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May 11 16 4:13 AM
CNA - Pope Francis on Tuesday sent a message to Tawadros II to mark the “day of friendship” between Catholics and the Coptic Orthodox, acknowledging their common commitment to being witnesses of holiness and defending the dignity of human life.“Though we are still journeying towards the day when we will gather as one at the same eucharistic table, we are able even now to make visible the communion uniting us,” Pope Francis said in his May 10 letter to Pope Tawadros II of Alexandria, leader of the Coptic Orthodox Church.Like the Bishop of Rome, the Coptic Orthodox Patriarch of Alexandria is known as “Pope” to his followers.Pope Francis' message marked the third anniversary of his meeting with Tawadros in Rome; the day has become an annual celebration of fraternal love between the Catholic and Coptic Orthodox Churches.“Copts and Catholics can witness together to important values such as the holiness and dignity of every human life, the sanctity of marriage and family life, and respect for the creation entrusted to us by God,” Pope Francis wrote.By learning to “bear each other’s burdens and to exchange the rich patrimony of our respective traditions,” he continued, “then we will see more clearly that what unites us is greater than what divides us.”The Coptic Orthdox Church is an Oriental Orthodox Church, meaning it rejected the 451 Council of Chalcedon, and its followers were historically considered monophysites – those who believe Christ has only one nature – by Catholics and the Eastern Orthodox.In the message, Pope Francis acknowledged the steps taken toward “reconciliation and friendship” between Catholics and the Coptic Orthodox.“After centuries of silence, misunderstanding and even hostility, Catholics and Copts increasingly are encountering one another, entering into dialogue, and cooperating together in proclaiming the Gospel and serving humanity.”“In this renewed spirit of friendship, the Lord helps us to see that the bond uniting us is born of the same call and mission we received from the Father on the day of our baptism.”The Pope appealed to the Holy Spirit to unite Catholics and Orthodox Copts “evermore in the bond of Christian love and guide us in our shared pilgrimage, in truth and charity, towards full communion.”Pope Francis acknowledged his “generous hospitality” for the most recent meeting of the Joint International Commission for the Theological Dialogue Between the Catholic Church and the Oriental Orthodox Churches, which took place in Cairo.“I am certain that we share the ardent hope that this important dialogue may continue to progress and bear abundant fruits,” Francis said.Pope Francis spoke of the Christian communities in Egypt – where more than 90 percent of Christians are Orthodox Copts – as well as throughout the Middle East, saying his “thoughts and prayers” are daily with those “experiencing great hardship and tragic situations.”“May God our Father grant peace and consolation to all those who suffer, and inspire the international community to respond wisely and justly to such unprecedented violence,” he concluded.“On this occasion that has rightly become known as the day of friendship between Copts and Catholics, I willingly exchange with Your Holiness a fraternal embrace of peace in Christ the Risen Lord.”The May 2013 meeting between Francis and Tawadros marked the first visit of a Coptic Orthodox patriarch to Rome in 40 years. Shenouda III, Tawadros' predecessor, visited Bl. Paul VI in 1973, and St. John Paul II returned the visit to Egypt in 2000.
May 22 16 4:49 AM
The ecumenical commemoration of the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation in 2017 can be a time to celebrate the fact that Christians are no longer “on the path of separation, but that of unity,” said Cardinal Walter Kasper, former president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity.Catholics and Lutherans are finding common ground in what Cardinal Kasper described as “the original, fundamental” emphasis of Martin Luther, “which is the Gospel of grace and mercy and a call to conversion and renewal.”“The path toward full unity is open, even though it may be long and full of obstacles,” the cardinal wrote in a new book, which is based on talks he gave in Germany in January. The Vatican newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, published the concluding chapter of the book in its May 19 edition.In the introduction, the newspaper said, Cardinal Kasper recognizes that “for many years Catholics considered Luther simply to be a heretic,” the person who divided the Western church. But over the past few decades, Catholic historical and theological studies have come to a greater appreciation of Luther’s faith and broader acceptance of some of the main points of his theology, not to mention his hymns, such as “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God.”“Luther was not an ecumenical man in the modern sense of the term,” the cardinal wrote. But neither was the theologians and church officials he went up against.“Both were inclined to polemics and controversy,” he said, and the arguments quickly reached the point of schism.Ecumenical dialogue has taken the opposite path, Cardinal Kasper wrote. “Dialogue does not mean tossing into the sea that which one held as true up to now,” but it does require a willingness to listen to one another and to learn from one another.Pope Francis is scheduled to travel to Lund, Sweden, in October to join the World Lutheran Federation and other Christian representatives in launching a yearlong program of study and prayer services marking the 500th anniversary of the Reformation.In 2013, the official Lutheran-Roman Catholic Commission on Unity issued “From Conflict to Communion,” a document suggesting an ecumenical approach to commemorations of the anniversary.Luther, who was an Augustinian monk, priest and theologian, “had no intention of establishing a new church but was part of a broad and many-faceted desire for reform,” the document said. “In 2017, when Lutheran Christians celebrate the anniversary of the beginning of the Reformation, they are not thereby celebrating the division of the Western church. No one who is theologically responsible can celebrate the division of Christians from one another.”At the heart of the Reformation, the document said, were different ways of expressing the need for salvation, God’s justification of sinners and the authority of Scripture and tradition.Cardinal Kasper, echoing remarks made by retired Pope Benedict XVI in an interview published in March, said a renewed focus on God’s mercy is “a sign of the times,” as well as an important area of Martin Luther’s theology and a topic where Catholics and Lutherans can find common ground.“Only God’s mercy can heal the deep wounds that division has inflicted on the body of Christ, which is the church,” Cardinal Kasper said. God’s mercy “can transform and renew our hearts so that we are open to conversion, to expressing mercy among us, to forgiving each other for the injustices of the past, to reconciliation and to setting off together with patience, step by step, on the path toward unity in a reconciled diversity.”
Jun 2 16 12:34 AM
Pope Francis’ outreach to the Protestant world will hit new heights this fall, when he makes a two-day trip to Sweden to participate in ecumenical events marking the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation.The trip, scheduled for Oct. 31-Nov 1, will be a two-city stop, according to information released on Wednesday by the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity and the Lutheran World Federation.The pontiff is scheduled to make a stop in Lund, as well as in the nearby city of Malmö.The visit, announced earlier in the year, will include an ecumenical prayer service in Lund Cathedral and a public event at Malmo Arena.Francis’s full itinerary “will be published at a later date,” Father Federico Lombardi, Vatican spokesman, told journalists. The Vatican rarely releases the pontiff’s scheduled so far ahead of time, usually announcing it just two months or so before the trip.“It was important that no one would think that just because we released a joint statement, that these are the only” events in the pope’s schedule, Lombardi said, adding that the visit will also include a Mass with the Catholic community on the morning of Nov. 1.According to the statement released on Wednesday, the events being organized in Sweden will highlight the 50 years of ecumenical dialogue between Catholics and Lutherans, and “the joint gifts of this collaboration.”Lutheran Christianity is officially the largest denomination in Sweden, with 6.2 million Swedes, two-thirds of the national total, registered as members of the Lutheran Church of Sweden, although levels of faith and practice are generally regarded as low.The celebration in which Francis will participate, organizers write, is being structured around the themes of “thanksgiving, repentance and commitment to common witness.”“The aim is to express the gifts of the Reformation and ask for forgiveness for division perpetuated by Christians from the two traditions,” they say.The prayer service at the cathedral will be based on a recently published Catholic-Lutheran “Common Prayer” liturgical guide, based on an earlier report titled “From Conflict to Communion.”The event in the Malmö Arena will focus on the “common witness and service of Catholics and Lutherans in the world.” The event, which will host 10,000 people, will include highlights of joint efforts by the Lutheran World Federation’s World Service and the Catholic Charity Caritas Internationalis around the world, including care for refugees, peacebuilding and advocacy for climate change.“The idea behind the arena event is to further describe the development from conflict to communion with a focus on hope for the future and common service in the world,” said Church of Sweden Archbishop Antje Jackélen.Catholic Bishop Anders Arborelius of Stockholm said that when Pope Francis and Lutheran leaders visit Lund and Malmö “to encourage all of us to go further on the road towards Christian unity,” history will be written.”The Protestant Reformation began on Oct. 31, 1517, when German Monk Martin Luther nailed his famed 95 Theses to the door of All Saint Church in Wittenberg, in which he attached widespread abuses in the Catholic Church at the time, including simony, nepotism, pluralism, and the sale of indulgences.During his three years as head of the Catholic Church, the Argentine pontiff has built bridges with Protestants in many ways, often forging friendships with people such as the late Anglican Bishop Tony Palmer, who Francis met when he was still archbishop of Buenos Aires.The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that Christians born into ecclesial bodies separated from Rome are not to be blamed for the division.Recent popes have made systematic efforts to reached out to various Christian bodies, including the Eastern Orthodox, Anglicans, Lutherans, Pentecostals, Baptists, and others.Of the 2.3 billion Christians in the world today, 1.2 billion are Roman Catholics and 600-700 million are Protestants of various denominations and groupings, together representing more than three-quarters of the total Christian population.
