By Devin Watkins
The 94th plenary session of the agencies connected to the Reunion of Aid Agencies for the Oriental Churches (ROACO) wrapped up their 4-day meeting on Thursday with a papal audience.
Speaking to participants, Pope Francis touched on the major topics and issues upon which the organization focused its attention.
The Pope opened his speech expressing satisfaction that the plenary session could be held in-person, rather than online as occurred in 2020 due to the pandemic, saying it is more helpful for ROACO’s work.
“We need to encounter one another,” he said, “to share ideas in fruitful dialogue and to hear the questions and the cries for help coming to us from so many parts of the world, particularly from the Churches in the countries where you carry out your work.”
The Pope added that he recently experienced this fact first-hand as he traveled to Iraq in early March.
Crisis in Lebanon
Pope Francis then turned his thoughts to Eritrea and Lebanon, mentioning especially the pain caused by the Beirut port explosion on 4 August 2020, which left hundreds dead.
“I thank you for your efforts to support Lebanon in this grave crisis,” he said, “and I ask you to pray, and invite others to pray, for our meeting on 1 July with the Heads of the Christian Churches in Lebanon, that the Holy Spirit will enlighten and guide us.”
‘Deserted streets of Jerusalem’
The Pope also expressed his gratitude to the faithful throughout the world who donate generously to support the work of ROACO.
He noted that the 2020 Holy Land Collection only raised around half of its usual funds, saying this reduction likely stemmed from both the reduced attendance at Mass during lockdowns, as well as from the economic crisis generated by the pandemic.
“While the crisis may have encouraged us to focus on what is essential,” he added, “we cannot remain indifferent when we think of the deserted streets of Jerusalem and the loss of those pilgrims who go there to strengthen their faith, but also to express concrete solidarity with the local Churches and their people.”
Pope Francis also urged Catholics across the globe to “appreciate the significance of this form of charity.”
Bow of peace
Following the plenary session’s order of business, the Pope then recalled the situation in the Holy Land. He said Israelis and Palestinians are “peoples who we hope and pray will see the bow of peace that God showed to Noah as a sign of the covenant between heaven and earth, and of peace among peoples.”
Yet, lamented the Pope, “those skies have been darkened by missiles bringing destruction, death and fear!”
Scandal of human suffering
Pope Francis recalled the “scandal” of the decade-long war in Syria and the millions of pleas for help, which “do not seem to have touched the hearts of leaders in a position to affect the destiny of peoples.”
He especially thanked Cardinal Mario Zenari, the Apostolic Nuncio to Syria, and the papal representatives in Lebanon, Iraq, Ethiopia, Armenia, and Georgia, who were present for the meeting.
He added that their way of life is an important aspect of the Church’s witness. “It helps pastors and faithful to concentrate on what is essential and helpful for the proclamation of the Gospel, as together you show the face of a Church that is a Mother, with particular concern for the poor and the vulnerable.”
The Pope recalled that various conflicts have left many church buildings in need of reconstruction or repair. But he said that we also “need to be concerned above all for the living stones who have been wounded and dispersed.”
Leaven of Gospel life
In conclusion, Pope Francis lamented the suffering caused in Ethiopia’s Tigray region, which “is also affecting nearby Eritrea.” And he thanked ROACO’s members for their work in Georgia and Armenia, to “enable the Catholic community to continue to be a sign and leaven of evangelical life.”
He concluded his address by blessing participants in ROACO’s 94th general session.