14 September 2018
Pope Francis meets on 14 September with 150 participants at a Vatican meeting to coordinate Catholic humanitarian and reconstruction aid for the people of Syria and Iraq. The aid, Pope Francis said, is "a source of light in the present and a seed of hope that will bear fruit in the future." (photo: CNS/Vatican Media)
The way Catholics and Catholic organizations listen and respond to pleas for help from people trapped in or forced to flee war zones “is a source of light in the present and a seed of hope that will bear fruit in the future,” Pope Francis said.
Meeting on 14 September with 150 representatives of Catholic agencies and others assisting victims of the wars in Syria and Iraq, Pope Francis said that each day he places before the Lord “the sufferings and the needs of the churches and people of those beloved lands as well as those who work to assist them. This is true. Every day.”
The pope repeated his plea to the international community to help find a way to restore peace throughout Syria and to guarantee the conditions that will allow the millions of people displaced by the fighting in Syria and Iraq to return home.
The September gathering at the Vatican was the sixth formal meeting designed to coordinate Catholic aid to the region.
In preparation for the meeting, a Vatican study estimated that in 2018 more than 3.9 million Syrians and Iraqis would benefit from more than $229 million of aid and reconstruction efforts funded by the Catholic Church and its members.
The Vatican Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development surveyed 84 Catholic organizations, agencies, bishops’ conferences, dioceses and religious orders involved in providing assistance to Syrians and Iraqis in their homelands or in neighboring countries.
“Although in Syria the conflict is continuing in some areas of the country -- where basic needs still have to be met -- the survey shows how for the first time we are looking toward the future, including in crisis response activities, with the end of the acute phase of the emergency in most sectors of intervention and a transition to the early recovery phase,” the report said. In 2014, the largest sector of spending was on food aid, while for 2019 the priorities are education, livelihood and jobs, health and psycho-social support.
The Catholic aid comprises both humanitarian assistance -- offered to anyone in need -- and support for the local Christian communities and their return and rebuilding efforts, the dicastery said.
Because of “the real risk that the Christian presence may disappear” from the region, Pope Francis said all Catholics should be offering prayers for and concrete charity to support their brothers and sisters in Syria and Iraq, encouraging them “not to give in to the darkness of violence and to keep alive the light of hope.”
The Catholic response, he said, reminds him of passages from the prayer attributed to St. Francis of Assisi: “Where there is hatred, let me bring love. ... Where there is despair, let me bring hope. Where there is sadness, let me bring joy.”
23 August 2018
Tags: Syria Iraq
Pope Francis listens as Lebanese Cardinal Bechara Rai, patriarch of the Maronite Catholic Church, speaks during an audience with participants in the annual meeting of the International Catholic Legislators Network, at the Vatican on 22 August. (CNS photo/Vatican Media)
Catholic legislators must defend religious freedom around the globe, but they must take care to ensure they do not fall into the trap of showing disrespect toward or intolerance of other religions while doing so, Pope Francis said.
The pope met on 22 August with participants in the annual meeting of the International Catholic Legislators Network and the group’s “freedom summit.”
According to the group’s website, the network began in 2010 “as an independent and nonpartisan international initiative to bring together practicing Catholics and other Christians in elected office on a regular basis for faith formation, education and fellowship.”
Pope Francis told participants that the Christian politician is called “to try, with humility and courage, to be a witness” to Christian values and to propose and support legislation in line with a Christian vision of society and of the human person.
The situation of Christians and other religious minorities in some parts of the world has “tragically worsened” due to “intolerant, aggressive and violent positions” even in countries that claim to recognize the freedom of religion, he said.
While defending religious freedom is part of the obligation to promote the common good, Pope Francis cautioned the legislators about the rhetoric and actions they use to do so. There is “the real danger of combating extremism and intolerance with just as much extremism and intolerance, including in attitudes and words,” he said.
29 January 2018
Tags: Lebanon Pope Francis
Pope Francis and Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk of Kiev-Halych, head of the Ukrainian Catholic Church, release doves at the end of the pope’s meeting with the Ukrainian Catholic community at the Basilica of Santa Sophia in Rome on 28 January. (photo: CNS/Remo Casilli, Reuters)
Pope Francis’ visit to the Ukrainian Catholic Basilica of Santa Sophia in Rome combined elements of his parish visits with elements of his visits to centers for migrants and refugees.
While the basilica is a fully functioning parish, most of its members are migrant women working in Rome and sending money home to their families in Ukraine.
