By Linda Bordoni
Pope Francis did not neglect to issue yet another appeal for war-stricken Ukraine on Thursday, calling for prayers, fasting, and work “so that the paths of peace may find space in the jungle of conflicts.”
He was addressing ROACO members who are gathered for their plenary assembly in the Vatican.
ROACO stands for Reunion of Aid Agencies for the Oriental Churches and it unites funding agencies from countries worldwide in order to provide services such as houses of worship and study, scholarships, and social and health care facilities to struggling areas in the Middle East.
May weapons give way to negotiations
The Pope acknowledged the attention and care ROACO members have shown to those suffering the conflict “that from Tigray has again wounded Ethiopia and partly neighboring Eritrea,” and he thanked those countries who have received refugees from “the beloved and tormented Ukraine.”
In Ukraine, he said, “a life-destroying violence has been unleashed, a luciferous, diabolical violence, to which we believers are called to react with the power of prayer, with the concrete help of charity, with every Christian means so that weapons give way to negotiations.”
The Pope expressed his faith in the fact that “the heights of human pride and idolatry will be lowered, and the valleys of desolation and tears filled”; but, he said, we would also like to see Isaiah’s prophecy of peace fulfilled soon:
Instead, Pope Francis lamented, “everything seems to be going in the opposite direction: Food diminishes and the clang of weapons increases.”
ROACO’s synodal style
In his speech to those present, the Pope upheld the “synodal” character of ROACO, in which each actor (persons, professionals, bishops, Pontifical representations, the Dicastery for the Oriental Churches, and the many agencies involved), has a role and is called to dialogue with the others “by consulting, studying, asking for and offering suggestions and explanations, walking together.”
He invited each entity to always be “tuned” to the others so that “the symphony of charity” may perform in the best way.
He invited those present to “flee all temptations of isolation and closure in oneself and in one’s own groups,” in order to remain open to welcome towards all brothers and sisters who serve the Eastern Catholic Churches, in their motherlands as well as in the territories of the so-called diaspora.
Syria, Iraq, Lebanon
The Pope upheld the work of the Assembly of Catholic Bishops of Syria at a Conference in Damascus in March “in which so many young people were actively involved.”
“In the desert of poverty and discouragement caused by the twelve years of war that prostrated the beloved and martyred Syria,” he said, ROACO was there to listen to others in order to identify the true priorities.
He said that same synodal style also animated the Special Assembly of the Synod of Bishops for the Middle East, and noted that the tenth anniversary of the Apostolic Exhortation “Ecclesia Medio Oriente,” promulgated by Pope Benedict XVI during his visit to Lebanon, will be marked in September.
“In ten years many things have happened: think of the sad events involving Iraq and Syria, the upheavals in the Land of the Cedars itself,” he said, noting, however, that there have also been some lights of hope, such as the signing in Abu Dhabi of the Document on Human Fraternity.
Now he said, it is necessary to find updated tools and suitable ways to express closeness to the Churches in the region and resume the work of coordination on Syria and Iraq, including Lebanon in the common reflection.