Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, Prefect of the Congregation for the Oriental Churches, delivered an address at the Plenary meeting of the Australian Bishops Conference today, 10 May, in Sydney.
Over the past few days, accompanied by the Apostolic Nuncio, Archbishop Tito Yllana, Cardinal Sandri has visited the five Eastern Eparchys in Australia; Maronite, Melkite, Ukrainian, Chaldean and Syro-Malabar communities.
Cardinal Sandri shared reflections with the bishops about the situation of Christians in the Middle East with a particular focus on Iraq and Syria. He also spoke about the presence of Eastern Catholics in Australia. He thanked the bishops, ‘for the beautiful book “Eastern Catholic Churches in Australia“, that you have published: I hope it will be an example also for other Episcopal Conference’.
‘My first word to you, therefore, is one of gratitude for all that the Australian people have done and are doing, through the action of both the Government and the Churches, to receive the refugees created by the conflicts in Syria and Iraq. The figures speak of 21,483 people welcomed between 1 July 2015 and 31 March of this year.
‘We know the place this issue holds in the heart of the Holy Father Francis. Gratitude for what has already been done becomes a renewed commitment for tomorrow. The goal is that, within the limits of the possible, no one should be forgotten, and that those, who cannot physically be accepted into the country, will still be offered a solution that is respectful of their human dignity.
‘The very history of this country is a story of constant encounters with new arrivals; it is not so much a tale of conquests, even if the infliction of wounds has not been lacking – for example, in the case of native populations. Still, the passing of time has made everyone aware of the errors of the past and has allowed for a proper foundation of peaceful and civic coexistence.
‘Of course, international terrorism has unfortunately also had its victims in this Country, and one of the questions debated publicly has been precisely how to limit the spread of extremist radicalism. Nevertheless, here as elsewhere, the problem cannot simply be resolved by constructing barriers.
‘As a Catholic community, you invoke the intercession of Our Lady, Help of Christians, to whom the beautiful cathedral of this city [Sydney] is dedicated. In addition, you turn towards Saint Mary MacKillop, whom St. John Paul II beatified on his visit in 1995 and who was subsequently canonised by Benedict XVI in 2010. I was struck by the words of Pope Wojtyla upon arriving at the airport on 18 January 1995.
“Mary MacKillop embodied all that is best in your nation and in its people: genuine openness to others, hospitality to strangers, generosity to the needy, justice to those unfairly treated, perseverance in the face of adversity, kindness and support to the suffering. I pray that her example will inspire many Australians to take new pride in their Christian heritage and to work for a better society for all. This they will do by acting with courage and commitment wherever there is poverty or injustice, wherever innocent life is threatened or human dignity degraded.
She was a woman of courage who placed the spiritual and material well-being of others ahead of any personal ambition or convenience. The honour, which the Church will give to Mother Mary MacKillop by declaring her among the Blessed, is in a sense an honour given to Australia and its people. It is also an invitation, an invitation to the whole of society to show genuine love and concern for all who are weighed down by life’s burdens. I dare to say that your response will greatly determine the kind of society you will pass on to future generations in this land of great promise.”
‘I believe that these words can serve to help make an examination of conscience; they calls us to recognise the gifts that this Australian Church has been able to receive and make fruitful, while at the same time seeking forgiveness for the defects that have sometimes shown themselves, and they indicate a path forward in progress and renewal.
Situation in Syria
‘When I went to Aleppo, Syria, in January 2011, to preside at the rite of dedication of the new Cathedral of the Latin Apostolic Vicariate and when, in December of 2012, I went to Iraq for the re-consecration of the Syro-Catholic Cathedral of Our Lady of Perpetual Help, which had been profaned and bathed in the blood of martyrs on October 31, 2010, I never would have imagined that we would find ourselves in the present situation.
‘The explosion and subsequent evolution of the Syrian conflict as well as the more recent drama unfolding in Iraq have burdened our hearts with an enormous suffering. Great is the wound inflicted to the dignity of the human person, but especially and above all to our Christian brothers and sisters, both Catholic and not. Still in the 21st century, as if history has taught nothing, we must witness barbarities and atrocities, which strike above all the weakest: the elderly, women and children. Along with my preoccupations for the thousands of refugees, chased from their houses on the plane of Nineveh, I have ever in mind the bishops and priests still in the hands of kidnappers in Syria.
Eastern Eparchs in Australia
‘At the end of the 18th century, the early British explorers arrived, and, gradually from those first settlements, the modern face of Australia developed. Now, in a similar way, the sons and daughters of Eastern Catholic Churches have entered into the history of this great nation. Having become an integral part of society, they seek to make their contribution to the growth of the common good.
‘As in the United States and Canada, so now in Australia, five brother bishops of Eastern Churches sit among you as members of this Conference in all respects. These bishops lead the eparchies that the Supreme Pontiffs have decided over the years to erect in order to ensure adequate Pastoral care of the Eastern communities.
‘First, there is the Ukrainian one, which was an Exarchate since 1958, but was elevated to Eparchy in 1982. The other four Eparchies are: Maronite, erected in 1973, Melkite in 1987, Chaldean in 2006 and, finally, in 2013, Syro-Malabar. Also present, however, and kept in mind by this Congregation are parishes or centers of worship for Armenians, Syro-Catholics, Syro-Malankars, and Russian Byzantines.
‘I hope the inclusion of these Bishops is both effective and collaborative. Our Dicastery, through the Pontifical Representative and through Archbishop Hart, who is a member of the Congregation, remains at your disposal to clarify any eventual difficulties or requests for clarification that may emerge.
‘It only remains for me to reiterate my thanks for your attention this morning and for the dialogue, which might follow from it. May the Blessed Virgin help all of you, dear bishops of Australia, in the service you render to the holy people of God in this not easy but equally exciting period of history, which is still a part of the history of salvation. Grazie. Thank you.’
The full text of Cardinal Sandri’s address is published on the Bishops Conference website at, https://www.catholic.org.au/