In his speech to the community gathered at Santa Sophia 28 January, Pope Francis offered his own reflection on “The Vibrant Parish: a Place to Encounter the Living Christ,” which is the theme of a multiyear renewal effort in Ukrainian Catholic parishes around the world.
“A vibrant parish is a place to encounter the living Christ,” he said. “I hope that you always will come here for the bread for your daily journey, the consolation of your hearts, the healing of your wounds.”
A vibrant parish, he said, also is the place to pass on the faith to the younger generations.
“Young people need to perceive this: that the church is not a museum, that the church is not a tomb,” the pope added. They need to see that “the church is alive, that the church gives life and that God is Jesus Christ, the living Christ, in the midst of the church.”
But Pope Francis also spoke about the loneliness of being a migrant, the hard work and low pay many Ukrainian women receive in caring for children or the elderly in Italy and, particularly, the worry and concern over the ongoing war in Eastern Ukraine.
The pope also used the visit as a way to underline the importance of remembering the past and honoring those who dedicated their lives to preserving and sharing the faith, including under the harshest conditions, when the Ukrainian Catholic Church was outlawed by the Soviet Union and its bishops and many of its priests were imprisoned.
The first person he honored was the late Cardinal Josyf Slipyj, who was exiled to Rome after 18 years in Soviet jails and gulags. The cardinal built the basilica as a cathedral for the Ukrainian Catholic Church, which was banned in its homeland.
Pope Francis said the cardinal wanted it “to shine like a prophetic sign of freedom in the years when access to many houses of worship was forbidden. But with the sufferings he endured and offered to the Lord, he contributed to building another temple, even grander and more beautiful, the edifice of living stones which is you,” the pope told the faithful.
Pope Francis attends a meeting with the Ukrainian Catholic community at the Basilica of Santa Sophia in Rome. (photo: CNS/Remo Casilli, Reuters)
Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk, major archbishop of Kiev-Halych and head of the Ukrainian Catholic Church, welcomed Pope Francis to the basilica. He said that while officially there are about 200,000 Ukrainians living in Italy, the number is probably double that. About 17,000 people attend the Divine Liturgy each week in one of 145 Ukrainian Catholic communities in Italy; they are served by 65 priests, the archbishop said.
The archbishop also said he hoped Pope Francis’ visit to the basilica would be just the first step toward a papal visit to Ukraine.
Pope Francis urged the community members to remember all those who suffered in Ukraine to preserve the faith and to hand it on, including mothers and grandmothers who baptized their children or grandchildren at great risk when Ukraine was under Soviet domination.
That same commitment to faith and desire to share it, he said, is seen today in the Ukrainian women who work for Italian families and become witnesses of faith to them.
“Behind each of you there is a mother, a grandmother who transmitted the faith,” the pope said. “Ukrainian women are heroic, thank the Lord.”
The war in Eastern Ukraine, which has been continuing for four years, also was on the minds and hearts of the pope and the Ukrainian faithful. Archbishop Shevchuk said that while “Russian aggression” continues, the international community has forgotten about the fighting.
Pope Francis told the Ukrainian community, “I know that while you are here, your hearts beat for your country and they beat not only with affection, but also with anguish, especially because of the scourge of war and the economic difficulties.
“I am here to tell you that I am close to you, close with my heart, close with my prayers, close when I celebrate the Eucharist,” the pope told them. “I beg the Prince of Peace to silence the weapons.”
Before leaving the basilica, Archbishop Shevchuk took Pope Francis down to the crypt to pray at the tomb of Bishop Stefan Chmil.
Earlier, Pope Francis told the people in the basilica that when he was 12 years old and then-Father Chmil, a Salesian, was ministering in Buenos Aires, he would serve Divine Liturgy for the priest.
Being an altar server three times a week, he said, he learned from Father Chmil “the beauty of your liturgy,” but also about what was happening in Ukraine under communism and “how the faith was tried and forged in the midst of the terrible atheistic persecutions of the last century.”
You can watch a video about his visit below.
25 January 2018
Pope Francis presides over an ecumenical prayer service 25 January with Orthodox Metropolitan Gennadios of Italy and Malta and Anglican Archbishop Bernard Ntahoturi, the archbishop of Canterbury’s personal representative to the Holy See, at Rome’s Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls. The service marked the end of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.
(photo: CNS/Alessandro Bianchi, Reuters)
When different Christian churches recognize the validity of one another’s baptisms, they are recognizing that God’s grace is at work in them, Pope Francis said.
