By Richard Marsden
Bishops from across the Middle East have made pilgrimages to three papal basilicas to “pray for the strengthening of the faith” of Catholics in their countries “who live in difficult situations”.
Members of the Conference of Latin Bishops of the Arab Regions (Celra) said they also received “great encouragement” from Pope Francis’ prayers and work for peace across the Middle East during a meeting with him as part of a five-day trip to Rome.
In a statement published on Monday, prelates from several countries said they prayed for the faithful particularly in Syria, Iraq, Palestine, Somalia and Yemen during their pilgrimages to the Basilicas of St Peter, St Mary Major, and St Paul Outside the Walls. Their assembly also coincided with their “ad limina” visit to the Holy See which included the audience with Pope Francis as well as visits to several Roman dicastaries.
Tax dispute in Jerusalem
In a meeting with the Holy See’s Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, members of Celra were updated about the state of the agreements negotiated over the period of 24 years between the Holy See and Israel, but that have not yet been signed. The bishops’ statement said the delay in signing was down in part to the recent crises between the authorities in Jerusalem and the churches in the city over taxation.
The meeting came just two weeks after the Church of the Holy Sepulchre temporarily shut its doors in protest against Israel’s tax measures which it is feared will weaken the Christian presence in Jerusalem. The doors were reopened on February 27 after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced the formation of a committee to discuss the property tax.
Speaking about their meeting with the Pope, the bishops said they were encouraged by the “great attention with which Pope Francis follows the events in the Middle East, from his prayers and from the tireless work he carries out for peace and justice and for ecumenical and interreligious dialogue.”
The bishops also made visits to other senior Vatican officials, including the Secretaries of the Congregations for the Oriental Churches, Divine Worship and Sacraments, the Doctrine of the Faith, and with Archbishop Paul Gallagher, the Secretary for Relations with States. “All these meetings, during which we expressed our challenges and asked questions, were occasions of true dialogue ‘in truth and charity’ between the universal Church and our particular churches,” the Celra statement added.
Beatification of missionary martyr
The bishops welcomed with satisfaction the news that Sister Leonella Sgorbati, a Consolata Missionary Sister who was martyred in Mogadishu, Somalia, in 2006, is to be beatified on May 26 in Piacenza, Italy. Thinking about Sister Leonella’s life and that of thousands of other martyrs, the bishops said, “We remember that their blood is a source of encouragement and hope in our commitment to the poor. We greet with respect and affection the religious congregations, the priests and faithful that work in dramatic situations, thinking in particular of the Missionaries of Charity who continue their service in Yemen.”
In their discussions, the prelates from countries including Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, Palestine and Israel chose their delegates for a meeting in March in preparation for the Synod of Bishops on “Young people, faith and vocational discernment” in October.
The next meeting of Celra, which was established in 1967, takes place in Cairo in February 2019.