"We are preparing a meeting of all Orthodox and Catholic Patriarchs of the Middle East, to promote unity among Christians and deal with the problems and suffering that we share in this difficult moment in history." This was announced by Cardinal Bechara Boutros Rai, Patriarch of Antioch of the Maronites, in these latest days in Rome to attend the conclave.
The summit with the Patriarchs in the Middle East will be an important network of ecumenical contacts which in recent months have involved the Head of the Maronite Church, who was elevated to the dignity of cardinal by Pope Benedict XVI in the last Consistory of 24 November 2012. Earlier that month, Patriarch Rai had attended the enthronement of the new Coptic Orthodox Pope Tawadros II in Cairo, Egypt. And on 10 February, he was the only patriarch who attended the enthronement of the new Greek-Orthodox Patriarch of Antioch Yohanna X Yazigi, which took place in Damascus.
"The opportunity to return to a complete unity," Patriarch Rai explains "is studied at high levels. Meanwhile, we can live communion at a concrete level of the evangelical proclamation and sharing of social, charitable and cultural initiatives. We are talking about concrete ecumenism, without much talking. It is ecumenism that many baptized are already living in their daily lives."
Cardinal Rai has had recent meetings with the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople Bartholomew I and the Orthodox Archbishop of Athens Hieronymos. From February 26 to March 1, before coming to Rome for the Conclave, Patriarch Rai visited the Russian capital following the invitation of Patriarch Kirill of Moscow. During the moscovite trip, The Head of the Maronite Church had long conversations with Kirill and the Metropolitan Hilarion around the current plight of Christians in the Middle East. His Eminence Rai in Moscow also met the President of Duma Sergei Naryshkin with some of his collaborators, expressing appreciation for the line in favor of a negotiation between the regime and the opposition assumed by Russia on the Syrian conflict.