“Even when differences separate us, we recognize that we are part of the redeemed people, the same family of brothers and sisters loved by the one Father,” the pope said 25 January an ecumenical evening prayer service closing the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.
The week ends on the feast of the Conversion of St. Paul, and the papal vespers are celebrated at Rome’s Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls, the church where, according to tradition, the apostle is buried.
At the beginning of the prayer service, Pope Francis stood before what is believed to be St. Paul’s tomb, accompanied by Orthodox Metropolitan Gennadios of Italy and Malta and Anglican Archbishop Bernard Ntahoturi, the archbishop of Canterbury’s personal representative to the Holy See.
The theme of the 2018 week of prayer was “Your right hand, O Lord, glorious in power,” which is taken from the song of Moses and Miriam in the Book of Exodus. It is a song of praise to God for having saved the Israelites as they crossed the Red Sea.
In his homily, Pope Francis said the early church theologians saw the parting of the Red Sea, the drowning of the Pharaoh’s forces and the safe passage of the Israelites as an image of baptism.
“Our sins are what was drowned by God in the living waters of baptism,” he said. “Sin threatened to make us slaves forever, but the force of divine love overpowered it.”
Precisely because Christians have experienced God’s “powerful mercy in saving us,” they can pray together and sing God’s praises, he said.
Related: Praying for Christian Unity
Another lesson from the crossing of the Red Sea, the pope said, is that while it involved individuals being saved by God, it also involved a community.
And after St. Paul was knocked off his horse and converted, he said, “the grace of God pushed him to seek communion with other Christians, immediately, first in Damascus and then in Jerusalem.”
“That is our experience as believers,” the pope said. “Bit by bit as we grow in the spiritual life, we understand better that grace reaches us together with others and that it is meant to be shared with others.”
“When we say we recognize the baptism of Christians from other traditions, we are confessing that they, too, have received the forgiveness of the Lord and his grace is working in them,” Pope Francis said. “And we accept their worship as an authentic expression of praise for what God has accomplished.”
But, he said, like the Israelites who wandered through the desert after passing through the Red Sea, Christians today face difficulties in their journey together. Some even face the danger of martyrdom simply because they are Christians.
And, like people of many religious traditions, there are millions of Christians in the world who fleeing from conflict and poverty or who are victims of human trafficking or are starving “in a world increasingly rich in means and poor in love,” the pope said.
But united in baptism and strengthened by God’s grace, he said, Christians are called to support one another and, “armed only with Jesus and the sweet power of his Gospel, to face every challenge with courage and hope.”
Earlier in the day, meeting with a delegation from the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland, Pope Francis said the greatest ecumenical challenge is to proclaim together faith in God and Jesus Christ to an increasingly secularized world.
And acting together on that faith, he said, Christians must ask for God’s grace to become instruments of his peace.
“May he help us always, amid divisions between peoples, to work together as witnesses and servants of his healing and reconciling love, and in this way to sanctify and glorify his name,” the pope told the Finnish delegation.
18 January 2018
Palestinian leader Mahmud Abbas (L), Grand Imam of Al-Azhar, Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayeb (C) and Pope Tawadros II, leader of Egypt's Orthodox Christians, attend a conference on Jerusalem in Cairo on 17 January 2018. Pope Francis was unable to attend the conference, but sent a message to the imam expressing his hopes and prayers for the region. (photo: Fayed El-Geziry/AFP/Getty Images)
Christians, Muslims and Jews who are sincere about their faith must be committed to protecting the special character of Jerusalem and to praying and working for peace in the Holy Land, Pope Francis wrote in a letter to the grand imam of Egypt’s al-Azhar University.
Only a special, internationally guaranteed statute on the status of Jerusalem “can preserve its identity and unique vocation as a place of peace,” the pope wrote. And only when the city’s “universal value” is recognized and protected can there be “a future of reconciliation and hope for the entire region.”
“This is the only aspiration of those who authentically profess themselves to be believers and who never tire of imploring with prayer a future of brotherhood for all,” Pope Francis wrote in the letter to Sheik Ahmad el-Tayeb, the grand imam.
El-Tayeb hosted a meeting 17 January with Christian and Muslim clerics and regional political leaders in reaction to U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision in December to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and to begin preparations to move the U.S. embassy there from Tel Aviv.
The sheik had invited Pope Francis to the meeting even though he knew the pope would be in Chile. Still, the pope said in his letter, “I assure you, I will not fail to continue praying to God for the cause of peace — a true, real peace.”
