VATICAN CITY, MAY 6, 2001 (VIS) - At 5 this afternoon, following his lunch and meeting earlier with the patriarchs and bishops of Syria, as well as from neighboring countries, in the Greek-Melkite Patriarchate of Damascus, Pope John Paul went to the Syrian Orthodox Cathedral for a meeting with priests, religious and the laity of the Orthodox and Catholic Churches. Also present were representatives of other Christian denominations. 
He welcomed the patriarchs and bishops and extended "heartfelt greetings to the priests, monks and nuns, religious men and women, and all the faithful here present. I am truly happy to be among you!" 
The Holy Father recalled that he was in Damascus "as a pilgrim in the footsteps of St. Paul. It was on the road to Damascus that the Apostle of Nations was claimed by Jesus Christ; and it was here that he received the light of the Holy Spirit and was baptized. Here, the Holy Spirit has now gathered us for this common prayer - to listen to the word of God, to implore His forgiveness for our sins and divisions, and to praise His infinite mercies." 
"Here in Damascus," he continued, "the disciple Ananias was told in a vision to go to Saul, the persecutor of the Church. Despite his doubts and fears, Ananias obeyed the Lord and without hesitation he addressed the enemy of the Christians as 'brother'. Here we see two essential marks of the Church's mission: courageous obedience to God's word and a willingness to forgive and be reconciled." 
John Paul II went on to say that "two further marks of our call to discipleship (are) prayer and endurance in the face of trials. Perhaps more than ever today, these will be the marks of our fidelity to God: to pray, to carry the Cross, to obey God's will and to honor everyone as a brother or sister." 
In closing remarks, the Holy Father paid "homage to the entire Syrian tradition, with its rich unity in diversity," to its "wonderful creativity," and the figures in whom this appears: Sts. Paul, Ignatius of Antioch, Ephraem, John Chrysostom, John Damascene and Simeon Stylites, "a living icon of holiness" whose "prayer was ceaseless and his charity universal."