not to “not to make speeches and develop theories” or “engage in geopolitical analyses, but to discern the best ways to draw close to our brothers and sisters in the East and to alleviate their sufferings.”


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