“In particular, I raise heartfelt prayers that leaders of nations and civil and religious authorities everywhere would work to prevent new spirals of tension and support every effort to make agreement, justice and security prevail for the populations of that blessed land that is so close to my heart,” the pope said in the letter, which was published 18 January by the Vatican.
Pope Francis repeated the Vatican’s long-standing position calling for renewed peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians to find a negotiated agreement that would guarantee both could live in peace within internationally recognized borders “with full respect for the particular nature of Jerusalem, whose significance goes beyond any consideration of territorial questions.”
29 December 2017
Israeli forces fire toward Palestinians near Ramallah, West Bank, during a 20 December protest against U.S. President Donald Trump's decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.
(photo: CNS/Mussa Qawasma, Reuters)
Pope Francis and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan spoke by telephone on 29 December about the status of Jerusalem.
Paloma Garcia Ovejero, vice director of the Vatican press office, confirmed the telephone conversation took place and said the call was Erdogan’s initiative.
The Turkish newspaper Hurriyet reported that Erdogan and Pope Francis both expressed satisfaction with the U.N. resolution on 21 December calling on the United States to rescind its recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. The resolution passed 128 to 9, with 35 abstentions.
U.S. President Donald Trump announced Dec. 6 that he was formally recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and ordering the State Department to begin preparations for moving the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
Hours before Trump made the announcement, Pope Francis publicly appealed for respect for the “status quo” of Jerusalem and prayed that “wisdom and prudence would prevail to avoid adding new elements of tension in a world already shaken and scarred by many cruel conflicts.”
The Vatican supports a “two-state solution” for the Holy Land with independence, recognition and secure borders for both Israel and Palestine. While insisting access must be guaranteed to the holy sites of Christianity, Judaism and Islam in Jerusalem, the Vatican, like most nations around the world, believes political control of the city should be settled in Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.
Before giving his Christmas blessing on 25 December, Pope Francis again prayed “for peace for Jerusalem and for all the Holy Land.”
He asked the crowd in St. Peter’s Square to join him in praying that “the will to resume dialogue may prevail between the parties and that a negotiated solution can finally be reached, one that would allow the peaceful coexistence of two states within mutually agreed and internationally recognized borders.”
“May the Lord also sustain the efforts of all those in the international community inspired by goodwill to help that afflicted land find — despite grave obstacles — the harmony, justice and security that it has long awaited,” the pope continued.
1 December 2017
Pope Francis prays with Christian, Muslim and Buddhist religious leaders and Rohingya refugees from Myanmar during an interreligious and ecumenical meeting for peace in the garden of the archbishop’s residence in Dhaka, Bangladesh, on 1 December. (photo: CNS/Paul Haring)
Each human being is created in the image and likeness of God, yet so often people desecrate that image with violence as seen in the treatment of Myanmar’s Rohingya minority, Pope Francis said.
“Today, the presence of God is also called ‘Rohingya,’” the pope said Dec. 1 after meeting, clasping hands with and listening intently to 16 Rohingya who have found shelter in Bangladesh.
“They, too, are images of the living God,” Pope Francis told a gathering of Christian, Muslim, Buddhist and Hindu leaders gathered in Dhaka for an interreligious meeting for peace.
“Dear brothers and sisters,” he told the crowd, “let us show the world what its selfishness is doing to the image of God.”
“Let’s keeping helping” the Rohingya, he said. “Let’s continue working so their rights are recognized. Let’s not close our hearts. Let’s not look away.”
The Rohingya, like all people, are created in God’s image, the pope insisted. “Each of us must respond.”
The refugees traveled to Dhaka from Cox’s Bazar, the southern Bangladeshi city hosting hundreds of thousands of refugees who have fled Myanmar. More than 620,000 Rohingya have crossed the border into Bangladesh since late August.
Speaking directly to them, Pope Francis said, “We are all close to you.”
In comparison to the suffering the Rohingya have endured, he said, the response of the people at the gathering actually is small. “But we make room for you in our hearts.”
“In the name of all those who have persecuted you and have done you harm, especially for the indifference of the world, I ask forgiveness,” he said.
Pope Francis’ remarks, which he made in Italian, were translated for the crowd and for the Rohingya. Many of them were in tears.
In his formal speech at the interreligious meeting, Pope Francis insisted “mere tolerance” for people of other religions or ethnic groups was not enough to create a society where everyone’s rights are respected and peace reigns.
Believers must “reach out to others in mutual trust and understanding,” not ignoring differences, but seeing them as “a potential source of enrichment and growth.”
