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Jan 15 16 3:39 PM
Synodality, ecumenism, intercommunion, and “the new minority in the Church and the world” are just a few of the topics in an extensive conversation that Armin Schwibach of Kath.net was able to have with the President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, Cardinal Kurt Koch, on the occasion of the forthcoming celebration of Christmas and the end of the special year 2015.Armin Schwibach: On November 15, 2015, Pope Francis visited the Evangelical Lutheran church in Rome. In response to a question from a Lutheran woman who is in a mixed marriage with a Roman Catholic about what could be done in order to achieve fellowship at the “Lord’s Supper,” the Pope gave a long, impromptu answer that caused a sensation worldwide. The Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung even ran a headline: “Pope encourages Christians to take communion together.”Francis emphasized the significance of our one baptism: “What can I do, together with my husband, so that the Lord’s Supper might accompany me on my way? It is a problem that everyone has to answer. But a [Protestant] pastor friend of mine told me: ‘We believe that the Lord is present there. He is present. You believe that the Lord is present. And what is the difference?’—‘Well, there are the explanations, the interpretations…’ Life is greater than [i.e., more than just] explanations and interpretations. Always refer to baptism: ‘One faith, one baptism, one Lord,’ Paul tells us, and from that draw the consequences. I will never dare to give this permission because it is not my competence. One baptism, one Lord, one faith. Speak with the Lord and move on. I do not dare say any more.” [Translated from the original Italian.]Can you put these remarks of the Pope in the proper perspective? What can this “moving on” consist of? Isn’t the doctrine unambiguous, and doesn’t it take priority over subjective circumstances?Cardinal Kurt Koch: I think that the Pope wanted to emphasize two sides of the situation. On the one hand, when he says that he could never give permission because it is not his competence, then he is referring to the current regulation, that is, to the current rules of the Church, which he abides by. On the other hand he emphasizes that one should speak with the Lord, which means that the decisive criterion is a very personal, intimate relationship with Christ. From that, however, he derives no general rules, but he does, I think, give a pastoral answer to this particular woman. The Pope thus moves in the same direction that Saint John Paul II formulated in [the Encyclical] Ecclesia de Eucharistia (2003), where he says that [interdenominational] fellowship at the Table of the Lord is not possible, but under certain well-defined circumstances there can be exceptions: if, for example, there is a spiritual need. John Paul II wrote: “While it is never legitimate to concelebrate in the absence of full communion, the same is not true with respect to the administration of the Eucharist under special circumstances, to individual persons belonging to Churches or Ecclesial Communities not in full communion with the Catholic Church. In this case, in fact, the intention is to meet a grave spiritual need for the eternal salvation of an individual believer, not to bring about an intercommunion which remains impossible until the visible bonds of ecclesial communion are fully re-established” (no. 45).These statements are based on the twofold view of the Second Vatican Council, which emphasized that participation in the Eucharist always entails two dimensions: It has an ecclesial and a personal dimension. The ecclesial dimension means that Eucharistic fellowship, as a sign of the unity of the Church, is not yet possible today. The sacraments, however, are also means of grace for human beings who have this spiritual need. We have to pay attention to this distinction. I think that Pope Francis’ answer is along these lines too. In that sense it actually contains nothing new, but follows the lines of what the Church’s Magisterium has expressed until now.As for the exaggerated statements in certain media outlets, it must be emphasized that we should not read more into the Pope’s answer than what he himself—hesitantly—put into words. Indeed, the Pope chose his formulations very carefully when he stressed, as I already said, that he has no competence to give any permission, and then added in conclusion: “I do not dare say any more.” It was a pastoral answer and not a change in Church teaching.Schwibach: The official “Ambassador for the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation 2017,” Margot Kässmann, described Pope Francis appreciatively on December 5, 2015 as a man who is “brilliant” at “enabling us to experience the creative power of denominational difference” by means of “symbols,” whereby she was probably referring also to the Pope’s gift of a chalice to the Evangelical-Lutheran congregation. However if you look more closely at the “visible progress” in ecumenism with the Protestant ecclesial communities, you can quickly tell that it does not exist—not even after almost three years of his pontificate.What, in your view, is the Pope’s power to renew ecumenical relations? Isn’t it true that the Pope is much less concerned about an “ecumenism of denominations” than about an “ecumenism of profession [i.e. professing the faith]”?Cardinal Koch: First of all, it should be noted that what the ambassador for the commemoration of the Reformation says is the typical [Lutheran-]Evangelical notion of the goal of ecumenism, which she plainly views as the only thing capable of unifying Christians. She wants fellowship in celebrating the Lord’s Supper, but no unity of the Church in the sense in which the Catholic Church sees it. She wants only the mutual recognition of the existing difference, which she then characterizes as “productive.” This statement shows how important and imperative it is to clarify further what is understood more precisely by “Church unity” as the goal of ecumenism. The reason why we have been able to achieve next to no really remarkable progress in the Catholic-Protestant dialogues in recent years lies in the fact that to a great extent we no longer have a common idea of the goal of ecumenism.As for the second part of the question, I think that Pope Francis is very intent that ecumenism should be at the service of our common proclamation of the Gospel. This is entirely in keeping with Jesus’ high-priestly prayer in chapter 17 of the Gospel of John: Jesus prays that the disciples “may be one…so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” This means that unity is not an end in itself, but rather serves the credible proclamation of the Gospel.Pope Francis considers it very important for us to profess our faith together. His understanding of ecumenism is very closely connected with his fundamental concern that the Church must be missionary. Here too we find the reason why he seeks encounters with Evangelical and Pentecostal communities. For he sees a good chance of bringing the Gospel into the world and proclaiming it together with them. Also important to Pope Francis is what we can call “practical ecumenism”: working together for the purpose of coping with the major problems in today’s world.Certainly, with Pope Francis there are specific emphases in his ecumenical engagement. But first of all we must note a fundamental continuity with his predecessors in the papacy. He stressed this himself in his homily during Evening Prayer on January 25, 2014, when for the first time he presided at the liturgy in St. Paul Outside the Walls at the conclusion of the Octave of Prayer for Christian Unity. He pointed out what the popes before him had done, and from this concluded that the papacy has increasingly acquired an ecumenical dimension. Pope Francis continues to carry out this task, of course while accentuating specific aspects.…Schwibach: On October 17, Pope Francis explained in his address at the celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Roman Synod of Bishops that “synodality” is an essential dimension of the Church and offers “the most suitable interpretive framework for an understanding of hierarchical ministry itself.” What does this “synodality” consist of?Since 2014 and 2015 were entirely defined by a “synodal process,” which no doubt also brought confusion with it, how should we picture a “synodal Church” of the future? Does this amount to leaving “competencies” up to the local bishops’ conferences?Cardinal Koch: It is a fundamental conviction of the Catholic Church that the Church’s constitution is at the same time hierarchical and synodal. The decisive question is: How do hierarchy and synodality go together and how is synodality to be understood? For not everything that is described nowadays as “synodal” can be characterized as synodal in the theological sense. The “confusion” that you mentioned is perhaps instead a sign that the deeper meaning of synodality has not yet been grasped.There is above all an essential difference between synodality and democracy. Democracy is the procedure for establishing majorities, which then make decisions. Synodality, in contrast, is the effort to grapple together until unanimity has been found and no one can maintain any more that there is something here contrary to the faith. This kind of synodality is laborious, and compared with it, democracy is really quite simple. In clarifying what synodality in the Church means, there is, I think, still a certain need for clarification along these lines.Synodality can never be in opposition to hierarchy. Hierarchy is rather the prerequisite for the success of synodality. As I see it, this became visible in the recent Synod of Bishops, too: if the Synod Fathers had been able to make decisions, then that may have caused even greater tensions and possibly even the formation of factions, which would then have tried to make their own viewpoints prevail. Synodality, however, means that the Synod Fathers grapple with each other until they can present a good result to the Pope, so that he can make a sensible decision; then the Synod itself demonstrates the necessity of the papal office and the fact that synodality and hierarchy belong together.Until now Pope Francis has remarked, very much as a matter of principle, that the Church needs more synodality. But he has not yet said in concrete terms exactly what he means by that. I have noticed that the general public often concludes from the Pope’s statements that he wants to strengthen the national bishops’ conferences. My impression, though, is that Pope Francis is thinking instead in terms of his previous experience with the continental bishops’ conferences and their major gatherings in Puebla, Medellin, and Aparecida.In my view, synodality must not be fixated on the national conferences of bishops, but must go beyond them, because the nation-state is really not an ecclesial term. Moreover we must inquire more precisely into what could be settled in a synodal manner at the regional levels. This certainly does not affect questions of faith or questions of ordained ministry in the Church. In this regard we must learn from history, too: the Second Vatican Council, for example, decided only that the permanent diaconate should be reintroduced. This new ministry has been developed differently, however, by various local Churches and bishops’ conferences. Thus, for instance, this ministry has developed in a completely different way in Germany and in Switzerland, so that it is scarcely interchangeable any more beyond national their boundaries. This demonstrates a lack of catholicity, which must not be the result of synodality.The Pope’s statement about synodality is therefore not yet an answer to the problem, but rather formulates a task that still must be studied in-depth, as the Pope himself has said. After that, there must be an inquiry into precisely what “decentralization” means and what can be decided in a decentralized manner. Above all, synodality cannot be in opposition to the hierarchical principle in the Church. My experience in the ecumenical dialogues shows me, rather, that strong synodality needs a strong primacy, too! Schwibach: On October 12, 2015, during the Synod of Bishops, the archbishop of New York, Timothy Cardinal Dolan, recalled in an essay on his blog that now there is a “new minority” in the world, indeed, even in the Church. By this he means those who are striving in their marriages and families to be virtuous and faithful, while trusting in God’s grace and mercy:Couples who—given the fact that, at least in North America, only half of our people even enter the sacrament of matrimony—approach the Church for the sacrament; couples who, inspired by the Church’s teaching that marriage is forever, have persevered through trials; couples who welcome God’s gifts of many babies; a young man and woman who have chosen not to live together until marriage; a gay man or woman who wants to be chaste; a couple who have decided that the wife would sacrifice a promising professional career to stay at home and raise their children—these wonderful people today often feel themselves a minority, certainly in culture, but even, at times in the Church! I believe there are many more of them than we think, but, given today’s pressure, they often feel excluded.This problem of the “new minority” described by Dolan is also perceptible in German-speaking areas: the problem of being somewhat abandoned by their shepherds (bishops, priests), of all people. What would you say to these Catholics?Cardinal Koch: I agree with Cardinal Dolan and share his observation. Catholics who in every way live according to Church teaching and their faith convictions deserve special appreciation and also gratitude for their living witness. If they feel like a minority even in the Church, they must not give up. They do rely, however, on the support of other members of the Church and particularly of their shepherds. Naturally it is part of the pastoral care of the bishops to look after people who are in difficult living situations, some of whom are also living in ways contrary to Church teaching. That is simply their pastoral duty. In doing so, however, they must not neglect those people who are loyal to the faith convictions of the Church, but must encourage them to continue on their way, and they must also give them pastoral assistance to show them how they can walk along that way.Maybe there is a “problem” also in the fact that the faithful who steadfastly uphold Church doctrine and live it out conduct themselves rather quietly, and they give their faith testimony through their lives rather than through words, whereas other groups make themselves heard at the top of their voices in public. This intensifies once more, of course, their minority situation. Therefore they must also be encouraged to voice more clearly to the priests and bishops their concerns and the support that they would like to have.Schwibach: Under the heading of “Persecuted Christians and the ecumenism of the martyrs”: in a thought-provoking lecture on November 17, you dealt with this topic and, in the words of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, described the martyrs as “the archives of truth written in letters of blood.”Is there also an ecumenism of Christian advocacy for persecuted Christians, in a time when—as Pope Francis emphasizes again and again—Christians persecuted on account of their faith are more numerous than in the first centuries?Cardinal Koch: Ecumenical advocacy