By Devin Watkins
As Catholics across the Middle East took part in Divine Liturgies on Sunday to pray for peace, Pope Francis sent a letter to their Pastors, thanking them for the initiative.
The Catholic Patriarchs of the Middle East also consecrated the region to the Holy Family.
Speaking at the Sunday Angelus, the Pope urged Christians throughout the world to pray for peace in the region.
“May the Lord sustain the efforts of those who work for dialogue and fraternal coexistence in the Middle East, where the Christian faith was born and is alive, despite the sufferings,” he said. “To those dear people, may God always grant strength, perseverance, and courage.”
Separately, in his letter to Catholic Patriarchs, the Pope recalled his Apostolic Visits to the Middle East, starting with his pilgrimage to the Holy Land, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, and Iraq.
“Ever since the beginning of my pontificate I have sought to be near to your sufferings,” he said, pointing out that he has often invited the Church to pray and assist Syria and Lebanon.
Holy Family: identity and mission
Pope Francis then reflected on the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, to which the Middle East was consecrated on Sunday.
He said the Holy Family represents Middle Eastern Catholics’ identity and mission. “Above all, it safeguarded the mystery of the Incarnation of the Son of God, and was built around Jesus and lived for Him.”
The Pope called the Holy Family “a mystery of humility and submission”, which was widely recognized by the great and small alike, but which was persecuted by those who seek only worldly power.
Vocation inspired by the Spirit
Pope Francis urged all Catholics in the Middle East to rediscover how each community can fulfill its vocation in the consecration to the Holy Family.
He said this entails “not only asking for the just recognition of your rights as citizens of that beloved land, but also living your mission to take care of and witness to your apostolic origins.”
The Pope lamented the violence that often plagues the region, recalling that human projects for peace must rely on the “healing power of God.”
“Do not try to slake your thirst at the poisoned wellsprings of hate,” he said, “but let the fields of your hearts be irrigated by the rays of the Spirit, as the great saints of your respective traditions have done: Copts, Maronites, Melkites, Syriacs, Armenians, Chaldeans, and Latins.”
Light of faith
The Pope concluded his message recalling the many civilizations which have been born and died in the Middle East.
“However, starting with our father Abraham, the Word of God has remained as a lamp which has illumined and illuminates our steps,” he said.
And he urged Middle Eastern Catholics to persevere in the faith and in their prayers for peace, under the banner of “the prophecy of human fraternity.”
“May you truly be salt for your lands,” he said. “Give flavor to the life of our societies, seeking to contribute to building up the common good, according to the principles of the Social Doctrine of the Church”.