“We share the great suffering resulting from the tragic situation endured by so many of our brothers and sisters in the Middle East, who are victims of violence and frequently forced to leave the lands in which they have always lived”. Pope Francis said this today as he received in audience Mar Gewargis III, Catholicos Patriarch of the Assyrian Church of the East. “They tread the via crucis in the footsteps of Christ and, though belonging to different communities, they are forging fraternal relationships among one another and thus becoming, for us, witnesses of unity”, Pope Francis continued: “Shortly we shall join in prayer for an end to all this suffering and implore from the Lord the gift of peace for the Middle East, above all for Iraq and Syria”. At the outset of his speech, the Pope recalled his first encounter with the Catholicos, two years ago, and the following one in Bari last 7 July, to mark the Day of Reflection and Prayer for Peace in the Middle East. “We share a particular reason for thanksgiving to God: the Joint Committee for Theological Dialogue between the Catholic Church and the Assyrian Church of the East”, Pope Francis recalled, stressing that the Committee itself “the fruit of dialogue, shows that practical and disciplinary differences are not always an obstacle to unity, and that certain differences in theological expression can be considered complementary rather than conflicting”. Hence he expressed the hope that “the work of the Committee, which in these days enters a third phase of study on ecclesiology, will help us to take one more step on our journey towards the much-desired goal of being able to celebrate the Sacrifice of the Lord at the same altar”. “This journey propels us forward, yet it also demands that we continue to preserve our historical memory, in order to draw inspiration from the witnesses of the past”, the Pope remarked, adding that “this year the Assyrian Church of the East, together with the Chaldean Church, celebrates the seven-hundredth anniversary of the death of Abdisho bar Berika, Metropolitan of Nisibis, one of the most famous authors of the Syro-Oriental tradition”. “His works, particularly in the area of canon law, are still fundamental texts of your Church”, Pope Francis said, mentioning the international colloquium organized by the Pontifical Oriental Institute. “May the study of this great theologian help to make better known the richness of the Syriac tradition and to receive it as a gift for the entire Church”, he went on to say. “That they may all be one, so that the world may believe”, is the final hope expressed by Pope Francis with regard to ecumenism in the words of St John the Apostle. Following the private audience and the presentation of the Delegation, Mar Gewargis III and Francis both delivered their speeches and exchanged gifts. Finally, they prayed together at the Redemptoris Mater Chapel.