Jun 7 16 3:28 AM
"Unity is an objective, not a given," says the Rev. John Chryssavgis, an archdeacon and theological adviser to Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople. "It may be there spiritually and liturgically and sacramentally, but to make it visible is hard, painful, slow work, and it takes time."In a sense, the “Great and Holy Council of the Orthodox Church”, conceived as a gathering of all the heads of the 14 independent Orthodox churches around the world in Crete June 16-27, has been at least a millennium in the making. More proximately, planning has been underway since 1961, meaning more than a half-century.As a result, it’s perhaps no surprise there have been a few hiccups along the way.Recently, two of the fourteen Orthodox churches have floated boycotting - the Bulgarians, because they’re upset over some of the documents up for discussion and also the seating arrangements, and the Patriarchate of Antioch, over a jurisdictional dispute involving Qatar.On Monday, the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople, traditionally the “first among equals” in the Orthodox world, issued a call to all Orthodox leaders to show up and to uphold rules for the meeting agreed upon in January 2016.According to the Rev. John Chryssavgis, the archdeacon and theological adviser to Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople, who will serve on a drafting committee for the council’s final message, the summit is going ahead no matter what.“The council is still on,” Chryssavgis told Crux in a June 6 interview, just ahead of his departure for Crete. “If one or more churches don’t attend, all the decisions made will still hold and be binding for all Orthodox churches.”While conceding there are probably “more differences than similarities” between the Great Council and the Second Vatican Council, Chryssavgis said he hopes the council in Crete may have an impact on Orthodoxy similar to that of Vatican II on Catholicism - especially, he said, in the press for unity, within Orthodoxy and also with other churches and the wider world.“Unity is an objective, not a given. It’s something we aspire to,” Chryssavgis said. “It may be there spiritually and liturgically and sacramentally, but to make it visible is hard, painful, and slow work, all of which takes time.”On other fronts, Chryssavgis said:Relations with the Catholic Church remain a contentious issue within some Orthodox churches, with some worrying that a leader who meets a pope is “bargaining away or betraying” the faith.Orthodox observers have been as struck by the bonhomie among Bartholomew and Francis as Catholics – they too, he said, sometimes joke the two men seem like “BFF’s” – and added he doesn’t believe it’s an accident these two leaders are heading their churches at the same time.Echoing Pope Francis when he recently met the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar, Chryssavgis agreed that when it comes to the pan-Orthodox council, “the meeting is the message.”Crux spoke to Chryssavgis, a prolific theologian and essayist born in Australia and now a clergyman of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, by phone on June 6. The following are excerpts from that conversation.Crux: Is the council still on?Chryssavgis: The council is still on. I don’t know that there was ever a question it wouldn’t be.In 1992, the Ecumenical Patriarch established a meeting of all the primates of the 14 Orthodox churches, the latest of which was in January 2016, where the rules and documents for the council were adopted by all. This morning, the Ecumenical Patriarchate met in an extraordinary session of the synod and decided that all the various concerns and complaints, including Bulgaria’s withdrawal, are not based on procedural errors or oversights, and therefore the decisions taken in January 2016 need to be maintained.If one or more churches doesn’t participate, does that change the theological or ecclesiological status of the council?The simple answer is no … If one or more churches doesn’t attend, or withdraws during the council, or is not present and doesn’t vote, all the decisions made will still hold and be binding for all Orthodox churches. A Great Council is above and beyond any individual church council or synod … and it remains such even without the participation of one or more church.Certainly if somebody’s missing, it’s a vacuum we will feel, and we’ll be very, very sorry. I think it will have an impact not just on the council, but also on the church that chooses not to come … If a church chooses to withdraw and not attend, I think it would be a sad reflection of the self-marginalization of that church.What do you expect to be the big issues?Keep in mind the purpose of a council, its goal, which is unity. Unity is an objective, not a given. It’s something we aspire to. It may be there spiritually and liturgically and sacramentally, but to make it visible is hard, painful and slow work, all of which take time. Unity comes at the end of the council, not before. It is a consequence, not a condition.For instance, ecumenical relations with other Christians are taken for granted in the Ecumenical Patriarchate [of Constantinople], but not always in other Orthodox churches. Over the last 50 years we’ve become close with the Catholic Church, and we’ve had tremendous collegial relations with Pope Francis. Those gestures and movements are natural for us, but they’re not necessarily reflective of where the whole Orthodox Church lies.This council can be crucial in bringing some sort of a unified response, some guidelines in this response, like the Second Vatican Council did for Catholicism. There are probably more differences than similarities between this council and Vatican II, but it could have something like the same impact.Other issues include, what happens when an Orthodox marries a non-Orthodox Christian, such as a Catholic or Protestant partner? What does it mean for Orthodoxy to be in conversation, both culturally and in terms of the faith, with Judaism and Islam?Also, what does it mean for the Orthodox Church to function as a united church, as one church, in the diaspora, for instance in the United States, Western Europe, and elsewhere? In the States, we have all 14 autocephalous churches represented . . . and then some. Do we minister just to our own national group, or to the Orthodox faithful altogether?Is there a prophetic word we can offer together about our relationship with the rest of the world, including the challenges of the contemporary world, whether these are social, economic, military, or environmental?Another question is the autonomy of Orthodox churches, and who recognizes someone’s autonomy? In general, the idea is to move towards a more transparent and less political way of putting issues on the table.How do you do that when there are obvious internal tensions?Unity doesn’t just mean the Orthodox churches among themselves, but also taking a step towards greater unity even within the individual Orthodox churches.There are differences, for instance, within the Church of Greece, where some elements are more and others less ecumenical. In the Church of Russia, Patriarch Kirill and Metropolitan Hilarion are very open to other churches, they’re always at the Vatican or the World Council of Churches, but their own church has conservative voices very critical of Kirill’s meeting with Pope Francis.These are issues the council can help smooth out, resolving the fears and suspicions that when the Ecumenical Patriarch, for instance, meets the pope, he’s bargaining away or betraying the Orthodox faith. These issues aren’t just inter-Orthodox, but also intra-Orthodox.We’re meeting precisely because we have differences. If there were no differences, what would be the point?Where do you think the last-minute jitters come from?I think what we’re seeing is the typical response of a family that hasn’t gotten together in a long time. When family members come together after a long period of separation and isolation, people are naturally going to wonder, “What will I say to so-and-so? Where will I be sitting? Do people care about my concerns?” Some are going to be afraid their interests will be overlooked.We have differences that have built up over 1200 years. We’ve been through hundreds of years of persecution under the Ottomans, a hundred years of Soviet oppression, we’re still experiencing persecution and oppression today, as well a refugee crisis, in regions where the Orthodox Church is at home and has been for hundreds of years living side by side with our Muslim brothers and sisters.All that, and more, creates tensions we have to talk about.The Orthodox Church preaches that the council is its gut, its heart, its very identity; conciliarity is in our DNA. But we need to prove it, we need to come together and sit around the same table. I hope this is the beginning of many more councils. In the end, the main achievement will be the meeting itself.You agree then with Pope Francis, who recently had a get-together with the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar and said, “The meeting is the message?”I undoubtedly agree with that in this case, and it’s certainly been the conviction of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, which has worked to realize this dream for 100 years. The idea is to move together in the church. The Greek work for a council is “synodos,” meaning being on the same journey; and the first step to be on the same journey is to take a step together.The entire structure of the Orthodox Church is founded on the principle of conciliarity. Without it, something may look like an Orthodox church and may hold to certain Orthodox doctrines and practices, but it’s not Orthodox. It’s only in council that the Orthodox Church is true to its identity, faithful to what it’s supposed to be.It’s also important to remember that the time after the council will be just as crucial as the event itself, because it’s the period of reception. No rule or structure in the Orthodox Church comes from the top down. It’s the conscience of the faithful, the Church itself at large, which is the ultimate protector and guarantor of Orthodox truth and doctrine.You’re involved in ecumenical dialogue with the Catholic Church. Does Pope Francis bring something special to it?I think what Pope Francis brings to the table, which parallels the theological interests of our Patriarch, is a more human face. He understands our two churches can bring much more to the world together in terms of offering hope to the suffering people. By offering a joint voice to a world that’s divided and in pain, we can be much more effective and positive.When Francis and Bartholomew recently met on [the Greek island of] Lesbos, it was hugely significant and symbolical. There are so many refugees there who literally risk their lives trying to get to civilization and freedom, and their presence there together threw a huge spotlight on the crisis, offering an ethical reminder of how we should be responding.When they placed a wreath together in the sea, it was a very meaningful expression of unity.Did you know that in Rome, we jokingly say that Bartholomew is Francis’s “BFF”?Yes, that’s made the rounds in Orthodox circles as well!Remember that Patriarch Bartholomew was present at the pope’s inaugural Mass, which was the first time that ever happened in history. There have, in fact, been times in the past when a pope was present in Constantinople for the change of a patriarch, but still never attended. When asked why he went, Patriarch Bartholomew said he felt there’s something different about this man, and he had to be there.I don’t think it’s by chance that these two people are the leaders of their respective churches at this moment in time. I don’t believe that’s a coincidence.
Jun 11 16 1:12 PM
Jun 16 16 6:51 PM
The historic summit of the 14 Orthodox member churches was called by their spiritual head, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople, to promote unity among the faithful who had grown apart by geography, language and customs.But the Russian Orthodox Church, which alone accounts for about two-thirds of the 250 million to 300 million Orthodox believers around the world, cast a pall over the planned June 20-26 meeting on the Greek island of Crete by calling on Monday (June 13) for the session to be postponed.That came after three smaller churches — those of Bulgaria, Georgia and the Damascus-based Patriarchate of Antioch — said they would not attend and the Serbian church also said the meeting should be put off to allow for more preparations.Their last-minute hesitation, ostensibly over disagreements on documents to be approved, came against a backdrop of much larger tensions within Orthodoxy. Traditionalists in several churches oppose any change despite growing pressure to make some adjustments to the modern world.Another major change in the past quarter-century, the emergence of the rich and powerful Russian church as an influential player on the international religious scene, has also created tensions as Moscow and the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Istanbul seem to compete to be the voice of global Orthodoxy.The Rev. John Chryssavgis, spokesman for the council, said preparations were going ahead and the meeting would take place even if some churches were absent.“It is painful that they’re not all here,” he said, stressing that all 14 churches had signed the six consensus documents prepared for the council. “We’re talking about hundreds of signatures by each church committing to the council.“Maybe they will come. … Anything is possible,” he added.This has not been a good start for the so-called Pan-Orthodox Council convened under the motto “He called all to unity” and meant in part to help the churches speak with harmony on major issues facing them and other faiths.“Orthodoxy doesn’t feel like one church,” said theologian Carol Lupu, a former adviser to the Serbian church.Unlike the far larger Roman Catholic Church, the Orthodox have no pope and are organized as national churches with jurisdiction within their borders. The Ecumenical Patriarch is the symbolic head but only has administrative power over his own flock of fewer than 3,000 congregants in Turkey.The Orthodox first considered holding a council in 1961, shortly before Catholics opened the Second Vatican Council that passed several modernizing reforms.Preparations dragged out over the years as theologians worked on documents to be approved before their summit opened. The initial list of about 100 issues to consider was whittled down to only the six documents that all churches signed off on by January of this year.Even those were quite cautious. Pope Francis and his two predecessors, John Paul II and Benedict XVI, have tried for decades to forge more cooperation with the Orthodox, but the document on ecumenical relations mentions only international groups such as the World Council of Churches by name.Some traditionalists have even objected that the document uses the word “churches” for other Christian denominations, insisting that Orthodoxy is the only “One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church.”The document on the growing Orthodox diaspora admits it cannot soon solve the problem of overlapping jurisdictions in some countries where immigrants of different ethnic groups each have their own church and bishop. The association of Orthodox bishops in France, for example, lists 10 different churches among its members.The careful council planning began to unravel two weeks ago when first the Bulgarians, then the churches of Georgia and Antioch, said they could not attend because of disagreements over certain issues. The Serbian church called for the summit to be postponed.Then the Russian church, which has not been enthusiastic about a council that would boost Bartholomew’s standing as the first among Orthodox equals, announced it also wanted to put off the meeting to allow for more work on the documents.Church officials play down the idea of a competition between the Greek and Slavic camps in Orthodoxy, but three of the wavering churches have traditional ties to Moscow. Antioch is boycotting because of a dispute with the Jerusalem Patriarchate over who has jurisdiction over the Orthodox in Qatar.“One church after another declares that it is not participating, which means there will be no consensus, which means it is no longer a Pan-Orthodox Council,” Metropolitan Hilarion, the “foreign minister” of the Moscow Patriarchate, told Russian television on Tuesday. “And we believe that the only way out of this difficult situation is to postpone the council.“Unity is not something that can be imposed upon churches,” he added. “We do not believe that the whole idea of the council should be abandoned. We simply believe that it should be better prepared.”Chryssavgis said the council documents could be changed up until the opening of the meeting and absentees forfeited the possibility of influencing them. He added that representatives of the Serbian church were participating in the preparations in Crete despite their leadership’s call for a delay.The Ecumenical Patriarch does not have the authority to change plans for holding the council after all member churches officially backed it in January, he added.In contrast to the critics who want everything resolved in advance, Bartholomew sees this council as the first step toward restoring these consultative meetings that were more regular in earlier times before the Great Schism of 1054 between Rome and Constantinople.Even with an incomplete list of participants, Chryssavgis said, this council would be still the largest ever held by the Orthodox churches. The interest in it in so many Orthodox churches shows they want more unity than they now have.“The Ecumenical Patriarch is saying this is a huge step toward that. It should be a beginning to many, many more councils,” he said. “We’re taking the first steps very slowly, very awkwardly.”