for persecuted Christians is the logical consequence that follows from the ecumenism of the martyrs. For the observation that 80 percent of all people in the world today being persecuted on account of their faith are Christian should awaken solidarity among all Christians, so that they will stand up for persecuted Christians worldwide.Even today, of course, the awareness of the ecumenism of martyrs seems to me to be too weak, although it has a long history. It goes back to Pope Saint John Paul II, who personally testified that he had experienced two dictatorships, namely of the “brownshirts” and of the “reds,” and saw that dictators make no distinction between Orthodox, Protestants, and Catholics; from this he learned that we Christians belong together. In my view this is the deepest root of the great ecumenical commitment of Pope John Paul II. In a way altogether in continuity with this, Pope Francis speaks today about the “ecumenism of blood.” Nevertheless, I do not get the impression that this important form of ecumenism has been sufficiently appreciated by Christians yet. An awareness of it is of course the unconditional prerequisite for practicing ecumenical advocacy and solidarity with persecuted Christians.I have the impression that the public perception is still dominated by the “scandal story” of Christianity, more precisely by the warlike history that has existed in Christianity too. Certainly this must not be covered up. When we see today that the conflicts between Shiites and Sunnis are one root of much violence in Islam, we Christians are automatically reminded of the fact that there were horrible military conflicts between Protestants and Catholics, too, especially in the bloody wars of religion in the 16th and 17th centuries and in the Thirty Years War, that turned Europe into a bloodbath. Certainly we must not repress this terrible history, in view also of the upcoming commemoration of the Reformation. On the other hand, though, the memory of history must in no way prevent us from taking a strong public stand against the persecution of Christians today and declaring our solidarity with our brothers and sisters who are suffering persecution. This too we should learn from history.I am not convinced that European politics sufficiently notices the reality and extent of the persecution of Christians. This shortcoming most probably is connected with the fact that Europe to a great extent no longer knows or even represses its Christian roots and thereby has ended up in a profound identity crisis. One consequence of this is its insufficient willingness to defend persecuted Christians in today’s world. In this respect, reflection on the Christian roots of Europe is an important prerequisite for strengthening advocacy for persecuted Christians.Schwibach: On December 10 the Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews, part of your dicastery, published a new document. It is entitled “The Gifts and Calling of God are Irrevocable (Rom 11:29): Reflections on theological question about Catholic-Jewish relations on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of Nostra Aetate.”What new or renewed characteristic themes does the document spell out for relations between Christianity and Judaism?Cardinal Koch: The document has two fundamental concerns. First, it means to look back at the past 50 years of dialogue between Catholics and Jews and, so to speak, gratefully bring in the harvest of this effort. Second, the document intends to stimulate future dialogues, and here it is most importantly a matter of examining theological questions in greater depth. The most fundamental theological question is how the faith conviction of the Jews, which is shared by us Christians, that the covenant that God made with Israel has never been revoked but is still valid today can be reconciled with the fundamental conviction of Christians, that with Jesus Christ something new was brought into the world—in such a way that Jews and Christians will not feel offended in their faith convictions. I do not think that we have already found a truly productive answer to this difficult and sensitive question.It seems to me therefore that the time is ripe for us to examine in greater depth many theological questions that arise in the Jewish-Catholic dialogue. The urgent necessity of doing this became clear to me especially in light of the reactions to the new formulation of the Good Friday petition for the Jews proposed by Pope Benedict XVI in the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite. At that time Benedict translated Paul’s faith statement in his Letter to the Romans into the language of prayer and formulated it as a request for God’s eschatological action at the end of time. This very profound Good Friday intercession, however, was misunderstood publicly to a large extent as a call to engage in a historical mission to the Jews. Instead of looking carefully at what the Pope really said, the Good Friday petition met mainly with rejection on the basis of misunderstandings and incorrect interpretations. This example made it especially clear to me that such sensitive and difficult questions must be discussed first in the Jewish-Catholic dialogue, in “camera caritatis,” so to speak, [i.e., privately and in charity,] so that they can debated frankly and objectively in a wider public forum.I am glad that today there are more and more rabbis, too, who are of the opinion that an in-depth discussion of theological questions important, as a very positive and encouraging position paper by over 20 Orthodox rabbis concerning the Jewish-Christian dialogue recently showed. The new Vatican document therefore does not stand at the end of a journey but rather is the beginning of a new stretch of road. As such, though, it is not a document of the Church’s Magisterium, but rather a study document of the Vatican Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews, for the purpose of deepening the dialogue between Catholics and Jews about their faith convictions.
Jan 16 16 6:29 AM
Christian leaders attempt to fix global date for EasterArchbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby says unified date could come in five to 10 years – allowing followers worldwide to celebrate at same timeThe archbishop of Canterbury has announced he is engaged in an ambitious plan to solve one of the oldest disagreements in Christianity – one dating back more than 1,600 years.Justin Welby said he had been in discussions with Catholic representatives and the world’s other major Christian denominations to agree on a fixed day for Easter, at the end of a four-day meeting of Anglican primates whose meeting had been dominated by discord over gay rights.The archbishop said he had warned ministers that the change could have an effect on school terms and calendars, saying he hoped the unified date on the second or third Sunday in April could be introduced in the next five to 10 years. He added: “I would love to see it before I retire.”The rules for determining the date of Easter were set in AD325 at the council of Nicaea, which was convened by the Roman emperor Constantine to codify the Christian faith. It declared that Easter should come on the first Sunday after the 14th day of the Paschal – or ecclesiastical – full moon, meaning that it falls between 22 March 22 and 25 April where the Gregorian calendar is used.However, the dates set by various different parts of the Christian church have drifted apart in the 1,690 years since then, as different calendars are used. Orthodox churches usually celebrate Easter a week after.Attempts to reach an agreement over the date of Easter goes back to at least the 10th century, “so it may take a little while”, Welby told journalists.Pope Francis last year signalled an openness to changing the date of Easter in the west so that Christians could celebrate it on the same day around the world. The discussions now involve representatives of Francis, the Coptic pope and the ecumenical patriarch of the Orthodox church.In the UK, a legal foundation for changing the date of Easter has existed since the Easter Act 1928, which proposed setting it for the Sunday following the second Saturday in April. However, the act has never been implemented, and successive governments have left it to churches to agree any such change.Welby took journalists by surprise at a press conference when he said that Easter had come up in primates’ discussions following a meeting he had with the Coptic Pope Tawadros II in Cairo, and discussions Tawadros had with Francis and the Ecumenical Patriarch.“Pope Tawadros has put forward the idea to churches in the eastern tradition and the western tradition that it be fixed somewhere around the second or third sunday of April and we will certainly be joining in. We have agreed that we support that,” Welby said.
Jan 18 16 7:04 AM
It is almost five years since I resigned my post in the Church of England and sought to be received into full communion with the Catholic Church. My decision was a difficult one which involved leaving behind much that I loved and was familiar with. Often people assumed that I was running away from issues developing within the Church of England but this was not the case. My journey commenced because of a growing understanding that the Church of England and Anglican Communion were not what I thought they were.The 1930 Lambeth Conference asserted that the Anglican Communion was a “fellowship, within the one holy catholic and apostolic church, of those duly constituted dioceses, provinces or regional churches in communion with the see of Canterbury.” Developments within Anglicanism led me to the personal realisation that it was communion with the see of Rome and not the see of Canterbury that guaranteed catholicity.Last week’s Anglican primates meeting and the unfounded speculations about a breakdown of relationships between the different worldwide Anglican churches has confirmed my decision and understanding of Catholicity. It also highlights broader issues which will be faced by the Anglican Communion in its relationship with the Catholic Church. Questions are posed about how we continue to work in ecumenical conversation.While a resolution has been reached the whole affair highlights fault lines in Anglicanism that will not simply disappear.What will the future of ecumenical discussions be?ARCIC remains the principle organisation which seeks to make ecumenical progress between the Anglican Communion and Catholic Church. Relations have already become strained because of the ordination of woman within the Anglican Communion and the opening session of the third phase of ARCIC in 2011 recognised tension caused over the erection of Personal Ordinariates for former Anglicans.While the global south has been represented in ARCIC there has remained a dominance of theologians from the northern hemisphere. The outcome of last week’s primates meeting demonstrates clearly that the balance of power has shifted in Anglicanism. The African Anglican primate’s voice was obviously strong and will only grow stronger as the western forms of Anglicanism continue to steadily decline.One of the suggested outcomes initially last week was that future bonds within the Anglican Communion should be reliant on a common relationship with the Archbishop of Canterbury rather that communion between diocese and provinces. While this did not happen, it may only be a matter of time before issues resurface again and the primates will be back at this point again. If Anglicanism were to no longer function as a communion, different parts would only relate to each other because of historic affection for Canterbury rather than the mutual recognition. Anglicanism would no longer be bound together by confessional unity. This would certainly undermine Anglicanism’s claims of catholicity.At present the Anglican partner in ARCIC is The Anglican Consultative Council. But in the future, if the Anglican Communion were to be at best a looser federation, who would provide the authentic Anglican voice in ecumenical discussions? It could all become very complicated.The focus of the third and present phase of ARCIC is to consider questions relating to, “The Church as Communion, local and universal, and how in Communion the local and Universal Church come to discern right ethical teaching” (ARCIC III 2015). The first meeting of ARCIC III discussed at length a draft document which examined the structures of both the Anglican Communion and Catholic Church and how such structures facilitate communion within and among the local and universal dimensions of the church. It will be virtually impossible to have such a discussion in the future as relationships within Anglicanism will become so complicated and nuanced. X will be in communion with Y but not with Z, and so on. The difficulty will be that one partner in ARCIC has a largely coherent understanding of communion and the ecclesiology and the other has a wide and diverse understanding which will become further confused by fragmentation.Potentially as Catholics we would have to enter into conversations with several different expressions of Anglicanism, if ecumenical talks were to still be meaningful. Certainly ARCIC’s focus, composition and efforts may need to radically shift.Also how can we make progress in terms of unity with an ecclesial community that doesn’t seem at unity in itself?What of the Church of England’s national voice?Despite falling attendances and general decline, he Church of England still has an important national voice, especially on international issues such as persecuted Christians, climate change and the developing world. Being the focus of a global communion of 85 million people (a figure which changes depending on your source) certainly helps in giving credence to statements from the Archbishop of Canterbury and others. If this global dimension is diminished what effect will that have on our national church’s ability to speak with credibility? Realistically Anglicanism ceases to be such a global entity. The death knell of international Anglicanism could leave a vacuum.It is an obvious statement that the Catholic Church in England and Wales exists within a global context, with full communion with brothers and sisters throughout the world. However, would our bishops be in a position (or have the desire) to fill the vacuum that Anglicanism leaves? One of the consequences of leaving a vacuum unfilled is the further creeping in of secularism into our national life.A warning to those who seek decentralisation within the Catholic ChurchThose who seek decentralisation within the Catholic Church can gain a glimpse in last week’s primates meeting of what the future may hold if they were to be granted their wishes. A compromise was reached by the primates last week but this decision was not without its sacrifices. Anglicans in America who have been placed under sanctions will surely not keep quiet for long. The danger is that last week’s resolution will be merely a surface dressing and therefore the inevitable is only prolonged. Good will can only stretch so far.The Anglican Church in North America was founded in 2009 by former members of The Episcopal Church who were dissatisfied and disaffected. This group already claims 29 dioceses and looks to the African Bishops for oversight. This sort of arrangement is only likely to grow as Africa becomes stronger and northern Anglicanism shrinks. In all this the weaknesses of decentralised authority is clearly demonstrated. Do will really want to follow in this way? If we are honest are there similar fault lines closer to home?
