Catholics involved in Middle East fears
ABOUT 115,000 Catholics, some of whose forefathers were St. Peter's own converts, would become members of the Church of Silence if reports of latest Kremlin moves in the Middle East prove true and if the moves are unchecked.
They arc people of Syria, the Arab State into which Russian arms are said to be pouring. Communist influence in Government and Army is strong in Syria, and floods of Soviet propaganda give rise to fears that she may be Russia's next target.
Loss of Syria to Communism would bring many more Catholics in other Arab countries — mostly, as in Syria, belonging to Eastern rites—one step nearer the Iron Curtain, Many thousands of Catholics in Syria and in other Arab countries hear Our Lord's words in their Liturgies spoken in His own native tongue. These are members of the Syrian. Maronite and Chaldean rites, whose Liturgies use the ancient Syriac (Aramaic) language He used, though it is no longer a living laneuage outside a few Syrian villages and parts of Mesopotamia and Kurdistan.
ow N LITURGIES In the Middle East, several languages besides Syriac are used in the Liturgy, including Arabic by the Melkites, Armenian, Greek and Coptic.
These and other languages are to be found in the liturgies of about eight rnillion Catholics of Eastern rites throughout the world, who differ not at all from the West in faith, morals and obedience to the Holy See, but—by right, not by concession — have their own liturgies, canon law and customs.
The Church in Syria springs mainly from that of Antioch, St. Peter's first See. Nearly half its members are IVIelkites, whose deep devotion to the Blessed Sacrament is expressed in a very impressive rite of their own for Benediction and in the special importance they attach to the Feast of Corpus Christi.
Divided by heresy and schism for generations, they were restored to unity in 1724 when the Patriarch of Antioch, Cyril IV, submitted to the Holy See. Next to the Melkites. the three largest Catholic groups are those of the Syrian. Armenian and Maronite rites. There are a few thousand Catholics of the Latin rite. The Chaldeans are the smallest group.
The new danger may bring into prominence in the West, where they are too little known, the outstanding personalities who are the spiritual leaders, under the Holy See, of these many Catholics of such ancient tradition and Faith.
There is the Syrian Patriarch of Antioch, Cardinal TappouniIgnatius Gabriel 1 to his Syrian flock — and the first Patriarch of Antioch since 1445 to be made a Cardinal.
He is a man who has known in his own life how to resist persecu
tion. In the first world war he saw the massacre of 28 priests during the destruction of his diocese by the Turks.
He was himself sentenced to death. He was reprieved through the efforts of the Latin Apostolic Delegate in Constantinople, Arch bishop (later Cardinal) Dolci. He spent four months in a prison for common criminals in conditions so appalling that he contracted serious disease.
His receiving the Red Hat in 1935 from Pope Pius Xl. was a striking demonstration of the unity of the Latin and Catholie Eastern Rites, This was reinforced by the present Pope when at the Consistory of February, 1946, a bearded figure wearing a tall head-dress seldom seen in Rome, led the long line of new Cardinals that mounted the steps of the high Papal throne. This was Cardinal Agagianian, Armenian Patriarch of Cilicia, the only Prince of the Church born in territory which is now part of the Soviet Union.
He was born in Georgia, Stalin's homeland. His is one of the most brilliant minds among the leaders cif the Eastern Catholics. He speaks many languages fluently. including Englieh. Cardinal Agagianian is president of the Pontifical Commission drawing up a code of canon law for the Eastern rites, and is at present in Rome. Perhaps the most immediately concerned with present threats in the Middle East is the Melkite Patriarch of Antioch, Massimo IV. a member of the Society of the Missionaries of St. Paul. He is resident in Syria, at Damascus, for a large part of the year, though his winter residence is in Cairo.
The Maronite Patriarch of Antioch, Mgr. Paul Meouchi, resides in the immediately adjacent Lebanon. He succeeded his 92year-old predecessor, Mgr. Arida, only last year. Before that. he was President of the Apostolic Commission to the Maronite Patriarchate, and is an important link with the many Catholics of the Eastern rites in the United States.
He visited Maronite communities there in 1920 and later spent 14 years ministering to the Maronite community in Los Angeles.
He is spiritual leader, under the Holy See. of more than half a million Maronites throughout the world, of whom over 100.000 are in the U.S.A. and another 50,000 in Canada, South America and elsewhere.