Jun 20 16 1:17 PM
A historic gathering of Orthodox leaders has opened in Crete with a pledge by its convenor to "bring truth, genuineness and hope" to the world, despite recent inter-church tensions and disputes."Each Orthodox church and every faithful Orthodox Christian are joined to one body, each with his own gifts -- we should not look to others with suspicion or anger, but rejoice as if they were our own," said Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople, honorary leader of world Orthodoxy."A very large number of errors are circulating, especially in our time, and the arguments used by the deceivers are particularly sophisticated. This means a coordinated effort is required by shepherds of the Orthodox church to inform the faithful -- the religious factions attempting to lead the Orthodox faithful astray are numbered in the hundreds."The 76-year-old patriarch was preaching on Sunday, the Orthodox Pentecost, at a divine liturgy in the Cathedral of St. Minas in Heraklion, at the start of the Holy and Great Council, attended by 170 bishops and metropolitans from 10 separate Orthodox churches. He said the world's 300 million Orthodox Christians were "united in faith and sacraments," although each church had "its own treasure" though its distinct history and patrimony.He added that church leaders also had their own "different opinions" and faced "personal weakness and unworthiness," but were called to "deliver the human race from manifold suffering" and give the world "a message of truth, genuineness and hope." "It is not enough when this remains on a theoretical level -- it requires a response on the practical level, where we are unfortunately greatly lacking," the patriarch said at the service, which was also attended by Greek president Prokopis Pavlopoulos and other government officials. "As leaders of the church, we are obliged to provide a good example and embrace the entirety of the truth we have received, because our opponent tries to scatter misguided ideas in our hearts which negate the truth of our faith."Plans for the week-long Council, widely believed the first on such a scale for more than a thousand years, were finalized by Orthodox leaders in January around a five-point agenda covering mission, diaspora affairs, church autonomy, fasting, marriage and ties with other Christian churches. However, final preparations were overshadowed by the withdrawal of the Antioch Patriarchate and Orthodox churches in Georgia, Bulgaria and Russia, citing disagreements over the Council's procedures and working documents. Patriarch Kirill of Russia, whose church represents around half of all Orthodox Christians, told Council participants in a June 17 message the latest "fully revealed" differences should not be allowed to "grow into an inter-church conflict" or "bring division and trouble." He added that churches had "made their decisions in good conscience" about whether to attend the Crete gathering, and cautioned that the absence of the four also meant "we have not reached pan-Orthodox consensus."However, spokesmen for the Ecumenical Patriarchate accused the Russian Orthodox church of violating previous agreements, and said absent churches "should have no influence" on the Council deliberations nor "invalidate" its proceedings."Further delays should not intimidate the overwhelming majority of Orthodox leaders that wish to carry out the commitment to have the Council on this year's Feast of Pentecost," Fr. John Chryssavgis and Fr. Paul Gavrilyuk, from the Patriarchate's press office, wrote in First Things."The official position of all local churches is that the Holy and Great Council is desirable. Those who sabotage the Council today are letting petty squabbles and impulses towards ethnic self-isolation prevail over walking together towards unity."June 20 speeches and proceedings were live-streamed on the official Council website from the Orthodox Academy in Kolymbari, where the Catholic church is being represented as an observer by Cardinal Kurt Koch, chairman of the Vatican's Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, alongside observers from the World Council of Churches and non-Orthodox denominations.In a June 19 noon prayer in Rome's St. Peter's Square, Pope Francis told Catholics he hoped the Council would achieve a "successful outcome."Church leaders present in Crete appealed during a June 17 meeting, or "Small Synaxis," for absent churches to "reconsider their decision" and attend the Council. In a June 20 commentary, Russia'sInterfax news agency said the Russian church's withdrawal meant the Council would "represent a minority of the episcopate, clergy and Orthodox world of believers," and could not be considered "a Pan-Orthodox Council."Speaking over the weekend in Heraklion's Church of St. Titus, Patriarch Bartholomew said the Council was tasked to "decide together on a synodal level about the problems and issues plaguing local churches and their interrelations" at a time of "violent and disruptive changes in all areas of life.""When communion with God disappears from social life and also does away with the communion with others which is propelled by the communion with God, then the moral system and political life -- that is, the entire conduct of man -- is driven to destruction and disintegration," the Patriarch said."This materialistic spirit has selfishly reigned and still reigns, while the Christian spirit and spiritual values have been pushed aside," he continued. "Persons have turned to numbers and have been treated as biological units. The personal relationship of man to God has been ignored, feelings of brotherhood weakened between the faithful, the traditional spirit of co-operation crippled, and now everything revolves around a secularism that is fleeting, passing and devoid of perspective."
Jul 1 16 12:27 AM
In theory, at least, size doesn’t matter in Christianity. One’s spiritual dignity is not supposed to correlate with numbers of followers, infrastructure, or bank accounts; as Pope Benedict XVI once put it, “statistics are not our god.”Rarely, however, will you see a clearer demonstration of that principle than what’s unfolded in Armenia during Pope Francis’s June 24-26 trip to this small nation in the South Caucasus region, on the dividing line between Eastern Europe and Western Asia.By any worldly measure, a comparison between Pope Francis and His Holiness Karekin II, the Catholicos of All Armenians, is a total mismatch.A pope leads a global faith made up of 1.2 billion people, presides over a sovereign state in the Vatican that has diplomatic relations with pretty much everybody, and is a media rock star all around the world.The head of the Armenian Apostolic Church, on the other hand, has at most 9 million followers, and is a rock star in exactly one spot: Armenia, a nation of around 3 million people. Otherwise, take off his clerical vestments, and he could move through airports unrecognized.Despite its history as the world’s first officially Christian nation, Armenia is, frankly, something of a bit player even within Orthodoxy. It’s one of six Oriental Orthodox churches that don’t recognize the Council of Chalcedon, and thus tends to be overlooked in comparison to better-known Orthodox groups such as the Patriarchate of Constantinople and the Russian Orthodox Church.Yet over the past three days, the choreography of the trip, over and over again, has projected the idea that Francis and Karekin are complete equals, both heads of ancient churches and both invested with spiritual authority.Everywhere Francis has gone, Karekin has been at his side; everywhere Francis has spoken, so too has Karekin; and anything Francis has blessed, prayed, over, or put flowers in front of, he was joined in doing so by Karekin.Francis stayed in Karekin’s Apostolic Palace, sharing meals and prayer every day. The pope accepted an invitation to an ecumenical luncheon with Karekin and his bishops on Sunday, despite generally abhorring formal meals, and the two men were scheduled to visit a monastery together Sunday afternoon, in the shadow of the storied Mount Ararat, where they were to release two doves as signs of peace.On Saturday, Francis and Karekin visited the northern Armenian city of Gyumri, and before leaving they stopped at both the Armenian and Catholic cathedrals. Francis offered the final blessing in the Armenian place of worship, while Karekin did so in the Catholic setting.Also on Saturday, Karekin joined Francis for an open-air Mass the pontiff celebrated in Gyumri’s Vartanants Square, and on Sunday Francis returned the favor by taking part in a Divine Liturgy staged in the courtyard of the Apostolic Palace of the Armenian church in Etchmiadzin.In both cases, the two men processed in together, side-by-side, and Sunday’s Orthodox liturgy was a rare case of a public event at which a pope was present but not actually the main actor. At one point, a choir intoned prayers for both Karekin and Francis.The demonstration of common cause among Francis and Karekin of equal standing reflects not only the corporate commitment of both churches to ecumenism, but also Francis’s personal passion for Christian unity.On Saturday, Francis urged Christians to “race toward full communion,” and his remarks Sunday at the Divine Liturgy drove that appeal home.“How good and pleasant it is when brothers live in unity,” the pope said, quoting Psalm 133.“We have met, we have embraced as brothers, we have prayed together and shared the gifts, hopes and concerns of the Church of Christ,” he said. “We have felt as one her beating heart, and we believe and experience that the Church is one.”The experience, Francis said, has clearly demonstrated mutual affection, as well as “our tangible longing for full communion.”In essence, “full communion” means a common celebration of the sacrament of the Eucharist, and while the Armenians and the Vatican have reached agreement on a wide range of issues since a dialogue formally began in the 1970s, they’re not quite there yet - in part because on the Catholic side,”full communion” also includes accepting the authority of the pope.To listen to Francis on Sunday, the delay is not for any lack of desire on his part.“May the Armenian Church walk in peace and may the communion between us be complete,” he said.“May an ardent desire for unity rise up in our hearts, a unity that must not be the submission of one to the other, or assimilation, but rather the acceptance of all the gifts that God has given to each,” he said.The drive for unity, the pope suggested, has a special importance for the young.“Let us pay heed to the younger generation, who seek a future free of past divisions,” he said.On this Sunday, Francis said, “may we follow God’s call to full communion and hasten towards it.” Quoting a line from the Armenian liturgy about eliminating scandal, Francis added, “first of all the lack of unity among the disciples of Christ.”He ended by asking Karekin “to bless me and the Catholic Church, and to bless our path towards full unity.”That zeal for unity seemed to be largely shared by the pope’s Armenian hosts.“During these days together with our spiritual brother, Pope Francis, with joint visits and prayers we reconfirmed that the Holy Church of Christ is one in the spreading of the gospel of Christ in the world, in taking care of creation, standing against common problems, and in the vital mission of the salvation of man who is the crown and glory of God’s creation,”Karekin said at the end of Sunday’s divine liturgy.Such openness reflects the generally strong relations among various types of Christians in the country.Not only do Armenians of all stripes take pride in having been the first Christian state, but memories of the 1915 genocide at the hands of the Ottoman Turks are still seared into national consciousness - massacres in which Catholics, Armenian Orthodox, and other Christians suffered together.As one Armenian cleric put it on Saturday, “When our people ask us what the difference is between the Apostolic and the Catholic Churches, to be honest with you, we often don’t know what to say.”Yet for some time, many non-Catholics have been hesitant about unity with Rome on the grounds it would mean being swamped by a stronger, larger, and more powerful papacy. That would be an especially understandable instinct in a place such as Armenia, conscious of its small size and relative lack of global punch.Anyone watching the scenes unfold over the last three days, however, likely would conclude that the result could be precisely the opposite: Churches and their leaders who otherwise have little voice or influence might find their visibility, and even their domestic standing, dramatically enhanced by proximity to the pope’s star power.That, perhaps, was one final point Francis wanted to come here to make, not so much in speech but in deeds, about size not mattering: This is what unity with Rome looks like, and it doesn’t mean being pressed down but, rather, lifted up.