Jan 19 16 6:07 AM
Vatican Radio - Christian Churches around the world and especially in the northern hemisphere on Monday celebrate the start of the annual Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. During the eight day period, churches and communities hold joint worship services, bible studies and other encounters aimed at promoting greater understanding and closer cooperation among members of the different denominations.The theme for this year’s celebration, jointly published by the Pontifical Council for Christian Unity and the World Council of Churches’ Commission on Faith and Order, is drawn from the first letter of Peter: ‘Called to proclaim the mighty acts of the Lord’. The resources, available on both the Vatican and WCC websites, have been prepared by Christians in Latvia, once a religious and political battleground, but today a crossroads where Catholics, Lutherans, Baptists and Orthodox work and pray together.Here in Rome, Pope Francis will lead Vespers with members of other Christian Churches next Monday in the Basilica of St Paul Outside the Walls, an important ecumenical celebration during this Jubilee Year of Mercy. To find out more about what’s on ecumenical agenda for the coming year, The Cardinal said that though the main ecumenical event for the Year of Mercy here in Rome will be Monday’s celebration of Vespers marking the end of the week of prayer for Christian unity, in some countries there will be common celebrations of mercy.Regarding the forthcoming celebration between Catholics and Lutherans of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, spoke about recent publications from the Pontifical Council for Christian Unity and the World Lutheran Federation, including the document ‘From Conflict to Communion’ and the recent liturgical guidelines on how to commemorate this special anniversary together.He noted that his Council and the WLF are planning a “liturgical encounter” , to take place in October in Lund, Sweden where the WLF was founded in 1947. He welcomed the fact that the WLF made it clear from the start that, together with the Catholic Church, they were inviting other Churches and communities to attend the event, adding that hopefully, the occasion will mark a “beautiful step” towards full union between Catholics and Lutherans.Asked about how he would encourage Catholics who regard the Reformation as a historic period of conflict and division to celebrate this event, Cardinal Koch pointed to three main aspects of the commemoration: firstly, repentance for the divisions in the Church and for the many wars that ravaged Europe. Secondly, thanksgiving for the fifty years of dialogue between Catholics and Lutherans, remembering that in this time we have discovered many things that we share in common. Thirdly, the cardinal said the focus is on hope, that we can come closer to full unity.Regarding the Pope’s recent visit to the Lutheran church in Rome and the question of Eucharistic sharing which was raised by one of the parishioners there, the cardinal said Pope Francis cannot give permission for this development since he does not have the authority, but he did stress that an individual’s personal relationship with Christ is fundamental for the question. The cardinal said that following the Joint Declaration on justification, he proposed that a further common declaration should be made concerning “Church, Eucharist and ministry” and he is grateful that two countries (Finland and the USA) have already been working together on this.Regarding the upcoming pan-Synod that is set to take place later in the spring, Cardinal Koch said he hoped the meeting will be a good opportunity for the Orthodox Church to show the world that how to put synodality into practise. It will also “hopefully be a beautiful opportunity for dialogue”, he added.Finally the cardinal spoke of the upcoming meeting with representatives of the Oriental Orthodox Churches in Cairo, during the first week of February. This third phase of the dialogue will be focused on the Sacraments, especially Initiation, but, he noted, the question of Baptism is not an easy one since some Oriental Orthodox Churches, including the Copts and Ethiopians, have a very different understanding of Baptism and commonly re-baptise those being received into their Churches. A common understanding of Baptism is the basis of ecumenical relations, the cardinal said, adding that he hoped the forthcoming meeting with produce a greater consensus on this important issue.
Jan 20 16 5:07 AM
CNA - Interrupting his series of Wednesday catecheses on mercy, Pope Francis devoted his January 20 general audience to the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.The theme of the 2016 Week of Prayer for Christian Unity is “Called to proclaim the mighty acts of the Lord” (cf. 1 Peter 2:9); the materials this year were developed in Latvia.“In his Letter, Saint Peter encourages the first Christians to acknowledge the great gift received in Baptism and to live in a way worthy of it,” Pope Francis told the crowd in Paul VI Audience Hall, according to the official English-language synthesis of his remarks.“This Week of Prayer invites us to reflect on, and bear witness to, our unity in Christ as God’s People,” the Pope continued. “All the baptized, reborn to new life in Christ, are brothers and sisters, despite our divisions.”The Pope added:Through Baptism we have been charged, as Saint Peter tells us, “to proclaim the mighty works of the one who has called us out of darkness into his marvelous light.” During this Week of Prayer, let us ask the Lord to help all Christians to grow in that unity which is greater than what divides us. Together, may we respond to his call to share with others, especially with the poor and forgotten of our world, the gift of divine mercy which we ourselves have received.
Jan 22 16 8:45 AM
A group of Lutherans have received Holy Communion at the Vatican after meeting Pope Francis, according to reports coming out of Rome.The Lutherans from Finland, led by Bishop Samuel Salmi of Oulu, indicated by the traditional method of crossing their arms over their chests that they should not be offered the sacrament at Mass in the Basilica. But the priests went ahead and gave it to them regardless, Edward Pentin in Rome reported for NCRegister.A youth choir from Finland also sang at the Mass.The report first emerged via the Finnish Finnish news agency Kotimaa, in Estonian."Catholics shared the Eucharist. I also got to be part of it," said Bishop Salmi, who made it clear the Catholic priests had known who the Lutherans were so they had not been invited to partake by mistake. He also spoke of the Pope's opponents who oppose any move towards relaxing the rules on who can receive Communion.Bishop Salmi has previously challenged Catholic tradition. In 2011 he argued for gay people to have "full rights" in the Lutheran Church.The Mass took place during the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, being celebrated this week by churches around the world. In his address at his weekly audience, Pope Francis referred to these celebrations and said: "This Week of Prayer invites us to reflect on, and bear witness to, our unity in Christ as God's People. All the baptised, reborn to new life in Christ, are brothers and sisters, despite our divisions. Through Baptism we have been charged, as Saint Peter tells us, 'to proclaim the mighty works of the one who has called us out of darkness into his marvellous light.' During this Week of Prayer, let us ask the Lord to help all Christians to grow in that unity which is greater than what divides us. Together, may we respond to his call to share with others, especially with the poor and forgotten of our world, the gift of divine mercy which we ourselves have received."The Pope said last year a Lutheran woman married to a Catholic should "talk to the Lord" before receiving Holy Communion. Cardinal Gerhard Müller, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, later countered suggestions that this meant the Pope approved of intercommunion with Lutherans. Under Canon 844 of the Catholic Church's Code of Canon Law, the Eucharist is to be given to Catholics in a state of grace. Non-Catholics who request Communion and are from Churches approved by the Catholic Church as holding the same faith on the Eucharist, such as the Orthodox, are allowed to receive. Lutherans, along with members of the Church of England and wider Anglican Communion, are not in this group because they do not as a Church believe in the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist.In 2003, the then-Prime Minister Tony Blair, at the time a member of the Church of England, received Communion from Pope John Paul II in Rome. Also in 2003, Pope John Paul II said in his encyclical Ecclesia De Eucharistia: "While it is never legitimate to concelebrate in the absence of full Communion, the same is not true with respect to the administration of the Eucharist under special circumstances, to individual persons belonging to Churches or Ecclesial Communities not in full communion with the Catholic Church. In this case, in fact, the intention is to meet a grave spiritual need for the eternal salvation of an individual believer, not to bring about an intercommunion which remains impossible until the visible bonds of ecclesial communion are fully re-established."After leaving Downing Street, Blair converted to Catholicism, uniting the family in one Church. His wife Cherie is a cradle Catholic and their children have been raised Catholic.
