Pope pays tribute to Eastern churches in Holy Land

Pope Benedict XVI on Saturday paid tribute to the contribution of the Eastern churches to the Christian faith as he celebrated vespers in the Melkite Greek Catholic cathedral in the Jordanian capital.

The pope, on the first leg of a Holy Land tour, said that while it was sad Christianity had been through periods of schism that had split Roman Catholics from the Greek Orthodox and other Eastern churches, the differing traditions had enriched the faith as a whole.
"Sadly, some of these (periods) have included times of theological dispute or periods of repression," the pope told the congregation in St George's Cathedral that included Greek Orthodox Archbishop Benediktos Tsikoras as well leaders of a string of Eastern churches in union with Rome.
"Others, however, have been moments of reconciliation -- marvellously strengthening the communion of the Church -- and times of rich cultural revival, to which Eastern Christians have contributed so greatly," he added.
While recognising the pope's authority, the Melkite church follows the same rite used by the Greek Orthodox Church and uses Arabic as a liturgical language.
The pontiff said such diversity had enriched the Catholic Church as a whole.
"Particular churches within the universal Church attest to the dynamism of her earthly journey and manifest to all members of the faithful a treasure of spiritual, liturgical, and ecclesiastical traditions," he said.
"The ancient living treasure of the traditions of the Eastern churches enriches the universal Church."
The pope noted that while Christian communities now formed minorities across the Middle East, they traced their origins to one of the strongholds of the early Church.
"Most of you trace ancient links to the patriarchate of Antioch (now Antakya in Turkey), and your communities are thus rooted here in the Near East," he said.
"And, just as two thousand years ago it was in Antioch that the disciples were first called Christians, so also today, as small minorities in scattered communities across these lands, you too are recognised as followers of the Lord."
Among the Middle East's churches, the Melkite, Maronite, Syrian Catholic, Armenian Catholic and Chaldean churches all recognise the authority of the pope and sent representatives to Saturday's service.