Jul 2 16 1:37 AM
With the Eastern Orthodox wrapping up their “Holy and Great Council” this past weekend, designed to be a “pan-Orthodox” event even though four churches, including the Russian Orthodox, pulled out, it might be a good time to take a look at the factors that separate Catholics from their sister Churches in the east.The main issues of disagreement are the primacy of the Bishop of Rome and elements of Trinitarian teaching, although conflict also exists over the Immaculate Conception, purgatory and other doctrines.For 1,000 years, the Churches of east and west were in communion with one another, holding seven ecumenical councils between 325 and 787 to define Christian belief.But over time, the cultures of the Latin-speaking west and Greek-speaking east grew more and more estranged, and there was increasing distrust and hostility between them. Occasional schisms occurred but were healed - such as the Acacian schism of the late fifth century and the Photian schism of the 860s.Primacy of the Bishop of RomeAfter 1009, the Bishop of Rome did not appear in the diptychs - the list of bishops in communion with the local Church - of Constantinople, traditionally considered “first among equals” in the Orthodox world.In 1054, a papal delegation to the Patriarch of Constantinople excommunicated the patriarch and were in turn excommunicated by him. Though this schism was as much an issue of personal animosity and misunderstanding as anything else, the schism was never healed as the earlier schisms had been.At least as important as the Schism of 1054 was the Sack of Constantinople in 1204. Crusaders from the West, who were supposed to have continued on to Jerusalem to release it from Muslim control, instead spent three days looting and vandalizing the capital of the Byzantine Empire. The sack cemented eastern distrust of and resentment toward the west, preventing any healing of the schism.The foremost theological-ecclesiological division between Eastern Orthodoxy and Catholicism is the role of the Bishop of Rome, or the Pope. In the west, Church unity was expressed through being in communion with the Bishop of Rome, as the successor of St. Peter.Papal primacy was defined for the Catholic Church at the First Vatican Council, held in 1870. That council, held to be ecumenical by Catholics, taught that the Bishop of Rome has immediate and direct jurisdiction over the whole Church, and that when he speaks ex cathedra he possesses infallibility.The Eastern Orthodox, on the other hand, have a conciliar model of the Church. For them, unity is through the common faith and communion in the sacraments, rather than a centralized authority. They do not recognize the authority of the Bishop of Rome over all Christians, but rather consider him equal to other bishops, though with a primacy of honor.Eastern Orthodoxy favors various forms of conciliarism: classically, this was found in “pentarchy,” the sense of five patriarchates: those of Rome, Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch, and Jerusalem. Pentarchy has been challenged, however, by the rise of new patriarchates outside the classical Christian world, and their challenges to the historical patriarchates.Constantinople came to regard itself as a “Second Rome” after the fall of the Roman Empire in the west, but after the city’s fall to the Ottomans in 1453, Moscow came to see itself as a “Third Rome.” The theory is attributed to the Russian abbot Philotheus of Pskov, who included it in a letter written in 1510.It was bolstered by Russian Orthodox claims that the Patriarchate of Constantinople had fallen into heresy by accepting the Council of Florence in the fifteenth century, and (albeit briefly) coming into union with the Bishop of Rome.Conciliarism is known in Russian Orthodoxy as sobornost, a term which denotes the Church as a community of individual diversity in free unity.Father Sergei Bulgakov, a Russian Orthodox priest, wrote in his 1935 work The Orthodox Church that “integral unity” for the Church “may be realized only in two ways: by Orthodox conciliarity, ‘sobornost,’ or by the authoritarian monarchy of Catholicism.”The FilioqueNext to the issue of papal primacy, another obstacle to reunion between the Catholics and Eastern Orthodox is the filioque clause - “and the Son,” which was added to the text of the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed in the west to describe the procession of the Holy Spirit.The text of the creed was agreed upon at the First Council of Nicaea and the First Council of Constantinople in 325 and 381 respectively, saying that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father. But the Catholic Church in Spain added to the creed in the sixth century, to say that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son, as a way to combat latent Arianism. (In essence, Arianism was a heresy that played down the divinity of Christ.)The addition of the filioque was slowly adopted throughout the west, but was seen in the east as an innovation that was unnecessary at best and heretical at worst. According to Metropolitan Kallistos Ware, some Eastern Orthodox believe that the filioque is not heretical in itself, provided it is properly explained and understood, but that it is nonetheless an unauthorized addition to the creed.The Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity has stated that the doctrine of the filioque “cannot appear to contradict the monarchy of the Father” nor the Father’s role as the sole origin of the Spirit.The North American Orthodox-Catholic Theological Consultation in 2003 was able to sign an agreement stating that the filioque need not be a Church-dividing issue. Moreover, Catholics do not always say the filioque in the creed: whenever it is recited in the Greek language, the original text is used, and Eastern Catholic Churches do not now recite it, seeing its use as a “Latinization.”Indissolubility of MarriageOf particular importance recently, the Eastern Orthodox and Catholics also disagree about the indissolubility of marriage.The Catholic Church believes that a sacramental marriage that has been consummated can be dissolved only by death, whereas while the Eastern Orthodox recognize indissolubility as a characteristic of marriage and an ideal at which to aim, they generally accept that divorce-and-remarriage can occur.Eastern Orthodox acceptance of divorce is linked to the historical subordination of the Church to the emperor in the Byzantine Empire, according to Archbishop Cyril Vasil, secretary of the Congregation for the Oriental Churches.It was Emperor Justinian II who reintroduced divorce to the Byzantine Empire around the year 700, and because of the close links between the Patriarchate of Constantinople and the empire, this novelty was slowly permitted in the east.Nevertheless, it is hard to find a common answer for the Eastern Orthodox on the doctrine of marriage, and there are certainly many opponents of divorce among them.Purgatory, the Immaculate Conception, and other disagreementsPurgatory is another topic of disagreement. While the Eastern Orthodox pray for the faithful departed and thus have some notion of their being in a situation requiring our intercession, the doctrine of purgatory has not been as clearly developed in the east as it has in the west.In addition, most Eastern Orthodox reject the Immaculate Conception. While highly venerating the Blessed Virgin Mary, they see her as the goal and fulfillment of salvation history.According to Father Alexander Schmemann of the Orthodox Church in America, the Eastern Orthodox reject her Immaculate Conception “precisely because it make Mary a miraculous ‘break’ in this long and patient growth of love and expectation, of this ‘hunger for the living God’ which fills the Old Testament.”According to Father Andrew Louth, a Russian Orthodox priest, the Eastern Orthodox do not believe in “original sin” as it was conceived by St. Augustine of Hippo and received by the Church in the west. Rather, they have a notion of “ancestral sin.”Because the belief in inherited original sin is rejected, this means that the Eastern Orthodox also are not bound to believe in Adam and Eve. But Pope Pius XII, in his 1950 encyclical Humani generis, taught that after Adam no men could not take their origin through natural generation from him, nor could Adam represent “a certain number of first parents.”Since the seven ecumenical councils that are recognized by both the Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church, the Catholic Church has held 14 more councils which it regards as ecumenical. The Eastern Orthodox have held several councils since the Second Council of Nicaea in 787, but none of these are (universally) recognized as having been ecumenical.Rather, there have been local councils, and letters from individual bishops. The most recent is the pan-Orthodox Council held last week - though four of the 14 autocephalous Orthodox Churches declined to participate.Lesser issues on which the Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox disagree are the date of Easter; the use of unleavened bread for the Eucharist; the portrayal of Christ as a lamb; and the ordination of married men.
Aug 12 16 4:52 AM
Germany’s Catholic bishops have praised Martin Luther as a “Gospel witness and teacher of the faith” and called for closer ties with Protestants.In a 206-page report, “The Reformation in Ecumenical Perspective”, Bishop Gerhard Feige of Magdeburg, chairman of the German bishops’ ecumenical commission, said the “history of the Reformation has encountered a changeable reception in the Catholic Church, where its events and protagonists were long seen in a negative, derogatory light”.“While the wounds are still felt to the present day, it is gratifying that Catholic theology has succeeded, in the meantime, in soberly reconsidering the events of the 16th century,” he said in the report, published this week by Germany’s Bonn-based bishops’ conference.Bishop Feige said the “history and consequences” of the Reformation would be debated during its upcoming 500th anniversary, but added that there was consensus that previous mutual condemnations were invalid.“Memories of the Reformation and the subsequent separation of Western Christianity are not free from pain,” Bishop Feige said. “But through lengthy ecumenical dialogue, the theological differences rooted in the period have been re-evaluated – as is documented in the work presented by our ecumenical commission.”Martin Lazar, the Magdeburg diocesan spokesman, told Catholic News Service on Wednesday that the Reformation still caused tensions in Germany, especially “in religiously separated families.”The bishops’ report said the “Catholic Church may recognise today what was important in the Reformation – namely, that Sacred Scripture is the centre and standard for all Christian life.“Connected with this is Martin Luther’s fundamental insight that God’s self-revelation in Jesus Christ for the salvation of the people is proclaimed in the Gospel – that Jesus Christ is the centre of Scripture and the only mediator.”The Reformation is traditionally dated from the October 1517 publication of Luther’s 95 Theses, questioning the sale of indulgences and the Gospel foundations of papal authority.Luther was excommunicated by Pope Leo X in January 1521 and outlawed by Holy Roman Emperor Charles V.The German bishops describe Luther as “a religious pathfinder, Gospel witness and teacher of the faith,” whose “concern for renewal in repentance and conversion” had not received an “adequate hearing” in Rome.They said the reformer’s work still posed a “theological and spiritual challenge” and had “ecclesial and political implications for understanding the Church and the Magisterium.”The report said a joint Catholic-Lutheran statement in 1980 commemorating the Augsburg Confession, which set out the new Lutheran faith, had been crucial in bringing churches closer, while another ecumenical statement in 1983, on the 500th anniversary of Luther’s birth, had started an “intensive engagement” with the reformer’s work.A historic 1999 joint declaration on the doctrine of justification was a “milestone in ecumenical dialogue,” the report said, by recognising that remaining differences should “no longer have a church-dividing effect.”The bishops’ report includes June 2015 conciliatory letters between the German bishops’ conference president, Cardinal Reinhard Marx, and Lutheran Bishop Heinrich Strohm, president of the Evangelical Church of Germany, outlining plans for a 2017 ecumenical pilgrimage to the Holy Land and a Lent service devoted to “healing memories.”In an interview with CNS, the ecumenical commission’s deputy chairman, Bishop Heinz Algermissen of Fulda, said Catholic-Lutheran ties had improved since the Second Vatican Council, but that churches must work for “visible unity, not just reconciled diversity.”“This means not only praying together, but meeting the challenge of speaking with one voice as Christians when we are all challenged by aggressive atheism and secularism, as well as by [radicalised] Islam. Otherwise we will lose more and more ground,” he said.“In commemorating the Reformation, we cannot just see it as a jubilee, but should also admit our guilt for past errors and repent on both sides for the past 500 years,” he added.Catholics make up 29 per cent of Germany’s 82 million inhabitants, with the Evangelical Church of Germany accounting for 27 per cent, although all denominations have faced declining membership.
Sep 1 16 5:58 AM
Francis to meet Bartholomew, Welby in Assisi peace meeting this monthVATICAN CITY Pope Francis will head to Assisi for a record third time in his pontificate later in September for an inter-religious encounter focused on peacemaking, where he will meet representatives of several world religions and leaders of the Orthodox and Anglican churches.Taking part in an event hosted by the international Sant’Egidio community Sept. 20, the pontiff will have individual meetings with Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, Syriac Orthodox Patriarch Ignatius Aphrem II, and Justin Welby, archbishop of Canterbury and leader of the Anglican Communion.The Vatican announced the details for the pope’s one-day trip for the “Thirst for peace: Religions and culture in dialogue” meeting in a short release Thursday.The September visit will be Francis’ second to Assisi in two months, following an Aug. 4 trip to the Basilica of Saint Mary of the Angels, the church which houses the small chapel that 13th-century St. Francis of Assisi created as the headquarters for his religious order.About 400 participants are expected for the inter-religious meeting, which is being held to mark the 30th anniversary of Pope John Paul II’s historic 1986 inter-religious event in Assisi for the World Day of Prayer for Peace.The schedule released by the Vatican Thursday indicates that Francis will also meet individually Sept. 20 with Muslim and Jewish representatives yet to be named.At the end of the event, the religious leaders are to sign an appeal for peace that will be symbolically handed to children representing the different nations of the world.