Jan 25 16 5:29 AM
Pope Francis to travel to Sweden for joint Reformation commemorationPope Francis will travel to Sweden in October for a joint ecumenical commemoration of the start of the Reformation, together with leaders of the Lutheran World Federation and representatives of other Christian Churches.The event will take place on October 31st in the southern Swedish city of Lund where the Lutheran World Federation was founded in 1947. While kicking off a year of events to mark the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, it will also highlight the important ecumenical developments that have taken place during the past 50 years of dialogue between Catholics and Lutherans.The one-day event will include a common worship service in Lund cathedral based on a Catholic-Lutheran “Common Prayer” liturgical guide, published earlier this month by the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity (PCPCU) and the Lutheran World Federation (LWF).The commemoration in Lund follows on directly from the publication in 2013 of a joint document entitled ‘From Conflict to Communion’, which focuses on the themes of thanksgiving, repentance and commitment to common witness. While asking for forgiveness for the divisions of past centuries, it also seeks to showcase the gifts of the Reformation and celebrate the way Catholics and Lutherans around the world work together on issues of common concern.Please see below the joint press release from the LWF and the PCPCU on the joint ecumenical commemoration of the Reformation in LundPope Francis, LWF President Bishop Younan and General Secretary Junge to lead October eventGENEVA/VATICAN CITY, 25 January 2016 - The Lutheran World Federation (LWF) and the Catholic Church will hold a joint ecumenical commemoration of the Reformation on 31 October 2016 in Lund, Sweden.Pope Francis, LWF President Bishop Dr Munib A. Younan and General Secretary Rev. Dr Martin Junge will lead the Ecumenical Commemoration in cooperation with the Church of Sweden and the Catholic Diocese of Stockholm.The joint ecumenical event will take place in the city of Lund in anticipation of the 500th Reformation anniversary in 2017. It will highlight the solid ecumenical developments between Catholics and Lutherans and the joint gifts received through dialogue. The event will include a common worship based on the recently published Catholic-Lutheran “Common Prayer” liturgical guide.“The LWF is approaching the Reformation anniversary in a spirit of ecumenical accountability,” says LWF General Secretary Rev. Dr Martin Junge. “I’m carried by the profound conviction that by working towards reconciliation between Lutherans and Catholics, we are working towards justice, peace and reconciliation in a world torn apart by conflict and violence.”Cardinal Koch, President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity (PCPCU) explains further: “By concentrating together on the centrality of the question of God and on a Christocentric approach, Lutherans and Catholics will have the possibility of an ecumenical commemoration of the Reformation, not simply in a pragmatic way, but in the deep sense of faith in the crucified and resurrected Christ.“It is with joy and expectation that the Church of Sweden welcomes The Lutheran World Federation and the Catholic Church to hold the joint commemoration of the Reformation in Lund,” says Church of Sweden Archbishop Antje Jackelén. “We shall pray together with the entire ecumenical family in Sweden that the commemoration will contribute to Christian unity in our country and throughout the world.”“The ecumenical situation in our part of the world is unique and interesting. I hope that this meeting will help us look to the future so that we can be witnesses of Jesus Christ and His gospel in our secularized world,” says Anders Arborelius OCD, Bishop of the Catholic Church in Sweden.The Lund event is part of the reception process of the study document From Conflict to Communion, which was published in 2013, and has since been widely distributed to Lutheran and Catholic communities. The document is the first attempt by both dialogue partners to describe together at international level the history of the Reformation and its intentions.Earlier this year, the LWF and PCPCU sent to LWF member churches and Catholic Bishops’ Conferences a jointly prepared “Common Prayer”, which is a liturgical guide to help churches commemorate the Reformation anniversary together. It is based on the study document From Conflict to Communion: Lutheran-Catholic Common Commemoration of the Reformation in 2017, and features the themes of thanksgiving, repentance and commitment to common witness with the aim of expressing the gifts of the Reformation and asking forgiveness for the division which followed theological disputes.The year 2017 will also mark 50 years of the international Lutheran-Catholic dialogue, which has yielded notable ecumenical results, of which most significant is the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification (JDDJ). The JDDJ was signed by the LWF and the Catholic Church in 1999, and affirmed by the World Methodist Council in 2006. The declaration nullified centuries’ old disputes between Catholics and Lutherans over the basic truths of the doctrine of justification, which was at the center of the 16th century Reformation.
Pope Francis, LWF President Bishop Younan and General Secretary Junge to lead October eventGENEVA/VATICAN CITY, 25 January 2016 - The Lutheran World Federation (LWF) and the Catholic Church will hold a joint ecumenical commemoration of the Reformation on 31 October 2016 in Lund, Sweden.Pope Francis, LWF President Bishop Dr Munib A. Younan and General Secretary Rev. Dr Martin Junge will lead the Ecumenical Commemoration in cooperation with the Church of Sweden and the Catholic Diocese of Stockholm.The joint ecumenical event will take place in the city of Lund in anticipation of the 500th Reformation anniversary in 2017. It will highlight the solid ecumenical developments between Catholics and Lutherans and the joint gifts received through dialogue. The event will include a common worship based on the recently published Catholic-Lutheran “Common Prayer” liturgical guide.“The LWF is approaching the Reformation anniversary in a spirit of ecumenical accountability,” says LWF General Secretary Rev. Dr Martin Junge. “I’m carried by the profound conviction that by working towards reconciliation between Lutherans and Catholics, we are working towards justice, peace and reconciliation in a world torn apart by conflict and violence.”Cardinal Koch, President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity (PCPCU) explains further: “By concentrating together on the centrality of the question of God and on a Christocentric approach, Lutherans and Catholics will have the possibility of an ecumenical commemoration of the Reformation, not simply in a pragmatic way, but in the deep sense of faith in the crucified and resurrected Christ.“It is with joy and expectation that the Church of Sweden welcomes The Lutheran World Federation and the Catholic Church to hold the joint commemoration of the Reformation in Lund,” says Church of Sweden Archbishop Antje Jackelén. “We shall pray together with the entire ecumenical family in Sweden that the commemoration will contribute to Christian unity in our country and throughout the world.”“The ecumenical situation in our part of the world is unique and interesting. I hope that this meeting will help us look to the future so that we can be witnesses of Jesus Christ and His gospel in our secularized world,” says Anders Arborelius OCD, Bishop of the Catholic Church in Sweden.The Lund event is part of the reception process of the study document From Conflict to Communion, which was published in 2013, and has since been widely distributed to Lutheran and Catholic communities. The document is the first attempt by both dialogue partners to describe together at international level the history of the Reformation and its intentions.Earlier this year, the LWF and PCPCU sent to LWF member churches and Catholic Bishops’ Conferences a jointly prepared “Common Prayer”, which is a liturgical guide to help churches commemorate the Reformation anniversary together. It is based on the study document From Conflict to Communion: Lutheran-Catholic Common Commemoration of the Reformation in 2017, and features the themes of thanksgiving, repentance and commitment to common witness with the aim of expressing the gifts of the Reformation and asking forgiveness for the division which followed theological disputes.The year 2017 will also mark 50 years of the international Lutheran-Catholic dialogue, which has yielded notable ecumenical results, of which most significant is the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification (JDDJ). The JDDJ was signed by the LWF and the Catholic Church in 1999, and affirmed by the World Methodist Council in 2006. The declaration nullified centuries’ old disputes between Catholics and Lutherans over the basic truths of the doctrine of justification, which was at the center of the 16th century Reformation.
Jan 25 16 3:51 PM
In the abstract, the election of a pope from Latin America almost three years ago probably didn’t strike people passionately committed to ecumenism — the push for Christian unity — as necessarily being good news.After all, Latin America for centuries was an almost homogeneously Catholic continent, without much of a presence of other Christian traditions. Today, the primary Christian “other” is the mushrooming Evangelical and Pentecostal footprint, and its relationship with Catholicism is often antagonistic.As it happens, however, the Latin American who was elected in March 2013 was among those prelates from the region most committed to Christian unity, both personally and theologically, and he’s gone on to lead a distinctly ecumenical papacy.On Monday, Pope Francis will head to Rome’s Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls to celebrate an ecumenical vespers service for the feast of the Conversion of St. Paul, which will also mark the closing of the annual Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, which runs each year from Jan. 18 to 25.All recent popes have been committed to pursuing greater unity among Christians, but Francis brings some unique personal background to the quest.When he was still archbishop of Buenos Aires, then-Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio developed a close friendship with several Protestant leaders through a movement called “Renewed Communion of Evangelicals and Catholics in the Spirit.”Participating in that fellowship is how he met Italian Evangelical Pentecostal pastor Giovanni Traettino, to whom Francis paid a visit in July 2014. During his one-day visit to Traettino in the southern Italian city of Caserta, Francis delivered an historic apology for Catholic persecution of Pentecostals.“I ask for your forgiveness for those who, calling themselves Catholic, didn’t understand we’re brothers,” he said at the time, receiving a standing ovation.In 2006, Bergoglio and Traettino participated in a prayer service that drew 7,000 people to Luna Park in downtown Buenos Aires, a venue normally used for boxing matches.On that occasion, the future pope allowed himself to be prayed over by a delegation of Protestant clergy, drawing fire from more conservative quarters in both the Protestant and Catholic worlds.In multiple ways, Francis has made ecumenical outreach part of his agenda.In 2014, during a three-hour long meeting with Texas’ televangelists Kenneth Copeland and James Robison, Francis delivered the first-ever papal high-five.Robinson said that he had been so moved by Francis’ message of the gospel that he asked the translator to ask the pope for a high-five. The pope obliged, raised his arm, and the two men smacked hands.The encounter came just weeks after the pontiff met with televangelist Joel Osteen and another old friend, Bishop Tony Palmer of the Communion of Evangelical Episcopal Churches.Dialogue with Pentecostals is usually tough, since, despite representing as much as one-third of all Christians, they’re highly fragmented. Although he’s never said so out loud, observers believe this fragmentation is why Francis tends to foster dialogue with Pentecostals through individuals and small groups.One of those individuals was Palmer, who died in a motorcycle accident soon after his meeting with Francis in the Vatican. The friendship between the two dated back to Argentina.During one of his visits to Rome, Palmer shot a video of Francis, which was showcased at conference organized by Copland. After showing the video, he told the assembly that he believed God intended to use their connection to accomplish something big, saying he and Francis had made a covenant to work together for the “visible unity of Christians.”Although Palmer, who once worked for Copeland’s Pentecostal ministry and who raised his kids as charismatic Catholics to reflect his wife’s Italian heritage, has proven hard to replace, Francis has continued to forge personal relationships with other Christian leaders.This is the case, for instance, with Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople, considered the first among equals in Orthodox Christianity, with whom Francis has a close rapport.In 2013, Bartholomew was the first spiritual head of Orthodoxy to attend a papal inauguration since the Great Schism between East and West in 1054. Since then, the two traveled together to the Holy Land in 2014, and soon after Francis went to Turkey to visit the patriarchate.The friendship is also rooted in more “down-to-earth” matters such as the care for creation (the environment), and by forming a united front against the persecution of Christianity in the Middle East, where the number of Catholics and Orthodox have dwindled in recent decades.In fact, anti-Christian persecution has generated an unintended ecumenical bond.In a message addressed to Orthodox Coptic Pope Tawadros II in Egypt, dated May 2015, Francis made an appeal for reconciliation arguing that today more than ever, an “ecumenism of blood unites us.”The pope has used this expression several times. In a 2013 interview with Vatican-watcher Andrea Tornielli, Francis said, “In some countries they kill Christians for wearing a cross or having a Bible, and before they kill them they do not ask them whether they are Anglican, Lutheran, Catholic, or Orthodox.”“To those who kill we are Christians,” the pope continued. “We are united in blood, even though we have not yet managed to take necessary steps toward unity between us, and perhaps the time has not yet come.”However, when it comes to Francis and ecumenism, it’s not all about personal relations or tragedy.The year 2017 will mark the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. On Monday, the Vatican announced that Pope Francis is planning to go to Lund, Sweden, to participate in a Joint Ecumenical Commemoration of the Reformation on Oct. 31.According to a statement released by the Vatican and the Lutheran World Federation, the Lund event is part of the reception process of the study document “From Conflict to Communion,” published in 2013.The general secretary of the Lutheran World Federation, Rev. Martin Junge, said he’s “carried by the profound conviction that by working toward reconciliation between Lutherans and Catholics, we are working toward justice, peace, and reconciliation in a world torn apart by conflict and violence.”
