Dear friends,

I am happy to meet you at the end of the work of your plenary session. I greet Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, Cardinal Zenari, Bishop Pizzaballa, the other superiors of the dicastery – who have changed in the meantime – the officials and the members of the agencies that make up your assembly.

Meeting face-to-face gives confidence and helps your work, whereas last year it was only possible to connect remotely to reflect together; but we know that it is not the same thing: we need to meet, to have a better dialogue between words and thoughts, to welcome the requests and the cry that come from so many parts of the world, in particular from the Churches and the countries for which you are doing your work. I myself am a witness, because it is precisely in this context that in 2019, I announced my intention to go to Iraq and, thank God, I was able to fulfill this desire there some months. I was happy to include your representative among my retinue, also as a sign of gratitude for what you have done and what you will do. Despite the pandemic, you have had extraordinary meetings during this year, to confront the situation in Eritrea as well as to follow that of Lebanon, after the terrible explosion in the port of Beirut on August 4. And in this regard, I thank you for your commitment to support Lebanon in this serious crisis; and I ask you to pray and invite to do so for the meeting that we will have on the 1is July, with the heads of the Christian Churches of the country, so that the Holy Spirit guides and enlightens us.

Through you, I would like to send my thanks to all the people who support your projects and who make them possible: they are often simple faithful, families, parishes, volunteers … who know that we are “all brothers” and who devote some of their time and resources to those realities that you care for. They told me that in 2020, the Collection for the Holy Land was able to collect about half of what it collected in past years. The long months when people could not gather in churches for the celebrations certainly weighed, but also the economic crisis generated by the pandemic. If, on the one hand, it does us good by pushing us to go to the essentials, we cannot however remain indifferent, especially if we think of the deserted streets of Jerusalem, without pilgrims coming to recharge their batteries in the faith, but also express their concrete solidarity with the Churches and local populations. I therefore renew my call to all, so that we rediscover the importance of this charity, of which Saint Paul already spoke in his Letters and which Saint Paul VI wanted to reorganize with the apostolic exhortation. Our plans, in 1974, which I propose again in all its topicality and validity (1).

During your meeting, you focused on different geographic and ecclesial contexts. Above all, the Holy Land itself, with Israel and Palestine, these peoples for whom we always dream that the arc of peace will be drawn in the sky, given by God to Noah as a sign of the alliance between Heaven and earth and peace among men (cf. Gen 9, 12-17). Too often, however, even recently, these skies are crisscrossed by machines carrying destruction, death and fear!

The cry which rises from Syria is always present in the heart of God, but it seems that it does not reach that of the men who have in hand the fate of the peoples. The scandal of ten years of conflict continues, with its millions of people displaced inside and outside the country, its victims and the demand for reconstruction which is still hostage to party logic and lack of courageous decisions for the good of this martyred nation.

In addition to the presence of Cardinal Zenari, apostolic nuncio in Damascus, that of the papal representatives in Lebanon, Iraq, Ethiopia, Armenia and Georgia, whom I greet and whom I sincerely thank, allowed you to reflect on the situation. Church in these countries. Your style is precious, because it helps the pastors and the faithful to concentrate on the essential, that is to say on what is useful for the proclamation of the Gospel, by showing together the face of the Lord. Church that is Mother and paying particular attention to the little ones and the poor. Sometimes it is necessary to rebuild buildings and cathedrals, including those that have been destroyed by wars, but above all it is necessary to take to heart the living stones which are wounded and scattered.

I follow with apprehension the situation caused by the conflict in the Tigray region of Ethiopia, knowing that it also has repercussions in neighboring Eritrea. Beyond religious and confessional differences, we realize how essential is the message of All brothers (2), when the differences between ethnicities and the ensuing power struggles are erected into a system.

At the end of my apostolic trip to Armenia, in 2016, with Catholicos Karékine II, we released doves in the sky, as a sign and wish for peace in the entire Caucasus region. Unfortunately, in recent months she has been hurt once again and I thank you for the attention you have paid to the reality of Georgia and Armenia, so that the Catholic community continues to be a sign and a leaven of evangelical life.

Dear friends, thank you for your presence, thank you for your listening and your work. I bless each of you and your work. And you, please keep praying for me.

Thank you !

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