Sep 22 16 3:35 AM
Asia News - The plenary of the Joint International Commission for Theological Dialogue between the Orthodox and Catholic Churches (the fourteenth plenary session ends today, September 22, in Chieti) has reached agreement on the adoption of the document entitled "Synodality and Primacy During the First Millennium: Towards a Common Understanding in Service to the Unity of the Church".This was announced by the Synodal Department for External Church Relations of the Moscow Patriarchate, which in a statement on its website also pointed out to future challenges. According to Moscow, "it will be difficult to move forward in the dialogue, if the question of the ecclesiological and canonical consequences of Uniatism" (derogatory term which indicates the Greek-Catholic Ukrainian church of Eastern rite but loyal to the Pope) remains unresolved.Opposition of Georgian Orthodox Church fails to hinder approvalThe preparation of the document began during the Commission’s previous plenary session, held in Amman, in 2014, and was completed by the Commission’s Coordination Committee during the 2015 meeting in Rome. "In Chieti, - explained a note from the Vatican press office - Members of the Commission will be required to evaluate whether the draft adequately reflects the currently existing consensus on the delicate question of the theological and ecclesiological relationship between primacy and synodality in the Church's life or if further investigation of the issue is required".According to the Moscow Patriarchate, the consensus has been reached, even if the Georgian Orthodox Church "disagreed with the individual paragraphs" of the document. The Georgian objection is contained in a note in the final communiqué adopted by the plenary session. A side note, in this regard, will also be inserted in the joint document, which will be published soon by the Commission. It is an encouraging decision, some commentators have pointed out, as the Orthodox have not allowed the objections of the Georgian Church to prevent the adoption of the document. Georgian Orthodox are indicating their willingness to go their own way on other issues. In previous sessions, the pan-Orthodox council of Crete, for example, they were only ones to oppose marriages between Orthodox and non-Orthodox.The Uniates and the theme of the next plenaryNo agreement was reached in Chieti regarding the next plenary session, which the Moscow Patriarchate hopes will address the issue of Uniatism. It was decided that the Joint Commission Coordinating Committee will decide the theme at their next gathering which will be held in the course of 2017. At the Chieti Plenary, the head of the Russian Orthodox delegation, the 'foreign minister' of the Moscow Patriarchate, Metropolitan Hilarion, however, warned that the action of the Greek-Catholic Church in Ukraine is "unacceptable from the point of view of Christian ethics". Here blame was laid squarely on the shoulders of the Major Archbishop of Kiev, Sviatoslav Shevchuk. According to Moscow his anti-Russian statements, "are contrary to our dialogue and sow distrust between Orthodox and Catholics". "We must be aware that within our Churches, there are people who hinder our path and we must bear this in mind when we think about the future of our dialogue." The other member of the Russian Orthodox delegation, Archimandrite Irenaeus, pointed out that "it will be difficult to move forward in the Orthodox-Catholic dialogue, if the question of the ecclesiological and canonical consequences of Uniatism remains unresolved ". "The goal of our dialogue is not to reach an agreement on issues that already see us in agreement, but we also need to discuss the issues that divide us. And the theme of Uniatism is a highly topical issue, one of the central ones in the second millennium".Proceedings of the Joint Commission - chaired by Cardinal Kurt Koch, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, and the Archbishop of Telmessos Iob (Getcha), the Ecumenical Patriarchate - was attended by two representatives from each of the 14 autocephalous Orthodox Churches and as many Catholic representatives.
Sep 22 16 10:26 AM
As leaders of dozens of religions gathered in Assisi for dialogue and prayers for peace, they honored Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople as an exemplar of one who is so deeply rooted in his own religious tradition that he can reach out to others without fear.Jewish, Anglican and Catholic leaders paid tribute to Patriarch Bartholomew as he was about to celebrate the 25th anniversary of his enthronement as spiritual leader of the world's Orthodox Christians. Pope Francis was scheduled to participate in a celebratory luncheon for the patriarch Sept. 20 in Assisi.The Assisi celebrations Sept. 18-20 were organized by the Rome-based Community of Sant'Egidio, the Diocese of Assisi and the Franciscan friars.In a formal meeting hall at the Basilica of St. Francis in Assisi Sept. 19, the leaders praised Patriarch Bartholomew as an ecumenist, theologian and leading religious defender of God's creation.Anglican Archbishop Justin Welby of Canterbury presided over the tribute to the patriarch, and Cardinal Walter Kasper, former president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, gave the main talk, highlighting how "with great tact in difficult situations" the patriarch "always helped to overcome complicated twists and turns with the grand dexterity of a 'pontiff,' that is, a builder of bridges.""Like you," Cardinal Kasper told the patriarch, "we are certain that unity is a command of the Lord and a response to the signs of the times in a world that is increasingly united, but at the same time profoundly lacerated by many conflicts."The unity Christians hope and pray for, he said, will not be the result of "any absorption, or watering down or homogenization, but a unity in reconciled diversity."Rabbi David Rosen, international director of interreligious affairs for the American Jewish Committee, told participants, "There is an understandable but regrettable tendency among those who are deeply rooted in a religious tradition to be insular and exclusive in their world outlook. While on the other hand, all too often those who are more open to engagement with those different from themselves reflect a superficiality lacking substance."The biblical model of excellence, though, is of "a luxuriant tree," the rabbi said. It is the image of "one profoundly rooted within his own heritage and yet whose branches reach out as widely as possible providing fruit for all."Saying that Patriarch Bartholomew is su"His leadership in the environmental movement, long before it became fashionable, is a reflection of his sincere and genuine care for the cosmos as a whole," he said.Saying he was humbled by the tributes, Patriarch Bartholomew jokingly told the crowd present, "Don't believe everything you hear!"The patriarch said that while he was touched by the words of those he has collaborated with and admired, his work "resembles only a drop of water in an ocean of human pain and global suffering.""We do not rejoice without at the same time recalling and sharing in the suffering of others. And, at the Ecumenical Patriarchate, we certainly never experience joy without remembering that we embody a tradition that has known both glory and martyrdom through the ages," he said.The celebration serves only as an affirmation "that the bishop, too, is a child of God and a son of the church," the patriarch said.
Sep 30 16 4:35 AM
Archbishop Justin Welby and Pope Francis celebrate closer Anglican-Catholic relationshipThe historic first public meeting between a Pope and an Archbishop of Canterbury since the Reformation, which took place 50 years ago in Rome, will be celebrated by the current Pope and Archbishop when they meet next week in Rome. It was a milestone in ecumenical relations when Archbishop Michael Ramsey paid an official visit to Pope Paul VI in 1966. The visit sent shockwaves around the world when Pope Paul presented Archbishop Ramsey with his episcopal ring. Next week’s meeting between Pope Francis and Archbishop Justin will be the third meeting between the pair – a sign of how normal the relationship between the two churches have become.The relationship between the two churches had been thawing in advance of the 1966 meeting. In 1960 Archbishop Geoffrey Fisher paid a private visit to Pope John XXIII in Rome; and the following year Canon Bernard Pawley was appointed as the Archbishops of Canterbury’s and York’s representative to the Holy See. Anglicans were invited to observe the Second Vatican Council, when it met from 1962 to 1965; and it was felt that “a formal line of contact needed to be put in place.”In 1996, while in Rome for that first public meeting, Archbishop Michael opened the Anglican Centre in Rome – a permanent Anglican presence which has provided a formal link between the two churches for the past 50 years.At the same time, Pope Paul and Archbishop Michael issued a common declaration in which they agreed “to inaugurate a serious dialogue . . . which, founded on the Gospels and the ancient common tradition, may lead to the unity for which Christ prayed.” That led to the creation the Anglican Roman Catholic International Commission (Arcic), which was responsible for theological conversations between the two churches.In 2000, Archbishop George Carey and Cardinal Edward Cassidy, the then President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, convoked a conference of Anglican and Roman Catholic bishops to discern the progress made in theological conversations, and whether closer co-operation could be developed between the two traditions. That was the beginning of the International Anglican-Roman Catholic Commission for Unity and Mission (Iarccum).The 50 years of “closer and deeper relationships” between the Anglican Communion and the Roman Catholic Church is being celebrated in a week-long summit beginning today in Canterbury and ending next Friday in Rome. The summit will involve 19 pairs of Anglican and Roman Catholic bishops from around the world who have been selected by Iarccum to “work together in joint mission” and to “look ahead to opportunities for greater unity.”The Anglican and Roman Catholic bishops will take part in Evensong at Canterbury Cathedral tomorrow afternoon (Saturday). Later, tomorrow evening, the cathedral’s undercroft will be the venue for a historic Catholic Vigil Mass.During the week, the bishops will be making presentations about the pastoral challenges in their dioceses, their own experiences and their hopes for the way forward. These presentations will inform the discussions which will follow. They will hold a private meeting with Archbishop Welby on Sunday morning. Next week, the 19 pairs of bishops will be commissioned by Archbishop Justin and Pope Francis at a service in the monastery church of San Gregorio al Cielo on Wednesday afternoon (5 October). The service will feature the Sistine Chapel Choir and the choir of Canterbury Cathedral.The first Archbishop of Canterbury, St Augustine, was the prior of the monastery of San Gregorio before being sent by the Pope to evangelise England in 597. Earlier this year, San Gregorio sent its ancient relic, the head of the crozier of St Gregory the Great, to Canterbury for the Primates’ Gathering and Meeting in a symbol of prayer and support for the Archbishop and the Anglican Communion.On Thursday (6 October), Archbishop Welby will have a private meeting with Pope Francis ahead of a series of meetings with bishops and Vatican officials. As a “mark of their deep friendship and respect”, he will wear the episcopal ring that Pope Paul VI presented to Archbishop Michael in 1966.The summit will also mark the 50th anniversary of the Anglican Centre in Rome. Archbishop Justin will host a dinner in Rome to celebrate five decades of “promoting Christian unity in a divided world.”“The Anglican Centre has worked for fifty years to help Roman Catholics and Anglicans work together, pray together, study and talk together,” the present director, Archbishop David Moxon, said. “The journey we are on demands the laying-down of old fears and misconceptions of each other, and the building up of a shared story together. These celebrations mark the writing of a new chapter in the history of the Christian Church.”The suffragan Bishop in Europe, David Hamid, is the Anglican co-chair of Iarccum. He stressed the enormous importance of the week, saying that “It is an immensely significant occasion.”He added: “There has been such an extraordinary progress towards reconciliation between the two communions in these past fifty years that it is easy to forget just how far we have journeyed together as sisters and brothers in Christ. The common faith we have discovered through our years of dialogue now compels us to act together, sharing in Christ's mission in the world.”