Jan 27 16 5:39 AM
Archbishop David Moxon, director of the Anglican Centre in Rome, was invited to share the blessing with Pope Francis and Archbishop Gennadios of the Ecumenical Patriarchate during a service to mark the conclusion of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. Here, Archbishop David reflects on the unprecedented moment.Last night Archbishop Gennadios and I were invited by Pope Francis to share in the giving of the Pontifical Blessing.This took place in front of the 3000-strong congregation at the Papal Basilica of St Paul’s outside the Walls, the venue for the final day of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity in Rome. We were called to the side of the Papal Throne and he said “let’s share this together”. He received his papal pastoral staff, began the prayer and raised his hand. Archbishop Gennadios (the representative of the Ecumenical Patriarch) and I raised our hands also. It was incredibly moving to be part of what (I think) was an unprecedented invitation, which said far more even than the words which were actually recited.This invitation suggested that the blessing of God and the grace of God flow through our diversity in this moment of unity. It would be wrong to read too much into what happened, but in the minutes that followed the conclusion of the service, it was the talk of the evening. To me it seems a very poignant, unforgettable, and evocative sign of our essential unity in baptism and of our desire to share the blessings of God whenever there is opportunity; to bless and be blessed because we belong to the Church of the Triune God, which is One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic.The power of this action was preceded by a straight-from-the-heart homily, in which Pope Francis said:“As Bishop of Rome and pastor of the Catholic Church, I want to ask for mercy and forgiveness for the behaviour of Catholics towards Christians of other Churches which has not reflected Gospel values. At the same time, I invite all Catholic brothers and sisters to forgive if they, today or in the past, have been offended by other Christians. We cannot cancel out what has happened, but we do not want to let the weight of past faults continue to contaminate our relationships. God’s mercy will renew our relationships.”This immediately challenges Christians who aren't Roman Catholic to respond in the same way, asking for forgiveness for the wrongs we have done and the wounds we have inflicted on the body of Christ. This mutual confession automatically brings forth a sense of forgiveness, grace, and hope and we can be closer than we were before because of this. Such a movement of grace is indeed a blessing we can all share.
“As Bishop of Rome and pastor of the Catholic Church, I want to ask for mercy and forgiveness for the behaviour of Catholics towards Christians of other Churches which has not reflected Gospel values. At the same time, I invite all Catholic brothers and sisters to forgive if they, today or in the past, have been offended by other Christians. We cannot cancel out what has happened, but we do not want to let the weight of past faults continue to contaminate our relationships. God’s mercy will renew our relationships.”
Jan 27 16 1:39 PM
Pope Francis has decided to go Sweden next autumn to pray with Protestant faith leaders at an ecumenical liturgy that will begin a year of events commemorating the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. The one-day gathering will take place on October 31 in the southern city of Lund where the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) was founded in 1947. The liturgy will be based on a Catholic-Lutheran “Common Prayer” that the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity and LWF drafted together.The Vatican made the announcement this past Monday, the final day of the Octave or Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.Just hours later Francis led an ecumenical prayer service at the Papal Basilica of St. Paul’s Outside the Walls, during which he offered a moving apology during his homily.“As Bishop of Rome and pastor of the Catholic Church, I want to ask for mercy and forgiveness for the behavior of Catholics towards Christians of other Churches which has not reflected Gospel values,” he said“At the same time, I invite all Catholic brothers and sisters to forgive if they, today or in the past, have been offended by other Christians," he added.Francis said it was impossible to “cancel out” faults of the past but he said these should not “continue to contaminate” relations between the various Christian communities. “God’s mercy will renew our relationships,” he insisted.During the liturgy at St. Paul’s the pope did two other significant things that were specifically aimed at giving a boost to the ecumenical movement.First, he had the personal representatives of the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople and the Archbishop of Canterbury accompany him—shoulder-to-shoulder and as equals—through the basilica’s holy door, the only portal of the four papal basilicas he had not yet traversed.Second, and more significantly, he asked these two non-Catholic delegates—Orthodox Metropolitan Gennadios and Anglican Archbishop Sir David Moxon—to join him at the end of the liturgy in giving a joint blessing.Both men were caught off guard when Francis motioned for them to come up to the imposing marble throne, used exclusively by the Roman pontiffs and their legates.Papal servers actually had to fetch the Orthodox bishop after the man next to him—a momentarily confused Cardinal Kurt Koch, the Vatican’s ecumenical chief—started towards the pope!The two non-Catholic bishops eventually ascended the steps and took their places on either side of the ornate papal throne. But once more Francis surprised them by insisting that they “come up higher” and stand next to him—again shoulder-to-shoulder—on the very base of the throne. They then offered the final blessing together.No doubt, these are only gestures. But they are important ones. They further highlight the Jesuit pope’s desire to redefine what is essential to the exercise of papal primacy. This, in a sense, is jumpstarting a dormant invitation that John Paul II issued to all Christian bishops and theologians in his 1995 encyclical, Ut Unum Sint.Unfortunately, some Catholics (especially traditionalists) are not happy about any of these ecumenical developments. They, too, need God’s mercy and (if they offend us) our forgiveness.This is yet another challenge the pope has issued for the Holy Year.
Feb 5 16 5:02 AM
The Pope is to hold a historic meeting with the Russian Orthodox leader Patriarch Kirill, the Vatican announced today.After almost three decades of tense Catholic-Russian Orthodox relations, Pope Francis will meet Patriarch Kirill of Moscow February 12 in Cuba on the Pope’s way to Mexico.It will be the first-ever meeting of a pope and Moscow patriarch, Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, Vatican spokesman, told reporters today.As Pope Francis travels to Cuba and as Patriarch Kirill makes an official visit to the island nation, the two will meet at Havana’s Jose Marti International Airport and plan to sign a joint declaration, Father Lombardi said.The meeting “will mark an important stage in relations between the two churches,” said a joint declaration on the meeting.Holding a simple meeting with a Moscow patriarch, spiritual leader of the world’s largest Orthodox church, was a failed dream of St John Paul II and an opportunity that escaped retired Pope Benedict XVI as well.Repeatedly after the Soviet bloc began dissolving in 1989 and the once-repressed Eastern Catholic churches began functionally publicly again, Russian Orthodox leaders insisted there could be no meeting between a pope and a patriarch as long as Catholics were “proselytizing” in what the Orthodox considered their territory.The Vatican insisted the Catholic Church rejects proselytism, which it defines as actively seeking converts from another Christian community, including through pressure or offering enticements.The Russian Orthodox had insisted such types of proselytism occurred in both Russia and Ukraine, although the Vatican said that when asked, the Orthodox provided no proof.St John Paul re-established the Latin-rite Catholic hierarchy of Russia in 2002, which led to the Russian Orthodox withdrawing from dialogue with the Vatican for several years.Even as tensions over the Catholic presence in Russia waned, the Russian Orthodox insisted a bigger example of proselytism was the loss of its churches in the newly independent Ukraine.The Vatican recognised there were some instances of excessive zeal early on, but rejected the use of the term “proselytism” as a blanket description for the re-establishment of the Ukrainian Catholic Church.The Ukrainian Catholic Church was outlawed by the Soviet government in the 1940s and its property was confiscated by the government, which in turn gave some churches to the Russian Orthodox.Byzantine-rite Catholics who once could worship only in a Russian Orthodox church, returned to Catholic services and sought the return of church property.Jesuit Father David Nazar, rector of Rome’s Pontifical Oriental Institute and a Ukrainian Catholic from Canada, told Catholic News Service: “If this were to take place, it would be big news in the Year of Mercy. To make a step in this direction is beautiful, but also irreversible.”Especially for Catholics in Russia and Ukraine, he said, relations with the Russian Orthodox are complicated, including because of the close relationship between the Russian Orthodox Church and the Russian government, which annexed the Crimea and is supporting fighting in Eastern Ukraine.Father Nazar described his reaction to the news as “cautiously optimistic” and said he hoped it would mark “a new beginning” in Catholic-Russian Orthodox relations.
Feb 5 16 9:32 AM
Journalism tends to wildly overuse the term “historic,” but when it comes to Friday’s announcement that Pope Francis will meet Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia on Feb. 12 in Havana, there’s simply no other word for it.It will be the first meeting ever between the head of the Roman Catholic Church and the spiritual chief of Russian Orthodoxy. It’s a moment for which ecumenical leaders on both sides have been laboring for decades, and to be honest, many thought they’d never live to see it.St. John Paul II, the first Slavic pope who dreamed of reuniting Eastern and Western Christianity, longed to visit Russia, or, in the absence of such a trip, to meet the leader of the Russian Orthodox Church at a location of his choosing.For the better part of a quarter-century, rumors of such a meeting would periodically erupt — the pope and patriarch would meet in Vienna, for instance, or in Crete, or in some other neutral site.It never came to be, in large part because of resistance on the Russian side. Many Russian Orthodox fear that the Catholic model of ecumenism means submission to papal authority, and despite repeated assurances from John Paul, Benedict XVI, and now Francis that what they’re after instead is “reconciled diversity,” the suspicion never seemed to abate.Further, many Russian Orthodox clergy and laity have a series of standing complaints about the Catholic Church, and have long insisted those disputes must be resolved before a meeting between the heads of the two churches would be anything other than a cheap photo-op.Those complaints include:The so-called “Uniate Churches,” meaning the Eastern churches in communion with Rome, which some Orthodox see as a Trojan horse originally created to siphon people away from Orthodoxy.The Greek Catholic Church in Ukraine in particular, which some Russian Orthodox see not only as an illegitimate Catholic toehold on Moscow’s “canonical territory,” but also resent for its generally pro-Western and anti-Russian political line.Alleged Catholic proselytism in Russia and areas within Russia’s sphere of influence, despite the fact that a study in 2002 found there were just 800 conversions in the entire decade of the 1990s. Meanwhile, Evangelical and Pentecostal Christianity exploded in Russia, so much so that a 2012 book referred to it as a “post-Soviet gold rush.”How acute have these tensions been felt over the years?In 2004, John Paul II dispatched a high-profile delegation to return a cherished Russian Orthodox icon called the Madonna of Kazan to the Patriarch of Moscow. The group arrived at the Kremlin, sat through a lengthy Orthodox liturgy, and then formally placed the icon into the patriarch’s hands as a gesture of papal outreach and respect.As they were doing so, the sound system inside the Cathedral of the Dormition was turned off so the crowd couldn’t hear the Vatican side expressing its good wishes, and a spokesman for the Patriarchate of Moscow went outside to go on television to say that until Rome got out of Ukraine, none of this meant anything.That was par for the course at the time.In recent years, however, three things have happened to jar the prospects for détente forward.First was the election of Kirill in February 2009. Prior to becoming patriarch, Kirill had served as chair of the Russian Orthodox Church’s Department for External Church Relations, and in that capacity was effectively its top ecumenical official.Kirill was long seen by ecumenical experts as open to closer ties with Rome and with other branches of Christianity, and when he would occasionally make less friendly declarations, many attributed it to his need to placate hardliners within the Russian Orthodox synod.Seven years later, Kirill may feel that he has consolidated control to a sufficient extent that he can face down whatever criticism may come for agreeing to meet the pope.Second has been the tremendous progress made over recent decades in relations between Catholicism and other Orthodox churches, especially the Patriarchate of Constantinople, but also Orthodox bodies in other nations, such as Armenia, Albania, Romania, and elsewhere.Granted, Moscow is the essential player in Orthodoxy, since two-thirds of the world’s 225 million Orthodox Christians are Russians. Yet the calculation in Moscow today may be that if it continued to stand on the sidelines in terms of warming relations with Rome, it would find itself isolated.Especially in light of a pan-Orthodox council scheduled for Crete in June, the first such gathering of leaders of all the Orthodox churches in 1,000 years, Moscow probably feels under pressure to reassert its relevance and leadership, and a high-profile summit with the pope is a terrific way of doing so.Adding to that is the growing normalization of relations between Rome and Moscow at lower levels. For instance, at each of the recent Vatican Synods of Bishops, a guest from the Moscow Patriarchate was invited to speak and given a major platform.Last fall, for instance, Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk used that stage to complain about the Greek Catholic Church in Ukraine, urging the Vatican to muzzle its objections to Russian foreign policy. It was considered a bit unmannered by many observers, but pushback within the synod was largely stifled in the spirit of being good neighbors.Third, Francis has changed the calculus in Orthodox circles in terms of how they think about the pope.He’s the first Latin American pope, and thus does not summon the same set of historical resentments largely tied to European history as either John Paul II, a Pole, or Benedict XVI, a German.Moreover, his foreign policy priorities since his election have been largely congenial to Russia’s perceived interests. In September 2013, he joined forces with Vladimir Putin in successfully heading off a proposed Western military offensive in Syria to bring down the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.Since then, Francis and Putin have met in the Vatican and found common ground on several matters, including the protection of Christians in the Middle East and the growing reemergence of Cuba in the community of nations.Given that the Russian Orthodox Church enjoys an extremely close relationship with the Russian government, it’s unlikely Kirill would have agreed to the meeting with Francis without at least a tacit green light from Putin.Back in the John Paul II days, it was always taken for granted that the first encounter between a pope and the Russian patriarch would have to take place on a neutral site, and then it could be followed by a papal trip to Russia itself.If so, then Vatican-watchers might want to hit Rome bookstores for guidebooks to Moscow, because as of today, the idea of such an outing has transitioned from wildly improbable to increasingly plausible.
