Patriarchs of churches of the Syriac tradition pledged their unity in tackling the numerous challenges they face, including the "bleeding of migration" of their faithful in the Middle East.
"We find it necessary to strengthen the bond between our churches and intensify cooperation," the patriarchs said in a statement following the first of what they said would become an annual ecclesial summit.
Syriac Orthodox Patriarch Ignatius Aphrem II told participants at the Dec. 16 meeting: "What we have in common is a lot, even if, due to various historical contingencies, we still experience today discords in the way of expressing our faith. But today we feel the urgency to be together and to cherish together our rich Syriac heritage."
He hosted the summit at the patriarchal residence in Atchaneh, Lebanon. Participants included: Lebanese Cardinal Bechara Rai, patriarch of Maronite Catholics; Syriac Catholic Patriarch Ignace Joseph III Younan; Iraqi Cardinal Raphael Sako, patriarch of Chaldean Catholics, who participated online from Baghdad; and Patriarch Awa Ruel of the Assyrian Church of the East.
In their final statement, the patriarchs emphasized the "distinctive treasure" of their Syriac heritage "passed on from the dawn of Christianity through centuries punctuated by many troubles and tribulations."
During their summit, the patriarchs said they delved into how to strengthen their role and "the available mechanisms to work to support the presence of our children in the land of the East, which was baptized with the blood of our fathers and grandfathers."
The patriarchs expressed their determination to continue caring for their faithful "in order to establish them in their homelands, and to reduce the bleeding of migration due to the existing conflicts and the difficult political, economic, social and living conditions that the world is going through, especially the Middle East region."
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"Our thoughts occupy and worry about the dispersion of our children in the countries of expansion after they were forced to migrate from their motherland in the East due to acts of violence, persecution and uprooting and as a result of the dire living conditions," the patriarchs said.
They said those who have left need spiritual and pastoral care in their adopted countries and should be encouraged to keep "the faith of their fathers and grandfathers, their identity and heritage," and pass it on to new generations.
The patriarchs expressed their desire "to find common mechanisms for teaching the Syriac language, which was spoken by the Lord Jesus and his holy apostles, and to work to spread it," as well as for in-depth study.
They emphasized their commitment to encourage specialization in Syriac studies in universities; revitalize Syriac heritage conferences in the Middle East; form joint committees to discuss issues of common interest, especially those related to rites and liturgy; and organize seminars and activities about their common Syriac identity in order to spread awareness among members of their churches.