Pope Francis talks with Greek Orthodox Patriarch Theophilos III of Jerusalem during a private audience at the Vatican Oct. 23. CNS photo/L'Osservatore Romano via Reuters

Holy Land Christians must work together, Pope tells Greek Orthodox Patriarch

  • October 23, 2017
VATICAN – As minorities living in a troubled land, Christians in the Holy Land must forgive each other for past mistakes and work together for the future of their communities, Pope Francis told the Greek Orthodox patriarch of Jerusalem.

Patriarch Theophilos III made an official visit to the Vatican in late October, meeting Pope Francis Oct. 23 and praying with him for peace.

"How good it would be to say of Catholics and Orthodox living in Jerusalem what the Evangelist Luke said of the first Christian community: 'All who believed were together ... one heart and soul,'" the pope told the patriarch.

Better cooperation is especially needed "in supporting Christian families and young people, so that they will not be forced to leave their land," the pope said. "By working together in this delicate area, the faithful of different confessions will also be able to grow in mutual knowledge and fraternal relations."

A step forward was taken in 2016-17, the pope said, when representatives of the Roman Catholic, Greek Orthodox and Armenian Orthodox churches agreed to work together to restore the traditional site of Jesus' burial and resurrection in Jerusalem's Church of the Holy Sepulcher.

The various Christian communities present in the Holy Land have not always been so cooperative or even kind to other another.

"It is not possible to change the past," the pope said, "but, without forgetting grave failures of charity over the centuries, let us look to a future of full reconciliation and fraternal communion, and take up the work before us, as the Lord desires.

"May we not let the memory of times marked by lack of communication or mutual accusations, or present difficulties and uncertainty about the future, prevent us from walking together toward visible unity, nor hinder us from praying and working together to proclaim the Gospel and to serve those in need," Pope Francis prayed.

Christian communities in the Holy Land, he said, also must stand together to affirm their right to remain in the region, to profess their faith, to be safe and to contribute to society.

Ongoing tensions between the Israelis and Palestinians "continue to create insecurity, the restriction of fundamental rights, and the flight of many people from their land," Pope Francis said. "I invoke God's help in this, and I ask all those involved to intensify their efforts to achieve a stable peace based on justice and recognition of the rights of all."

Although he did not specifically mention recent acts of vandalism at Christian churches, Pope Francis insisted "any kind of violence, discrimination or displays of intolerance against Jewish, Christian and Muslim worshippers, or places of worship, must be firmly rejected."

Jerusalem, a city sacred to Jews, Christians and Muslims, "ought to be a place where all can live together peaceably," he said. "Otherwise, the endless spiral of suffering will continue for all."

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