Oct 2 16 11:05 PM
Zenit - Pope Francis wrapped up his visit to Georgia this evening with a plea for Christian unity.The Pope visited the Svietyskhoveli Patriarchal Cathedral in the spiritual center of Georgia, at Mskheta, which is just some 12 miles north of the capital city of Tbilisi.The Pope was greeted by His Holiness and Beatitude Ilia II, Catholicos Patriarch of All Georgia, who accompanied him to the shrine of St. Sidonia.According to tradition, Sidonia was buried with the tunic Christ was wearing before the crucifixion — the one referenced in John 19 as being “without seam, woven from top to bottom,” for which the soldiers “cast lots for it to see whose it shall be.”The Pope and the Patriarch placed two votive candles at the saint’s burial place.Ilia II welcomed the Pope and spoke of the suffering of the Georgian people as well as the history of the tunic and St. Sidonia.“Saint Sidonia belonged to a remarkable family of Georgian Jews: her brother Eliezer brought the Tunic to Georgia. Here, in the town of Mtskheta, their mother, devastated by the Saviour’s sufferings, on the day of His Crucifixion on Great Friday, died, and after her death, the Church of Georgia consecrated her also as a saint,” he said.The Pope referenced the tunic in his call for unity.“The mystery of the tunic, ‘without seam, woven from top to bottom’ (Jn 19:23), has attracted the attention of Christians from the beginning,” he said. “One of the early Church Fathers, Saint Cyprian of Carthage, declared that in the undivided tunic of Jesus there appears that ‘bond of concord inseparably cohering,’ that ‘unity which comes from above, that is, from heaven and from the Father, which could not be definitively rent’ (De Catholicae Ecclesiae Unitate, 7: SCh 1 , 193).”He said the tunic is a mystery of unity and it “exhorts us to feel deep pain over the historical divisions which have arisen among Christians: these are the true and real lacerations that wound the Lord’s flesh.”But, Pope Francis said, the “unity which comes from above” urges us “to not give up but rather to offer ourselves as he did.”The Bishop of Rome acknowledged that the work for unity “requires patience nurtured through trusting others and through humility, without fear and discouragement, but rather rejoicing in the certainty which Christian hope allows us to enjoy. This gives us the incentive to believe that differences can be healed and obstacles removed; it invites us never to miss opportunities for encounter and dialogue, and to protect and together improve what already exists. I am thinking, for example, of the current dialogue of the International Joint Commission and other propitious occasions for exchange.”The Pope’s reference to the commission comes as the Georgian Orthodox Church was in disagreement with the accord reached by the group in September regarding primacy and synodality in the first millennium.The Pope continued speaking about the significance of the tunic: “Saint Cyprian stated also that Christ’s tunic – “one, undivided, all in one piece, indicates the inseparable concord of our people, of us who have been clothed in Christ” (De Cath., 195). Those baptized in Christ, as Saint Paul teaches, have been clothed in Christ (cf. Gal 3:27). Thus, notwithstanding our limitations and quite apart from all successive cultural and historical distinctions, we are called to be “one in Christ Jesus” (Gal 3:28) and to avoid putting first disharmony and divisions between the baptized, because what unites us is much more than what divides us.”
Oct 13 16 12:43 AM
Defending religious freedom, fighting indifference to attacks on human dignity and promoting care of creation are obligations that Orthodox and Catholics share and areas where Pope Francis said he and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople are in deep harmony.In anticipation of the Nov. 2 celebration of the 25th anniversary of the Orthodox patriarch's election, Pope Francis and retired Pope Benedict XVI joined a group of religious and civic leaders in contributing to a book, "Bartholomew: Apostle and Visionary," published by the U.S.-based Thomas Nelson.The Vatican newspaper, L'Osservatore Romano, published the texts written by Pope Francis and Pope Benedict Oct. 12.In many meetings, Pope Francis wrote, the two "have not only strengthened our spiritual affinity, but above all have deepened our shared consciousness of the common pastoral responsibility we have at this point in history before the urgent challenges that Christians and the entire human family face today."At their first meeting, in March 2013, Pope Francis said he felt he was encountering someone "who in his person and his manner expresses all the profound human and spiritual experience of the Orthodox tradition."The relationship has grown and deepened both personally and on the level of their ministries, the Pope said."The church of Rome and the church of Constantinople are united by a profound and longstanding bond, which not even centuries of silence and misunderstanding have been able to sever," Pope Francis wrote. Building on the work of their predecessors, the two leaders have "the sacred task of tracing our way back along the path that paved the separation of our churches, healing the sources of our mutual alienation and moving toward the re-establishment of full communion in faith and love, mindful of our legitimate differences, just as it was in the first millennium."Pope Francis said he has learned much from Patriarch Bartholomew's long study and teaching on the Christian obligation to care for the environment, and he said the two share a Gospel-based commitment to working for "a world that is more just and more respectful of every person's fundamental dignity and freedoms, the most important of which is religious freedom."In working for a world where love and solidarity play a greater role, Pope Francis wrote, "we are both aware that the voices of our brothers and sisters, now to the point of extreme distress, compel us to proceed more rapidly along the path of reconciliation and communion between Catholics and Orthodox, precisely so that they may be able to proclaim credibly the Gospel of peace that comes from Christ."In his contribution to the book, retired Pope Benedict said he first met the patriarch in 2002 as they were traveling with St. John Paul II on a train to Assisi, Italy. "The patriarch had invited me to sit with him for a while in the same compartment and, in this way, to become personally closer."Meeting "along the way" was not accidental, the retired Pope wrote. With the patriarch's knowledge of theology, cultures and languages, "his thought is a journey with others and toward others, which certainly does not degenerate into a lack of direction, in which 'being on the road' would simply lead nowhere.""Deep-rootedness in faith in Jesus Christ, the son of the living God and our redeemer, does not stand in the way of openness to the other, because Jesus Christ bears in himself all truth," Pope Benedict wrote.Referring to Patriarch Bartholomew as "this great man of the church of God," Pope Benedict also praised "his love for creation and his advocacy that it be dealt with in accordance with this love, in matters big and small."Pope Benedict said he was pleased that even after he resigned in 2013, "the patriarch has remained ever close to me personally and has even visited me in my little cloister. In many places in my apartment can be found memorable items from him. These items are not only endearing signs of our personal friendship, but also signposts toward unity between Constantinople and Rome, signs of hope that we are heading toward unity."
Oct 18 16 6:46 AM
Reformation's anniversary brings commemorations, reconsiderationsWhen Pope Francis visits Sweden at the end of October for the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, it will herald fresh debates on the greatest rift in Western Christianity.While affecting Catholics and Protestants everywhere, however, the anniversary will be centered on nearby Germany, where the Reformation's founder, Martin Luther (1483-1546), launched his rebellion against Rome in the early 16th century."The Reformation still causes real division here -- even today, despite all efforts to bring people together, it poses problems in parts of our society," Thomas Lazar, a spokesman for Germany's Catholic church, told NCR. "For all our recent achievements in coexistence and co-operation, closer ties are still needed between us. I hope Protestants will appreciate the effort Catholics are making for this event."Francis will attend a Catholic-Lutheran prayer service on Oct. 31 at the Protestant cathedral of Lund in southern Sweden. It will mark the start of yearlong commemorations of the Reformation, which is traditionally dated from the October 1517 publication of Luther's "Ninety-Five Theses," which questioned the sale of indulgences and the Gospel foundations of papal authority.In a joint statement this June, the Vatican's Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity and the Geneva-based Lutheran World Federation said the pope's visit would also include a 10,000-strong arena gathering at nearby Malmo to "celebrate the fruits of 50 years of dialogue."The whole event would be "structured around thanksgiving, repentance and commitment to common witness," the statement added, while the liturgy in the 12th-century Lund cathedral, which was seized from Catholics in the 1530s, would "express the gifts of the Reformation" and "ask forgiveness for divisions perpetuated by Christians from the two traditions."Even in Scandinavia, planning for the event has sparked controversy.Last April, Catholic Bishop Czeslaw Kozon, president of the Nordic Bishops' Conference, complained about a lack of consultation, and cautioned that local Catholics would "show little interest" if the papal visit was confined to contacts with Lutherans.Catholic teaching is attracting new interest at a time when Scandinavia's predominant Lutheran churches have adopted "very liberal positions," warned Kozon, who heads the diocese of Copenhagen, Denmark. So this was not a time for the Catholic church to be keeping a low profile.Plans for a Catholic Mass at Malmo will have allayed some of the misgivings, while the Nordic Bishops' Conference is to issue a pastoral letter in the run-up to the pope's arrival, urging local Catholics "to reflect and repent for the wound of separation."Yet with views and perspectives still far apart in some quarters, further efforts will be required to ensure the anniversary passes peacefully."There's disappointment in Germany the pope isn't coming here too, although this was never seriously anticipated," Lazar explained. "And while there's no doubt our mutual understanding is much better now, thanks to the work of recent decades, it'll still be important to look back at what we did to each other and seek forgiveness."Luther's movementLuther's famous "Theses," pasted on his church door at Wittenberg in Saxony and sent to the Catholic archbishop of Mainz, denounced the new practice of indulgences and claims that the pope held power in purgatory. His objections soon broadened into a wider critique of papal authority -- and an insistence that the Bible held primacy and salvation was attained by faith alone.Over the following four years, Luther produced works doubting Catholic devotions to the Virgin Mary and the intercession of saints, and questioning the sacraments, good works, clerical celibacy, monasticism, church law and excommunication, as well as the role of secular rulers in religious affairs.While his key motivation was theological, his reform drive acquired political overtones, forcing Germany's princes to decide whether to stay loyal to the pope or pitch in behind new Protestantism. It was hardly surprising that while Luther was excommunicated by Pope Leo X in 1521, he was also outlawed by Holy Roman Emperor Charles V.Yet Luther's movement diversified as the Bible and other Christian texts were printed in local languages, and soon became divided between Luther's followers and those of Huldrych Zwingli and John Calvin in neighboring Switzerland. Radical offshoots emerged, including the Moravians and Anabaptists, sparking the German Peasants' War, in which at least 100,000 died.The Catholic church responded with a Counter-Reformation, initiated by the 1545-63 Council of Trent and led in part by the new Society of Jesus.But Lutheran churches were founded in Germany, the Baltic states and Scandinavia, and Reformed or Calvinist churches in Switzerland, Hungary, France, the Netherlands and Scotland, while a separate Church of England, formed under King Henry VIII, attempted a via media, or middle way, combining Protestant liturgy and administration with a