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My dear brothers in the episcopate, dear brothers and sisters. To all who follow this meeting with good will and a desire for the march of hope and human dignity, God's blessings!

  In your excellent communiqué, you stated that we are one family, and indeed this is so, as we are one in the Body of Christ.  This meeting has been an expression of this unity of life and faith among us, and an encouragement to live in this unity. Your visits and participation in the masses in some parishes intensified this affectionate perception and gave you a first hand knowledge of our joys, optimism and problems. The crisis and the cry of the people in Gaza, the many innocent victims of the violence, the voices of those who the world normally does not hear, and  the parishioners of Gaza abandoned in Ramallah, all drew your attention and compelled your compassion, touching upon your fraternity and paternity in Christ.

You experienced a familial unity with these people that hits home.  All this strikes a real chord with us here in the Patriarchate of Jerusalem since this year for us is the Year of the Family, and we have been meditating upon what it means to be a family in the Church. 

It is also, for all Catholics, the Pauline Year.  We know that the central event of St. Paul’s life, was what struck him while making his way along the road from Jerusalem to Damascus. In an exceptional encounter with an undeniable presence ,there was this exchange: Paul said, "Who are you, sir?" The reply came, "I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.”  Here Jesus identifies himself with, as his own body, the Church, and in this particular reference, with the Church of Jerusalem.  Thus, even as Our Lord admonished St. Paul’s violence against his body, I now extol your prayerful solidarity with the Church of Jerusalem and say to you, it is Christ himself who you are helping!

This event became a judgment for St. Paul’s entire life. What he saw and heard there, changed the way he saw everything, his criteria for what he would do henceforth.  You could say that it, as a fruit of conversion, became programmatic.  This is my wish for the powerful and prayerful days, we have spent together here in the Holy Land, near the Crèche of Bethlehem. Let this event become a program of life and commitment for all of you, bringing a new criterion to what we do henceforth.

As you noticed, many Churches of Europe are absent from this meeting. I would be grateful if an invitation were sent to a few of them for future meetings so that some of our Episcopal brothers from Italy, Holland or Belgium, for example, might share with us in this adventure.

In your communiqué, you assure us of your love, prayer and continued solidarity.  We count on this loving and prayerful solidarity.  So, let this solidarity above all be prayerful, for as Christ is the hope for humanity, so then if our works do not communicate his presence, we are hopeless.  And let it also be concrete, working through your people in your local Churches so that the Christians here will really know that they are not alone.  I encourage you to find ways of supporting concrete projects on the ground here, starting from what you said and wrote in the communiqué.  Let your attention to the Mother Church of Jerusalem be contagious and infect your people, so that their hearts, minds and perhaps feet turn to the Land of Christ’s earthly mission.

After all, besides the powerful words of our Lord concerning His Church, the fact is that a concern for the Church of Jerusalem is a concern for the concrete history that has brought salvation to the world.  And what God has chosen, he does not discard.  Your love for this Church is truly a love for Christ’s salvation. 

As today we conclude our time together, I want to take this opportunity, to thank you for responding to the invitation to this prayerful solidarity and to wish you a safe return.   Again, I say, God bless you and your people.

Jerusalem, January 15, 2009

 

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