Feb 10 16 6:41 AM
Hampton Court's Chapel Royal stages first Catholic service for 450 yearsAbout 15 miles from Hampton Court Palace in south-west London, Henry VIII may have turned in his grave. Almost half a millennium after the Act of Supremacy, which declared the Tudor king as the supreme head of the Church of England and formalised the break with Rome, England’s most senior Catholic cleric celebrated Vespers in the palace’s Chapel Royal on Tuesday evening.The scent of incense filled the air beneath the chapel’s magnificent blue and gold ceiling as a small procession made its way towards the altar. Vincent Nichols, the Catholic archbishop of Westminster, in a gold mitre and brocade robe, walked a few steps behind Richard Chartres, the Anglican bishop of London and dean of the royal chapels, in a symbolic gesture of reconciliation.The first Catholic service in the chapel for more than 450 years was hailed as “one for the history books” by John Studzinski of the Genesis Foundation, which jointly organised the event with the Choral Foundation. “Dialogue between faiths is much needed and welcomed in these turbulent times. We need to recognise that we have more in common than not.”About 300 people attended the service, which was largely conducted in Latin and featured hauntingly beautiful choral music from the 15th and 16th centuries. It concluded with the national anthem.In his homily, Chartres spoke of the “fragmented parts of the church which split apart with such tumultuous consequences in the 16th century”.Earlier, he and Nichols publicly discussed the relationship between the churches and the crown, and the role of Christianity in society. In response to Nichols’ description of Catholics as a “significant minority”, Chartres said wryly: “Of course, we’re all minorities now.”Their discussion ranged from the civil wars of the 16th and 17th centuries in Europe to the response of churches to increasing secularisation and religious violence in the modern times.Chartres joked that most people would think that an Anglican dean and a Catholic archbishop “must fight like ferrets in a sack”. But, he added, unity would be built “as we look together at the problems facing humanity rather than looking at the differences between us.”Saying that the service was a “celebration of a common agenda”, Chartres concluded: “Welcome home, cardinal.”The palace at Hampton Court was built by Cardinal Thomas Wolsey who had been presented with the site in 1514. He and Henry regularly travelled by barge upriver from London to enjoy the magnificent gardens and sumptuous accommodation.But Wolsey fell from the king’s favour when he failed to secure an annulment from the pope of Henry’s marriage to Catherine of Aragon. Henry had set his heart – and his hopes for a male heir – on Anne Boleyn and needed a divorce. When the pope refused, Henry turned his back on Rome. Wolsey was stripped of his titles and retreated to York, surrendering Hampton Court Palace to Henry.The Chapel Royal was the setting for key events in Henry VIII’s turbulent marriages. He worshipped in the chapel with Catherine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn. Later, Archbishop Thomas Cranmer placed a letter on the king’s seat detailing accusations of unchaste behaviour made about his fourth wife, Catherine Howard, for which she was eventually beheaded.Henry married his sixth and final wife, Catherine Parr, in a chamber adjacent to the chapel. Henry was buried at Windsor Castle after his death in 1547; Catherine Parr outlived him.Following Henry’s break with Rome, Catholic services in the Chapel Royal were briefly restored in the reign of Queen Mary I, famous for her devotion. It was during her reign that the last Catholic service was held there.
Feb 10 16 7:16 AM
Pope Francis & Patriarch Kirill: Diplomatic 'Controversies,' Ecumenical ConcernsThe announcement of the two-hour meeting to be held between Pope Francis and Patriarch of Moscow Kirill on Friday in Cuba has brought a lot of excitement—along with some criticism over Francis’s decision to have the meeting at all. There are three basic lines of critique.First, there’s the political-diplomatic dimension of the meeting. The pope is going to meet the leader of a church that is seen more and more as part of the authoritarian regime of Vladimir Putin and an ideological support for his neo-imperial foreign policy. This criticism stresses the risks to Francis’s credibility, especially if considering the role of the Russian Orthodox Church in supporting Putin’s military actions in Syria and in Ukraine. (Kirill was, however, more cautious about Ukraine, given the potential consequences of the loss of Crimea and the war in eastern Ukraine for inter-Orthodox relations between Moscow and Kiev).Second, there’s the internal politics of the Orthodox churches, in light not only of the historical rivalries between Moscow and Constantinople for supremacy within Eastern Orthodoxy, but also of the upcoming Great Synod of the Orthodox Churches on the Greek island of Crete in June. Some see Francis as naïve in regard as to how the patriarchate of Moscow could use the meeting to assert a new supremacy at a critical time for the future of the Orthodox churches. Here too the war in Ukraine factors into the equation.Third, there’s the ecumenical dimension of the meeting. The Russian Orthodox Church has been far less engaged in ecumenical dialogue with the Catholic Church than the patriarch of Constantinople has; in agreeing to meet with Kirill, Francis is accused of sitting at the table with a leader who has not shown the minimum amount of ecumenical spirit required to start a conversation with the pope.Francis is a risk-taker, and this meeting certainly involves risks.His diplomatic and ecumenical activity is part of his emphasis on mercy, as the editor of La Civiltà Cattolica, Antonio Spadaro SJ, explains in the current issue. In this decision especially Francis is taking risks at several levels: with those Catholics and westerners who believe in isolating Putin’s Russia, with those non-Russian Orthodox Christians who believe in keeping some distance from the patriarchate of Moscow, and with Eastern Catholics who see the war in Ukraine and Russian Orthodoxy’s posture in it as telling of the deep intentions of Kirill and his men. These sentiments must be respected and not underestimated. But it must also be said that the long-term view has always governed the ecumenical and diplomatic activity of the Holy See, and that sometimes the perspective on events is better from a distance. (This was the case with the U.S. presidential election of 1928, which the Vatican was content to watch from afar, with the long view in mind, despite the presence on the ballot of Al Smith, who of course was crushed.)Moreover, a look at recent history allows some optimism about the future of ecumenical relations between Rome and Moscow. If we go back just half a century, we see a similar kind of criticism over John XXIII’s receiving in audience Rada Nikitichna—the daughter of Nikita Khrushchev—and her husband, the journalist Alexandr Adjoubei, in 1963; they were the first Soviet citizens admitted in the Vatican since the Russian revolution of 1917. John XXIII’s audience with them not only faced resistance from Cardinal Alfredo Ottaviani of the Holy Office; it also was met with a deafening silence from the semi-official Vatican voice La Civiltà Cattolica, and the refusal of the Secretariat of State to issue a press release. This unprecedented move for a pope in the midst of the Cold War functioned as a public statement from John XXIII about the engagement of the church in the Vatican “Ostpolitik” that would ultimately lead it to Helsinki in 1975, where the Soviet Union would sign the treaty on human rights, partly due to the diplomatic leverage of the Vatican.Whatever the concerns over Francis’s “naïveté,” it is important to remember that Russia has always been a key player in getting the whole Eastern Orthodox Church on board with ecumenical initiatives of the Catholic Church. Only the sudden and unexpected decisions of the Holy Synod of Moscow, on the eve of Vatican II in October 1962, to accept an invitation to send “observers” to Rome, eventually moved many other Orthodox churches to send their own (including the patriarch of Constantinople).Finally, as to the “lack” of the ecumenical maturity of the Russian Orthodox Church leader who is meeting Francis in a few days, it is wise to recall when the Catholic Church was considered an ecumenical pariah. At an important meeting of the World Council of Churches in Rhodes in August 1959, Catholic observers were officially present merely as “journalists,” because they were not allowed to meet with non-Catholics in ecumenical events. One of the issues on the table for the relationship between Catholics and the WCC was religious liberty. Concern over the dire state of Catholic theology on crucial ecumenical issues, such as religious freedom, stand out in the pages of the diary of monsignor Johannes Willebrands: “Visser’t Hooft [secretary general of the WCC, 1938-1966] brings up the topic of religious liberty. We don’t have a paper for this. The commission responsible for this theme is still working on the subject.” The Roman Catholic Church debated ecumenism and religious liberty a few years later at Vatican II: the decree Unitatis Redintegratio on ecumenism was approved by Vatican II on November 21, 1964, and the declaration Dignitatis Humanae was approved on December 7, 1965, the day before the council concluded.The history of Vatican “Ostpolitik” in the second half of the 20th century is part of a historiographical work still in progress, if not just beginning; to be honest, historians in Western Europe (myself included, when I worked in the field) and Eastern Europe have different interpretations of the accomplishments of Vatican diplomacy with Communists in Eastern Europe and Russia. (This is not just a concern for academia; it is relevant for the Vatican’s opening to China now.) But there is no question that the Vatican’s opening to Russia was an integral part of the ecumenical engagement of the Catholic Church in the years immediately before, during, and after Vatican II. Pope Francis is part of this legacy; it is in this context that his decision to meet Kirill needs to be understood.