Catholic priesthood and sacraments.The clash of ideas and influences spurred the advance of literacy, state administration and economic development. While Northern Europe mostly opted for Protestantism, and Southern Europe remained Catholic, much of Central Europe was devastated over the next century by religious wars, as Catholic and Protestant rulers fought and allied against each other.Signs of rapprochementNot surprisingly, the Reformation left deep rifts and resentments, and it was only at the 1962-65 Second Vatican Council that real signs of rapprochement began to appear.Vatican II's November 1964 Decree on Ecumenism, Unitatis Redintegratio, conceded that the continued division "openly contradicts the will of Christ, scandalizes the world and damages the holy cause of preaching the Gospel." It urged Catholics to "recognize the signs of the times" and work for ecumenical ties, and called for dialogue on issues such as ministry, authority and worship.Three decades later, Pope John Paul II's 1995 encyclical Ut Unum Sint also appealed for a "clearer understanding" of the Eucharist, ordination and Catholic magisterium, as well as the intercessory role of the Virgin Mary and the relationship between Scripture and tradition.In 1999, a historic Catholic-Lutheran joint declaration concluded that both churches could now "articulate a common understanding" of the key Reformation doctrine of justification, and confirmed that "remaining differences" no longer merited condemnations.Aided by new insights, the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification enthused, it was now possible "to formulate a consensus on basic truths." A "decisive step forward" had been taken "on the way to overcoming the division of the church."Less than a year later, a declaration from the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith called Dominus Iesus enraged Lutherans by appearing to relegate non-Catholic churches to the status of "ecclesial communities," lacking the "fullness of the means of salvation."Yet key subsequent statements to Lutheran leaders -- by Pope Benedict XVI in Erfurt, Germany, in September 2011, and Pope Francis in Rome in December 2014 -- have confirmed closer ties. It's been in Germany, the Reformation's heartland, where the most marked progress has been achieved.Catholics make up 29 percent of Germany's 82 million inhabitants; members of 15 regional Lutheran churches of the Evangelical Church of Germany make up 27 percent. While both have faced declining membership, they've also cited a growing closeness.Back in 1980, one joint report described the 1530 Augsburg Confession, which set out the new Lutheran faith, as "worthy in intention" and confirmed that Catholics and Lutherans could now "see Jesus Christ together as the living center of their faith."In 1983, on the 500th anniversary of Luther's birth, another joint Catholic-Lutheran document praised the reformer as "witness of the Gospel, teacher in faith and summoner to spiritual renewal."Another in 1986 asked whether Reformation-era church leaders had "correctly understood" convictions at the time, while a shared report in 1996 recognized that Luther's "understanding of the Word of God" could serve as "a role model for all Christians."This August, the German Bishops' Conference made another major gesture by bringing key ecumenical documents since the 1960s together in a 206-page collection, and explaining how each had contributed to closer ties. In his foreword, Magdeburg Bishop Gerhard Feige, chairman of the German church's Ecumenical Commission, confirmed the "common judgement" that previous condemnations were now invalid, and predicted the collection would help Catholics and Lutherans come together behind joint "development goals.""The history of the Reformation has, over time, encountered a changeable reception in the Catholic church, where its events and protagonists were long seen in a negative, derogatory light -- through a long ecumenical dialogue, the theological differences rooted in the period have been re-evaluated," Feige added. "Memories of the Reformation and subsequent separation of Western Christianity are still not free from pain. But while wounds are still felt to the present day, it's gratifying that Catholic theology has succeeded, in the meantime, in soberly reconsidering these 16th-century events."In their overall introduction, the German bishops went further still, bringing Catholics closer to endorsing some of the Reformation's claims. Luther's work still posed a "theological and spiritual challenge," they noted, and had "ecclesial and political implications for understanding the church and its magisterium."However, Luther himself should now be seen as "a religious pathfinder, Gospel witness and teacher of the faith," whose "concern for renewal in repentance and conversion" had not been given an "adequate hearing" by Rome."The Catholic church may recognize today what was important in the Reformation -- namely, that sacred Scripture is the center and standard for all Christian life," the bishops confirmed. "Connected with this is Martin Luther's fundamental insight that God's self-revelation in Jesus Christ for the salvation of the people is proclaimed in the Gospel -- that Jesus Christ is the center of Scripture and the only mediator."'A basic duty'Conservative Catholics have long complained about the liberal stance taken by German bishops on aspects of Catholic teaching, a contention that was showcased at the October 2015 Synod of Bishops on the family. Those Catholics may well see the favorable evaluation of Luther's reforms as a new provocation.But Fulda Bishop Heinz Josef Algermissen, the Ecumenical Commission's vice-chairman, is optimistic."Ecumenism has to be considered a basic duty for Christians -- if we confess one church, we have to make an effort and pray for the restoration of broken unity," Algermissen, who also heads the German church's Pax Christi association, told NCR. "We have a common responsibility for our faithful -- and this includes a commitment to peace, to the persecuted and to refugees. We also have to find a common voice in protecting human life against abortion and euthanasia, as well as on other vital bioethical matters."Besides the Swedish ceremonies with the pope, anniversary commemorations are planned in Wittenberg, Halle and other towns linked to Luther's movement. In an exchange of conciliatory letters in June 2015, the German Bishops' Conference president, Cardinal Reinhard Marx, and the Evangelical Church in Germany president, Bishop Heinrich Bedford-Strohm, outlined plans for a joint Catholic-Lutheran message "witnessing to the hope that defines us as Christians" -- to be issued during an unprecedented ecumenical pilgrimage to the Holy Land.A service for "healing memories" is also planned for Lent 2017, as well as a major interchurch conference on the Bible, to express what Marx has called the "deep mutual connection formed through faith in Jesus Christ, the reading of Scripture and the sacramental bond of baptism."Other fixtures will include ecumenical ceremonies for the Exaltation of the Cross, known by Lutherans as Holy Cross Day, and a joint "missionary jet force" to re-publicize the Christian faith in German society."The Reformation and developments that followed it are also a part of Catholic church history," Marx told Bedford-Strohm in his letter. "In Germany, where the Reformation originated, we have a special joint responsibility to ensure this act of remembrance strengthens the rapprochement between our churches."Lazar, the German church spokesman, thinks most Catholics and Lutherans will concur in using the anniversary as an opportunity to come closer than ever before, and to reveal Christianity's vitality to a secularized country where it's long been in retreat.Algermissen agrees. While much remains to be done, he's sure the shared commemoration will "provide a bold impulse" for "speaking with one voice as Christians," while also encouraging Catholics to reflect on the tragic divisions from the past."We must ask ourselves whether the Reformation was really an event breaking with the past, or actually something in continuity with a universal church tradition," Algermissen told NCR. "In any event, we can't just see this as a jubilee. We must also contemplate the errors of the past, admitting our guilt and repenting on both sides for the past 500 years. And we must aim not just at reconciled diversity, but at visible unity."
Oct 20 16 3:40 AM
As we approach the year of events leading up to the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation on Oct. 31, 2017, a resurfacing question will be: Do we celebrate? Repent? Commemorate? Perhaps all three?This is the first time the centenary observance of the Reformation will occur in an ecumenical era. Since the Joint Declaration of the Doctrine of Justification by the Vatican and the Lutheran World Federation in 1999, we've reached a new stage. We've made more progress in the last 50 years toward healing the wounds of our divisions than we have in the last five centuries.Top Lutheran theologians participated as observers at the Second Vatican Council (1962-65). The international dialogue between the Vatican Secretariat for Ecumenism and the Lutheran World Federation started in 1967. After five sessions, they came out with the Malta Report in 1972 in which it was clear they decided to take on in the ensuing years a whole range of issues: Scripture and tradition; admission to the Eucharist; justification by faith; church law; ordination.At a weeklong conference on "Fifty Years of Lutheran-Catholic Dialogue" last July at the Lutheran Institute for Ecumenical Research in Strasbourg, France, Dominican Fr. Hervé Legrand, a participant in the dialogue, gave an overview of the dialogue commission's work.Discussion on Eucharist and ministry led to a new document in 1978 on "The Lord's Supper." Catholics and Lutherans agreed: Celebration of the Eucharist doesn't "repeat" the sacrifice of the cross or add to its salvific value. In the document, giving Communion under both kinds and preaching at every Mass was asked of Catholics, while a weekly celebration was asked of Lutherans. There is extensive agreement on the real presence under the signs of bread and wine.As Lutherans only have two sacraments -- baptism and Eucharist -- they do not profess the sacramentality of ordination. For them, it is more of a collegial reality, whereas for Catholics it has an indelible character, that is, it marks one for life and cannot just be given up or repeated. There was a convergence of understanding on this, but a lack of accord on who can be ordained.On the question of the ordination of bishops, for Catholics, if one becomes a bishop, one enters the college of the apostles. This historical link made sense to the Lutheran representatives for universal unity in apostolic teaching.The Malta Report ended with the recommendation, based on growing theological agreement, that occasional sharing in the Eucharist should be allowed. "Not enough attention and action has been given to this recommendation," said Legrand."Canon law remains a huge obstacle in the ecumenical movement," Legrand observed, "and is tying the hands of Pope Francis as well."He reflected that Vatican II was too short, inasmuch as it was primarily a theological council. There wasn't enough time to make the called-for adaptations in canon law in which, for example, there is no place for synods."The law is not fruitful for ecumenical dialogue," said Legrand. "Primacy is never to be thought about without collegiality."The international commission's 1985 document "Facing Unity" recommends that Roman Catholics recognize the Augsburg Confession -- the primary confession of faith of the Lutheran church -- as a legitimate profession of faith. "Facing Unity" invites Catholics to recognize Martin Luther as our common teacher, as one whose heritage has been distorted over time.Cardinal Johannes Willebrands, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity from 1969 to 1989, noted that Vatican II accepted many of Luther's demands. Thanks to Luther, he said, many good ideas have been introduced into the Roman Catholic church, such as the use of the vernacular in liturgy; offering of both species in holy Communion; need for constant reform; priesthood of all believers; and more attention to Scripture and preaching. What we have in common is more important than what divides us.Our task now, said Legrand, is to outline a path toward unity. The way forward is to drop the condemnations of the past. To recognize legitimate diversity. To collaborate in ministry. To reach a common understanding of episcopacy, the college of bishops, apostolic succession, and the office of Peter.
