Amid the sufferings of Christians in the Middle East, Pope Francis on Monday sent his prayers to the new head of the Assyrian Church of the East, Catholicos-elect Gewargis III.
The Assyrian Church of the East is a Church historically centered in northern Mesopotamia. It was historically associated with Nestorianism, having been separated from the Catholic and Orthodox Churches by the Council of Ephesus in 431.
“I join your Holiness in prayer and solidarity with all who suffer because of the tragic situation in the Middle East, especially our Christian brothers and sisters and other religious minorities in Iraq and Syria,” the Pope’s Sept. 21 message to the patriarch said. “With you, I ask the Lord to grant them strength so that they may persevere in their Christian witness.”
The synod of the Assyrian Church of the East on Sept. 18 elected Metropolitan Gewargis Silwa of Iraq and Russia as its next patriarch. He will be installed as Catholicos Gewargis III in Erbil, Iraq on Sept. 27.
The Pope extended “good wishes and prayerful solidarity” to the patriarch. He prayed that the new patriarch may inspire his flock and may be “an untiring builder of peace and harmony, serving the common good and the good of the entire Middle East.”
The Bishop of Rome’s message referred to the ongoing ecumenical discussions between the Catholic Church and the Assyrian Church of the East.
“In expressing gratitude to Almighty God for the bonds of fraternity between the Catholic Church and the Assyrian Church of the East, I hope and pray that our continuing friendship and dialogue may be further developed and deepened,” he said.
Dinkha IV, the predecessor of Catholicos Gewargis, died in Minnesota on March 26 at the age of 79. With St. John Paul II, Catholicos Dinkha had signed the “Common Christological Declaration between the Catholic Church and the Assyrian Church” in November 1994.
In a March message of condolence, Pope Francis praised Dinkha IV as “a courageous and wise pastor who faithfully served his community in extremely challenging times.”