Feb 10 16 5:54 PM
On 1 March 2013, His Holiness Patriarch Kirill of Moscow sent the following Message to honour His Holiness Benedict XVI, Pope Emeritus of Rome and former Supreme Pontiff of the world’s Roman and Eastern Catholics:Your Holiness!In these exceptional days for you, I would like to express the feelings of brotherly love in Christ and respect.The decision to leave the position of Bishop of Rome, which you, with humility and simplicity, announced on February 11 this year, has found a ready response in the hearts of millions of Catholics.We have always been close to your consistent ministry, marked by uncompromisingness in matters of faith and unswerving adherence to the living Tradition of the Church. At a time when the ideology of permissiveness and moral relativism tries to dislodge the moral values of life, you boldly raised your voice in defence of the ideals of the Gospel, the high dignity of man and his vocation to freedom from sin.I have warm memories of our meeting when you were elected to the Roman See. During your ministry we received a positive impetus in the relations between our Churches, responding to the modern world as a witness to Christ crucified and risen. I sincerely hope what developed during your active participation, a good trusting relationship between the Orthodox and the Catholics, will continue to grow with your successor.Please accept my sincere wishes for good health, long life and help from above in prayer and in your theological writings.“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace” (Romans 15:13).With love in the Lord,+ Kirill, Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia
Your Holiness!In these exceptional days for you, I would like to express the feelings of brotherly love in Christ and respect.The decision to leave the position of Bishop of Rome, which you, with humility and simplicity, announced on February 11 this year, has found a ready response in the hearts of millions of Catholics.We have always been close to your consistent ministry, marked by uncompromisingness in matters of faith and unswerving adherence to the living Tradition of the Church. At a time when the ideology of permissiveness and moral relativism tries to dislodge the moral values of life, you boldly raised your voice in defence of the ideals of the Gospel, the high dignity of man and his vocation to freedom from sin.I have warm memories of our meeting when you were elected to the Roman See. During your ministry we received a positive impetus in the relations between our Churches, responding to the modern world as a witness to Christ crucified and risen. I sincerely hope what developed during your active participation, a good trusting relationship between the Orthodox and the Catholics, will continue to grow with your successor.Please accept my sincere wishes for good health, long life and help from above in prayer and in your theological writings.“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace” (Romans 15:13).With love in the Lord,+ Kirill, Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia
Feb 12 16 9:48 AM
The meeting between Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill “is almost a defining moment for ecumenism,” Bishop Brian Farrell, the Secretary of the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of Christian Unity, told America magazine on the eve of this truly historic encounter at Havana's international José Marti airport, Cuba, on Feb 12.“Things that seemed impossible became possible, so we can be confident that even the difficulties between the Catholic and Orthodox Churches can eventually be addressed in a spirit of friendship and mutual acceptance, and be resolved,” the Irish-born Vatican bishop said. He has followed closely the Orthodox-Catholic dialogue in the pontificates of John Paul II, Benedict XVI and now Francis.This, the first ever meeting between the Pope and the Patriarch of Moscow and of All Russia is an event of immense importance for Catholic-Russian Orthodox relations. It is a milestone on the road to Christian Unity. To understand the reason why this has never happened before it is necessary to revisit briefly the history of Russian Christianity.That history began in 988 when the pagan Prince Vladimir of Kiev was baptized and many of his people too (as Robert Robinson CSP explains in his excellent work on “The Eastern Christian Churches,” which I have drawn on in writing this article). The faith had come to Kiev from Constantinople (then known as "the second Rome" after the Roman emperor had moved the). This Byzantine Christianity became the faith of three peoples who trace their origins to Rus’ of Kiev: the Ukrainians, the Belarusians and the Russians. In 1054, however, a break took place between Rome and the Patriarchate of Constantinople (whose Patriarch is considered "the first among equals in the Orthodox world"). Robertson explains that the schism was in fact the result of a long process of estrangement between East and West in which significant non-theological factors were at play, but important doctrinal issues were also involved, especially regarding the nature of the Church. “The most important of these,” Robertson says, “concerned the eternal procession of the Holy Spirit [related to the addition of the ‘filioque’ to the Creed by the western church], and the meaning of the role of the Bishop of Rome as first bishop of the Church.”Both before and after the schism Christianity flourished in Kiev but then, following the fall of Kiev to the Mongols in 1240, a new center of Christianity grew up around the principality of Moscow. And when Constantinople fell to the Turks in 1453, some began to speak of Moscow as ‘the third Rome’ which would carry on the traditions of Orthodox and Byzantine civilization. Then in 1547, Ivan IV was crowned as the first Czar of Russia and in 1589 Metropolitan Job was enthroned as the first Patriarch of Moscow (by the Ecumenical Patriarch Jeremiah). The Czars then came to see themselves as the protectors of Orthodoxy just as the Byzantine emperors once were. Patriarch Kirill is the 16th Patriarch of Moscow.Through the centuries since then, the rift between Eastern and Western Christianity continued, despite two major efforts to resolve it. The first major breakthrough in modern times came (during the Second Vatican Council, 1962-65) when Pope Paul VI and the Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras met in Jerusalem in 1964 and lifted the mutual excommunications between the two Churches.Friday’s meeting is the most important Catholic-Orthodox breakthrough since then. Its significance cannot be underestimated not only for Catholic-Russian Orthodox relations, but also for Orthodox-Catholic relations in general, and for the entire ecumenical endeavor.Ever since the Second Vatican Council (at which the Russian Orthodox had representatives) and in particular since the fall of Communism in Eastern and Central Europe, the Catholic side has said many times that the Pope was interested in meeting the Patriarch of Moscow. Attempts were made under John Paul II and Benedict XVI to arrange such an encounter, and it came close to happening on a few occasions, but obstacles of various kinds always emerged (such as those regarding proselytism, the situation of the Greek Catholic Church in the Ukraine, and also problems within the Russian Orthodox Church itself). Those problems scuttled these efforts and the Russian Orthodox insisted on resolving the problems before any such meeting could happen. Over the past seven years, however, a number of things have happened that have changed the ecclesial and political landscape. Kirill was elected Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia on Jan. 27, 2009, and Francis was elected Pope on March 13, 2013. Moreover, the presence of the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC) has been strengthened and consolidated within the Russian Federation and nearby countries and is growing in the West. It is estimated that today some 50 percent of the world’s 300 million Orthodox faithful belong to the ROC. Significantly too the ROC and the Russian leaderships have drawn closer together and President Vladimir Putin has met Pope Francis twice, in Nov. 2013 and June 2015. Many observers believe that Putin facilitated the encounter between Francis and Kirill.Another significant factor in the equation relations to the situation of Christians and other minorities in the Middle East that has deteriorated dramatically in recent years. They are now being persecuted, killed or forced to leave their homes. This is a matter of the utmost concern to both churches. So too is the situation in the Ukraine because of the conflict there, and here it’s worth noting that the Holy See steered a cautious course in relation to this conflict, ever sensitive to the Orthodox. There have been significant developments too on the Catholic side in recent years. Benedict XVI (who was highly respected by the ROC) resigned and Francis was elected. From the very beginning of his pontificate, the first Latin American pope presented himself as “the Bishop of Rome” and is constantly promoting “synodality” as the way forward for the Catholic Church in the 21st century. All this has been well received by the Orthodox, as has his humility and his gesture in bowing before the Ecumenical Patriarch, Bartholomew I, to receive his blessing in the Church of St George, at the Fanar, Istanbul, at the end of November 2014.Commenting on this latter episode Bishop Farrell described it as “a very spiritual moment” and said, “It represents the deepest feeling of Francis regarding the Orthodox and, in general, regarding other Christians. He is fully convinced that on the basis of our common baptism, and so many other common values of faith and witness and life, the extent of our already existing unity is much stronger than the divisions that keep us separate.”Then on the flight back from Istanbul to Rome after visiting Bartholomew, Francis spoke of his intense desire to meet the Russian Patriarch and revealed, “I told Patriarch Kirill: ‘I'll go wherever you want, you call me and I’ll come’; and he too wants this.”The developments mentioned above created a new framework within which a meeting became possible. As a result of this the ROC leadership reached the conclusion a meeting between the pope and the patriarch is something that—in their words—“can no longer be postponed.” In actual fact, more than a year and a half ago Metropolitan Hilarion, the ‘Foreign Minister’ of the Moscow Patriarchate, came to the Vatican and signaled that such a meeting was now “a possibility." His stated this also in public and effectively put the matter on the agenda. And so, in the words of Cardinal Kurt Koch, President of the Pontifical Council for Christian Unity, “the traffic lighted changed from red to yellow.”It’s worth mentioning too that over the past two years there has been “an increase in cultural collaboration” between the two churches. Some have described this as “the diplomacy of music and the exchange of gifts” because it involved mutual visits by choirs, the exchange of professors, conferences and so on. All this contributed to building the new, positive climate in the relations between the sister churches.When then did the traffic light turn from yellow to green? About three months ago, not long before Christmas, according to some sources. Up to now the choice of place for the meeting has always been an issue to resolve as the ROC insisted on “a neutral venue.” This time, however, agreement on the venue came almost by coincidence some say; others attribute it to Divine Providence. The pope and the patriarch happened to be in the same area of the world, outside Europe, at the same time. Cardinal Koch was invited to Moscow before Christmas and the Patriarchate suggested Cuba as a possible venue, an opportunity. Cuba is an ally of Russia, and a suitable venue for the ROC which now enjoys a new and more constructive relation with Russia’s rulers. On the other side, Francis’ credentials on the island are second to none after his major contribution to the rapprochement between Cuba and the USA. Thus, an agreement was soon reached to hold the meeting in Cuba, and President Raul Castro was more than willing to act as host.Friday’s meeting will not resolve all the problems between the ROC and the Catholic Church. It is not meant to do this. Major tensions and theological differences still remain, including the one relating to the primacy of the Bishop of Rome and how this is to be understood. This question has in fact been the subject of discussion in the Catholic-Orthodox International Theological Commission since 2006, and the next meeting on this will be held next September.The Havana meeting, on the other hand, is not only a historical breakthrough in relations between the two churches, but—through the signing of a joint declaration, the Pope and the Patriarch offer a common Christian witness to the world as they address together a number of important issues that are of vital importance to both their churches. Those issues will be presented in the declaration that they will sign after their two-hour private conversation at Havana's international airport on Friday. It is worth mentioning that this meeting is not being held because of the Pan-Orthodox "Great Council" that will take place in Crete in June. Its genesis is completely different. Indeed, it was being planned long before that event was even decided, and it was in no way intended to enter into the question of the relationship between the Ecumenical Patriarch and the Patriarch of Moscow. Its importance is another; it is truly a landmark in Catholic-Russian Orthodox relations, and a hugely important step on the road to Catholic-Orthodox unity.By way of conclusion, it is worth noting that the Caribbean island which was once the epicenter of the most dangerous moment in the clash of the blocs will tomorrow make history in a very different way as it hosts the first-ever meeting between the Pope and the Patriarch, an event that is a major contribution to overcoming centuries of hostility and misunderstanding between these sister Churches. This beautiful island is about to witness the birth of a new solidarity between the sister churches that will enable them to face the tensions and problems, not only between them but also in the wider world, in a new collaborative way.