Oct 22 16 6:17 AM
Pope in Sweden could break ground on inter-communion, bishop saysThe English bishop William Kenney is a key figure in the official Catholic-Lutheran dialogue, and will be with Pope Francis in Sweden at the end of the month. He believes unity is a matter of decades away, and it's possible that Francis may use the trip to make a gesture on inter-communion. To describe English bishop William Kenney as an “auxiliary of Birmingham” doesn’t capture the depth and range of his longstanding roles in pan-European church bodies - for two terms, for example, he was president of Caritas Europe, and he played a key role in organizing relief efforts for former Soviet countries following the collapse of the Berlin Wall.Next week he will be part of a small, inner core at the joint Catholic-Lutheran commemoration of the five-hundredth anniversary of the Reformation for which Francis will be going to Sweden. It’s the first visit by any pope to Scandinavia since John Paul II’s 1989 visit, which Kenney, incidentally, coordinated.A fluent Swedish-speaker who spent 37 years in Sweden, Kenney - who also speaks good German - has long been involved with ecumenical dialogues at the inter-Nordic level, especially in the formal dialogue between Catholics and Lutherans. In 2013 he was appointed by the Holy See as co-chair of the international dialogue between the Lutheran World Federation and the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity.Recently he sat down with Crux in London to talk through the background to the event, the dialogue that’s expected to take place, and what Pope Francis might do or say to take it to a new level.The Anglicans were recently in Rome to celebrate 50 years of relations and ecumenical dialogue. The dialogue with the Lutherans has been going on since the 1960s. How would you compare the two? They’re the two big dialogues that are going on. Both are of the same character, in the sense that not everyone in the Anglican Church is signed up to the Anglican one, and certainly not everyone in the Lutheran Church is signed up to the Lutheran one - there is another Lutheran body, apart from the Lutheran World Federation (LWF), but the LWF is biggest.But I would suggest that the Lutheran dialogue is nearer to us than the Anglican one is, even doctrinally. As the dialogues go, it has been quite successful.The dialogue with the Lutherans since the 1960s led to the 1999 Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification. The things that we thought caused the Reformation have been taken away- the excommunication of the Lutherans was lifted, the condemnation of the Catholics were lifted. That is the formal Churches’ position now, it is not just a theological proposition.There are those who say this has already achieved unity; it is certainly a major step forward, and it has removed most of the problems of the Reformation.Since then we’ve been trying to find out what it means. It’s like when the Holy Spirit does anything - there’s this huge bomb, and then you try to find out what happened. That’s what we’re in the process of doing at the moment. The current dialogue, for example, is about the effects of baptism. There are serious Lutheran theologians who say that once you recognize baptism, which we do, then the Eucharist follows automatically, and so we should have inter-communion. That needs discussing.Of course, some Lutherans don’t sign up to the declaration, and there are Catholics who don’t sign up to it either, but it is a major step forward. The issues which are still left, sexuality and women priests, are the ones that come up in modern times; they’re not the Reformation issues.The women priests question is complicated, because some of the women priests I meet we have no problem with, because what they consider as priesthood has almost nothing to do with what we consider as priesthood.I have received into the Church former Lutheran women priests who, in all honesty, simply wanted to preach, it had nothing to do with sacramental life.The consensus of the 1999 document on justification stated, if I’ve understood it correctly, that the reasons for the Catholics condemning the Protestant positions and vice-versa no longer hold, and if ever each Church did hold the position that the other said they did, what is now true is that neither Church no longer holds that position. In other words, the Reformation was all a big misunderstanding!That’s a good popular summary, yes. Would Martin Luther have been excommunicated today? The answer is no, he probably wouldn’t. And he did not want to split the Church - he came to that, but it’s not where he began.Of course, you’ll find certain Catholics and certain Lutherans still claiming the other holds those positions, but they are not representative of the mainstream positions of the Churches. The document was approved by Rome, which binds Catholics whether they like it or not; the Lutherans are made up of about 100 churches, and there were about 37 who didn’t, back then, sign up to it. Some have come into line since.When you read ‘From Conflict to Communion,’ the joint document summarizing that dialogue which has been issued to prepare both Churches for the commemoration, it is quite extraordinary how much convergence there is. And that’s why some people say we’re there, or almost there.Of course, Luther would have been very shocked by homosexuality and women’s issues. Ecclesiology remains a key issue. But overall, we’re getting there, and this will inevitably lead to very painful decisions on both sides - about structure, about organizations and things like that.With the document on justification, the central element of Protestant identity was taken away. Suddenly you can no longer define yourself against the other. I think we’re getting to the part of Catholic-Lutheran dialogue where unity will become a practical possibility, within decades.Which raises, of course, what we mean by Christian unity. The Holy See’s position is that we are working for “visible unity”, without defining what it is. But I can confidently say that’s more than what we’ve got now.I think the Holy See is very sincere about that objective. If you go back to John Paul II’s Ut Unum Sint, when he asks the other Churches how they would like to see the papacy exercised, it’s because he wants all Christians to acknowledge the pope. He wasn’t saying they had to acknowledge the papacy as it is now, but to have some discussion about what it could be.He said, “write to me, tell me what you want,” but they didn’t - or only very few. I can remember it took me about two years to get the Swedish church to even answer that.Francis in Evangelii Gaudium quotes that passage from Ut Unum Sint and says nothing happened with it. What is Francis doing now, or could he do, to make that invitation more concrete to Lutherans?He could obviously repeat it. He could, if he had the resources, get the Pontifical Council for Christian Unity to follow it up - we need to put skilled people onto it. Certainly Francis’s embrace of synodality has gone down very well with the Lutherans.‘From Conflict to Communion’ describes that what will happen in Lund is not a celebration, because we don’t celebrate division within Christianity, so what is it about? Is it a celebration of the journey the two Churches have been on towards unity? And why do you think Rome has agreed to kick off the Protestant world’s commemoration of the Reformation in Sweden?I do know that there was a lot of talk in advance about whether the pope would come, and whether he would take part. But there has always been a Catholic presence at these Reformation commemorations - at least in recent times.The pope coming, I think, is really his decision: as you know, he’s the man of the symbol, and the symbolic action of being there, whatever he says, is what will really matter.Why Sweden? Because in 1947 the World Lutheran Federation was founded in Lund, and later went to Geneva. It’s important to note that the invitations are not from the Church in Sweden, they are from the LWF and from the Vatican. My invitation is signed by Cardinal Kurt Koch of the Council for Promoting Christian Unity and the chair of the Lutheran World Federation, Bishop Munib Younan.So by speaking in Sweden, they are addressing all Lutherans everywhere?That’s right.Which brings us to one of the reasons for the commemoration - to assist with the reception of the document on justification, in other words, to help Lutherans and Catholics get behind it. That’s right - to gain popularity and knowledge of it, and to say to each other, these Catholics are not as horrible as we thought, these Lutherans are not as horrible as we thought. And let’s get together.Most Catholics - and no doubt most Lutherans - have never read the document, and may wonder, ‘how does this affect us, in the parish?’ How would you summarize its importance for the person in the pew?I think it’s very important that people know that the Reformation was a great misunderstanding, we all got it wrong, on both sides, and we’ve lifted excommunications and condemnations and apologized. So we can all be friends.Which might lead some to say, if not ‘so what?’ then at least, ‘and now what?’I think you’ve got to start now moving towards that visible unity. There’s no elephant in the room any longer. The elephant has gone back to the jungle and we’re left staring at each other in the same room, not really sure about each other. I think much of the ecumenical stuff now has to be at the local level. One of the big issues - and it will be interesting to see if Francis even mentions it - is inter-communion.He’s already made a gesture about that, of course, when he visited a Lutheran church in Rome and, during a question-and-answer session, suggested to a Lutheran woman married to a Catholic man that perhaps, if her conscience permitted, she could receive communion in her husband’s church. He did, but we’re not sure what it meant. He’s never clarified that.There are respected Lutheran theologians who will say that by the very fact that you acknowledge baptism, which we already do, that automatically gives entrance to the Eucharist. That is an accepted theological position, which the Catholic Church does not accept but it respects. That is a way forward.Already we allow Lutherans and other Protestants who can’t approach their own ministers, in certain circumstances, to receive - that’s allowed. So we can’t say at the same time that they don’t believe what we do. You can’t have it both ways.You’ve got some Lutherans in Germany saying, because of this, that therefore we should withdraw our approval of the joint declaration, and you’ve got some Catholics in the United States who are saying therefore we should withdraw our recognition of Lutheran baptism. That is theological nonsense, and that is not Rome’s position - we recognize their baptism, and that’s not even open to discussion.On the Eucharist, Lutherans have more or less the same doctrine as we have. But you’ve got Lutheran priests with practices that suggest otherwise, but they’re not widespread.But there is enough convergence for Francis to have made his still-not-entirely-clear gesture?If I wanted Francis to cause a pleasant revolution in Lund, he would say Lutherans can, under certain circumstances without asking all the time, receive the Eucharist. That would be a major gesture. The sort of thing I would like to see is that in a so-called ecumenical marriage, the non-Catholic party can always go to Communion with his or her partner. That would be a major step forward, and it’s pastorally very desirable.I wouldn’t want to say, and it won’t happen, that any Lutheran could receive at a Catholic Mass - we’re not there yet, and it would cause confusion. But if you were to say, anybody who is married to a Lutheran and they are both believing…these marriages exist, very much so.Francis is famously impatient with theological dialogue. He’s not against it, but he’s convinced you need to act together to create spaces for the Holy Spirit to act, and that’s what will bring about the unity. Mission together, act for justice together, show mercy … that’s what brings about unity, and the theological dialogue will catch up. That was more or less the message with the Anglicans.That’s right. I think the justice part is there already - I can’t remember having a disagreement with a Lutheran over justice and peace issues; there’s at least as much agreement as among Catholics. Catholics and Lutherans often work together, issue joint declarations - for example, Caritas Internationalis and Swedish Church Aid. On South Sudan, we’re cooperating with the Swedish Church, for example.We’re also beginning to get somewhere on evangelization and catechesis. The problem is always that we’re not quite teaching the same things yet. We’re certainly praying together - there’s a constant stream of invitations from both sides. And we’re long past the days of shouting at each other through newspapers. Nowadays you pick up the phone and say, ‘what the heck is going on?’ The relations between Catholic and Lutheran bishops are generally very good.One of the concrete calls made at the end of ‘From Conflict to Communion’ is to jointly “rediscover the Gospel for our time.” That’s vague, but I’m guessing that it could mean acting together, for example, on refugees, on which Sweden has been exceptional - which is no doubt something Pope Francis will draw attention to. I think we and Lutherans can say, right now, faced with this huge movement of people, what right do we have to keep people out who are poor and desperate? When our politicians tell us we’re the fifth largest economy in the world? We should be out on the byways, and inviting them in.It’s interesting that, apart from Italy, which has been fantastic, the countries that have taken in most people are Lutheran. They put the rest of us to shame. That might be something the pope wants to draw attention to.
Oct 27 16 4:54 AM
The extension of Pope Francis' trip to Sweden by one day to accommodate a papal Mass for the nations' Catholics does not detract from the ecumenical power of the trip, but actually highlights the need for Christian unity, said the general secretary of the Lutheran World Federation.Initially, Pope Francis had planned to make a day trip to Sweden Oct. 31 to take part in two ecumenical events launching a year of commemorations of the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. But at the urging of local Catholics, the pope decided to spend the night and celebrate Mass Nov. 1 before returning to Rome.The Rev. Martin Junge, general secretary of the LWF, told reporters at the Vatican Oct. 26 that the Lutherans fully understand the desire of Catholics in Sweden to have Mass with the pope and the pastoral responsibility of the pope to fulfill that request."Of course," he said, "it is also going to reveal that we are not yet united; it is going to reveal a wound that remains there" since the divisions between Catholics and Lutherans mean that in general Eucharist sharing still is not possible.While Rev. Junge and other Lutheran leaders have accepted an invitation to attend the Mass, the fact that they will not receive Communion "is going to be a strong encouragement to continue working toward unity," he said.Both Rev. Junge and Cardinal Kurt Koch, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, said the biggest breakthrough in Lutheran-Catholic relations was the signing in 1999 of a joint declaration on justification, or how people are made righteous in the eyes of God and saved. But before eucharistic sharing and full unity are possible, they said, further agreement must be found on Catholic and Lutheran understandings about the church, the Eucharist and ministry.Cardinal Koch said marriages between a Protestant and a Catholic are a pastoral concern for both churches, particularly in finding ways to encourage continued church participation and in dealing with the question of going to Communion together.As a pastor in Switzerland, where about half the population is Catholic and half is Protestant, Cardinal Koch said he began studying ecumenical theology specifically to understand how to best minister to such couples. "It's a most pastoral concern and, I think, very close to the heart of Pope Francis."A year ago, during a visit to a Lutheran church in Rome, a Lutheran woman married to a Catholic man asked Pope Francis what she and her husband could do to receive Communion together; the pope said he could not issue a general rule on shared Communion, but the couple should pray, study and then act according to their consciences."We sense that our ability to come with relevant responses and answers to the very complex questions around sharing the Eucharist table has an urgency in the life of the people," Rev. Junge told reporters at the Vatican. "I really hope the joint commemoration (of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation) gives us a strong encouragement to be faster, to be bolder, to be more creative" in addressing remaining differences, "with a very strong focus on where people feel the lack of unity the heaviest: around the table."Asked if there were any plans for Pope Francis to lift the excommunication of Martin Luther, Cardinal Koch said no because "excommunication ends with the death of a person." It is a penalty imposed by the church during a person's lifetime with the hope of getting the person to return to full communion with the church.Briefing reporters on the logistics of the trip to Sweden, Greg Burke, Vatican spokesman, said that because the trip does not include Stockholm where the nuncio and the only Catholic bishop live, Pope Francis would be staying at Igelosa, a medical research company near Lund where the Scandinavian bishops have stayed during their annual meetings.
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