For the first time in his pontificate, Pope Francis met privately with the leaders of the autonomous Eastern Catholic Churches in full communion with Rome.
-"All is well”
The Pope joined the patriarchs and major archbishops at the Consistory Hall inside the Vatican. The Church leaders are in Rome to take part in the Plenary Assembly for the Congregation for the Eastern Churches.
During the first of several events scheduled on Thursday, Pope Francis called on the patriarchs and major archbishops to be custodians of the unity and solidarity within the Catholic Church.
"So that our testimony is credible, we are called to always seek justice, piety, faith, charity, patience, and clemency.”
For the remainder of the session, the Pope listened to the concerns from each of the Churches represented. Each one is based in either Eastern Europe, India or the Middle East.
Two hours later, under the watchful eyes of several Byzantine icons, Pope Francis addressed the prelates taking part in the four day plenary assembly.
He made an appeal for respect and freedom of worship in the Middle East, especially in conflict areas like Syria, Egypt and Iraq. He also said that Catholics must never resign themselves to a Middle East without Christians.
"From East to West, the whole Church gives testimony to the Son of God, the Church, which, as noted later in the same conciliar text, 'is present in every nation of the earth, in fact, all the faithful around the world are in communion with the Holy Spirit.'”
The Pope said every Catholic should be thankful for the Churches in the Holy Land and asked them to pray for all the Christians in the region.
While all the Eastern Churches are independent, and follow the Byzantine or Greek traditions, they have all recognized the primacy of the Pope.
This is only the second meeting of its kind. The first took place back in 2010 under Benedict XVI.