Feb 13 16 12:36 AM
Though their differences are recognizable and real, Pope Francis and Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill of Moscow emphasized their obligation as Christians and as bishops to encourage collaboration among Christians and charity for all who suffer.“I felt an interior joy that truly came from the Lord,” the pope told reporters traveling with him Feb. 12 as he flew to Mexico from Havana, where he met the patriarch. The Vatican had told reporters on the plane that the pope would not be speaking to them after the meeting, but the pope said he wanted to share what he was feeling.“It was a conversation of brothers,” Pope Francis said. The conversation was marked by freedom and “complete frankness,” he said.Cardinal Kurt Koch, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, and Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk, director of foreign relations for the Moscow Patriarchate, were present for the meeting, along with two translators, the pope said.Together, they discussed concrete proposals for working together, “because unity is made by walking,” the pope said. Even if the goal of full unity is not reached in this lifetime, he said, “at least when the Lord comes, he’ll find us walking.”Pope Francis said the joint statement he and Patriarch Kirill signed in the presence of Cuban President Raul Castro “is not a political statement, it’s not a sociological statement; it is a pastoral declaration.”While the two leaders insisted on the need to stop the persecution of Christians in the Middle East and North Africa and condemned abortion and euthanasia, they used much more careful language to discuss two issues that made their meeting so surprising: the life of the Ukrainian Catholic Church and the war in Eastern Ukraine.For more than 25 years, Russian Orthodox patriarchs have refused to meet a pope because of what the Moscow Patriarchate claims is “proselytism” on the part of Ukrainian Catholics, one of the Eastern churches in full union with Rome. The church was outlawed under the Soviet Union and its rebirth with Ukrainian independence has meant a loss of both buildings and faithful for the Russian Orthodox.In their statement, Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill said all Christians — Catholic or Orthodox — are called to preach the Gospel. “This mission entails mutual respect for members of the Christian communities and excludes any form of proselytism.”“We are not competitors but brothers, and this concept must guide all our mutual actions as well as those directed to the outside world,” the two said.Without providing specific examples or any clarification, the statement denounced “disloyal means” used “to entice believers to pass from one church to another.”The pope and patriarch said they hoped their meeting would “contribute to reconciliation” wherever there is tension between Orthodox and Eastern-rite Catholics, who share the same spiritual and liturgical heritage.Using language similar to that found in a 1993 document of the international Roman Catholic-Orthodox theological dialogue, the two leaders said “uniatism” — incorporating one portion of a church into another — “is not the way to re-establish unity.”However, the two leaders, like the 1993 document, acknowledged that “the ecclesial communities which emerged in these historical circumstances have the right to exist” and to do what is necessary to minister to their faith.As for the Russian-supported war in Eastern Ukraine, Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill said, “We deplore the hostility in Ukraine that has already caused many victims, inflicted innumerable wounds on peaceful inhabitants and thrown society into a deep economic and humanitarian crisis.”They called on their churches “to refrain from taking part in the confrontation and to not support any further development of the conflict.”
Feb 18 16 12:48 AM
Risu - “I ask you to be patient. Not always all parties can say what they want to say. Sometimes it is necessary to find a compromise”, said Archbishop Claudio Gugerotti, Apostolic Nuncio in Ukraine during the Divine Liturgy in the Patriarchal Cathedral, commenting on the meeting of Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill and joint declaration they signed.“A meeting of personalities is always the mystery of God. We do not know what others think, and this is what we bring to God's mercy,” said the Apostolic Nuncio.He noted that many Ukrainians were concerned about meeting between the Pope and the Patriarch of Moscow and now there are different opinions and interpretations of this event. “I know how your nation suffers because of the difficulties of understanding. But, I ask you to be patient. Not always all parties can say what they want to say. Sometimes it is necessary to find a compromise in order to draw up a joint text, a joint declaration. His Beatitude knows well how much work and difficulties the text signed by Francis Pope and Patriarch Kirill cost for us,” said the spokesman.The papal envoy emphasized that humanity needs something more than a text. "What people will remember - it's their embrace. And the embrace is a holy thing. But, you may say, even Judas kissed Jesus Christ, but then betrayed him. Sometimes we are all little traitors. We must have hope and faith that the Lord can work wonders even through our little failures and weakness,” Archbishop Claudio Gugerotti said.The Apostolic Nuncio said that in a few days he would set off for the conflict area “where people are suffering.” “This is the main purpose for which the Holy Father has appointed me there. I have to be with those who suffer, to help them in the name of the Pope. I gladly leave to others the opportunity to read and re-read different texts, declarations and find what they wish therein,” the representative of the Vatican in Ukraine said. He said that someone might call his trip an attempt of proselytism, "but it does not bother me,” said Bishop Claudio.
Feb 29 16 11:50 AM
The Pope met Patriarch Mathias of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church at the Vatican on MondayThe bloodshed of Christians in the Middle East and Africa have allowed once-divided Christians to grow closer to one another, Pope Francis said.“Just as in the early Church the shedding of the blood of martyrs became the seed of new Christians, so today the blood of the many martyrs of all the churches has become the seed of Christian unity,” the Pope said on February 29 during an audience with Patriarch Mathias of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church.Patriarch Mathias expressed his gratitude to the Pope for his solidarity following the murder of Ethiopian Orthodox Christians by ISIS militants in Libya last year.“Your Holiness’ message and ultimate recognition of the massacres as (a martyrdom) was of great significance for our Church,” he said.The Ethiopian patriarch said that before the challenges of extremism and environmental degradation, the joint prayers and solidarity of both churches was essential “for the sake of human dignity and the creation of a peaceful world.”Recalling the strides in theological dialogue between the Catholic Church and the patriarch’s Oriental Orthodox church, Pope Francis said both “have almost everything in common” through baptism and through their “rich monastic traditions and liturgical practices.”“We are brothers and sisters in Christ. As has often been observed, what unites us is greater than what divides us,” the Pope said.The martyrdom of Ethiopian Orthodox Christians, he added, “is a summons to us, here and now, to advance on the path to ever greater unity.”He also appealed to world leaders to promote peaceful co-existence based on mutual respect in the Middle East and in parts of Africa where there has been a “devastating outbreak” in violence against Christians and religious minorities.Pope Francis said there is room for both churches to work together for the sake of the common good and for the protection of creation.“Let us pray for one another, invoking the protection of the martyrs and saints upon all the faithful entrusted to our pastoral care. May the Holy Spirit continue to enlighten us and guide our steps toward harmony and peace,” the Pope said.
Apr 16 16 12:54 AM
The last time a pope was in Greece in 2001, I was part of the Vatican press corps covering John Paul II. Upon landing in Athens, I was asked by Greek TV to give a short interview – mostly because I spoke English, not for the quality of my insight, as experience would soon demonstrate.Asked if John Paul would use his stop in Greece to apologize for outrages inflicted upon Orthodox Christians by Catholics, I replied that he’d already made such a mea culpa several times.“Anyone expecting an apology on this trip,” I declared, “is likely to be disappointed.”(In part, my confidence was based on the fact that we had advance texts of the pope’s remarks, and there was no such apology to be found.)Greek national TV network played the interview just before broadcasting John Paul’s meeting with Archbishop Christodoulos of Athens and All Greece – in which, naturally, the pontiff did exactly what I’d just predicted he wouldn’t, apologizing for “occasions past and present when sons and daughters of the Catholic Church have sinned, by action or omission, against their Orthodox brothers and sisters.”Believe me, Francis has nothing on John Paul as a “Pope of Surprises”!In truth, I should have known John Paul would drop in something along those lines, given the hostility many Greek Orthodox exuded to the presence of a pope.In the days leading up to his arrival, thousands of Greek Orthodox made a pilgrimage to see a statue of a bleeding Madonna in the hills outside Athens – weeping, they believed, from her pain over the arrival on Orthodox soil of the archenemy of true Christianity.A protest march was staged while the pope was in town, featuring icons and the Byzantine flag. Banners in Greek and Italian said: “Get the anti-Christ pope out of Orthodox Greece!”What’s striking about Pope Francis’ outing to Greece Saturday, in the company of both Ecumenical Orthodox Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople and Archbishop Ieronymous II of Athens, who succeeded Christodoulos in 2008, is how free it’s been so far of such fireworks.Granted, it’s a lightning-quick stop on the island of Lesbos, intended to make a statement in defense of the waves of refugees and immigrants washing up there, at a time when Europe’s political climate seems to be drifting in the direction of closing doors.Nonetheless, given sensitivities in Greece to perceived Roman imperialism, the fact that a pope could visit the country and spark precious little blowback, even from hardline Orthodox voices, is striking. (Ieronymous did advise Francis not to turn his stop into a “PR show,” but that was in the context of welcoming him and urging European governments to listen to the pope.)Perhaps what the lack of resistance suggests is that Francis’ accent on what might be called an “Ecumenism of the Here and Now” is actually working.In a nutshell, when Francis reaches out to other Christians, or for that matter followers of other faiths, he does not begin with history, with what went wrong in the past. Instead, he focuses on the present, and what the two parties can do together right now to move the ball on their shared social, political and cultural concerns.Back in January 2014, Rabbi Abraham Skorka of Buenos Aires gave a lecture at Rome’s Gregorian University on the new pope’s approach to Catholic/Jewish relations. Skorka, of course, is an old friend of the Argentine pontiff, and the two men once published a book together.Skorka said that while Jewish/Catholic exchanges in the West often pivot on the legacy of European anti-Semitism, the Holocaust, and so on, the focus in Latin America is on current events.In part, Skorka suggested, that reflects the climate in Argentina created by the economic crisis that erupted in the late 1990s, which caused widespread unemployment, riots, and the collapse of the government, leaving half the country’s population and 70 percent of its children in poverty.“The crisis created a situation in which religious institutions were called upon to work together,” Skorka said. “There was lots of coordinated effort to help people in dire need,” adding that the situation induced religious leaders to adopt “a tremendously pragmatic” form of dialogue.Such pragmatism is what Francis is all about.When he’s reached out to Bartholomew in the past, it’s not been to discuss the Crusades or the “Filioque” clause. Instead, the two men came together to stage a peace prayer in the Vatican gardens between the presidents of Israel and Palestine.Similarly, when Francis met the Patriarch of Moscow in Havana in February, at least from his side it was clear his primary interest was in how the two sister churches could come together on matters such as the protection of persecuted Christians in the Middle East.Of course, if a divided Christianity is ever to reach the “full structural communion” that’s always been the end-game of the ecumenical movement, at some point the conversation will have to turn to resolving past disputes.For now, perhaps Francis is leading the Christian family into a new spirit of partnership, in which that conversation, when it does come, won’t seem so hopelessly divisive.
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