The “openness of heart” to which believers of all faiths are called includes “the pursuit of goodness, justice and solidarity,” he said. “It leads to seeking the good of our neighbors.”
Pope Francis urged the people of Bangladesh to make openness, acceptance and cooperation the “beating heart” of their nation. Such attitudes, he said, are the only antidote to corruption, “destructive religious ideologies and the temptation to turn a blind eye to the needs of the poor, refugees, persecuted minorities and those who are most vulnerable.”
According to a Vatican translation, Farid Uddin Masud, speaking for the Muslim community, told the pope, “it is compassion and love which today’s world needs most. The only remedy and solution to the problem of malice, envy and fighting among nations, races and creeds lies in the compassionate love preached and practiced by the great men and women of the world.”
Masud, a famous prayer leader and advocate of dialogue and tolerance, is thought by some to have been the main target of a 2016 bombing at a major Muslim prayer service in Sholakia, Bangladesh. Four people were killed.
Praising the pope for speaking on behalf of “the oppressed, irrespective of religion, caste and nationality,” Masud particularly cited Pope Francis’ concern for the Rohingya. He said he hoped that the pope’s public support would strengthen international efforts to defend their rights.
Anisuzzaman, a famous professor of Bengali literature, told the gathering that in a world torn by strife, the pope’s message of encounter and dialogue takes on added importance.
“Those of us who are frustrated to find the forces of hatred and cruelty overtaking those of love and compassion can surely find solace in the pope’s message of peace and harmony and of fraternity and goodwill,” he said, according to the Vatican’s translation of his speech. “We note with great relief that the pope has, time and again, expressed his sympathy with the Rohingya from Myanmar, who have been forcibly ejected from their home and earth and subjected to violence and inhuman treatment.”
The pope arrived at the meeting in a rickshaw after a meeting with Bangladesh’s Catholic bishops. He had told the bishops that interreligious and ecumenical dialogue are essential part to the life of the church in Bangladesh.
“Yours is a nation where ethnic diversity is mirrored in a diversity of religious traditions,” he said. “Work unremittingly to build bridges and to foster dialogue, for these efforts not only facilitate communication between different religious groups, but also awaken the spiritual energies needed for the work of nation-building in unity, justice and peace.”
The Catholic Church’s preferential “option for the poor,” including the Rohingya refugees, is a sign of God’s love and mercy and must continue to shine forth in concrete acts of charity, Pope Francis told the bishops.
“The inspiration for your works of assistance to the needy must always be that pastoral charity which is quick to recognize human woundedness and to respond with generosity, one person at a time,” Pope Francis said.
22 August 2017
Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and all Russia meets with the Vatican’s Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin at the Patriarch’s residence. (photo: Valery Sharifulin/TASS/Getty Images)
Although he said planning a papal trip to Russia was not on the agenda, the Vatican secretary of state said his visit to Moscow was designed to build on the meeting Pope Francis and Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill had in Cuba in 2016.
Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the secretary of state, was visiting Moscow 21-24 August and was scheduled to meet with the patriarch and Russian President Vladimir Putin, as well as with leaders of Russia’s Catholic community.
The list of topics for the meetings ranged from ecumenical dialogue and interreligious cooperation to current world affairs and climate change, he said in a series of interviews before leaving Rome.
After a long morning meeting on 22 August, the cardinal and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov held a brief news conference, telling reporters they had discussed ongoing conflicts in Ukraine, Syria, Yemen, the Holy Land and Venezuela.
Cardinal Parolin said his meetings with government officials were designed to share “Pope Francis’ interest in bilateral relations between the Holy See and the Russian Federation as well as his concerns in the sphere of international affairs.”
“Obviously,” the cardinal said, “the meeting offered an occasion to discuss some concrete questions regarding the life of the Catholic Church in the Russian Federation, including the difficulties that remain in obtaining work permits for non-Russian religious personnel and the restitution of some churches, which are needed for the pastoral care of Catholics in the country.” Many church buildings were confiscated by the former Soviet government and never returned.
Regarding international affairs, Cardinal Parolin said he and Lavrov discussed several ongoing conflicts, including the war in Eastern Ukraine and the war in Syria.
In situations of war, he said, the Catholic Church often is directly involved in promoting humanitarian aid for the victims, but it also works on a diplomatic level to promote a negotiated peace with guarantees of “justice, legality, truth” and the safety of civilians.
The Russian foreign ministry posted online the first minutes of the working meeting between Cardinal Parolin and Lavrov.
The foreign minister told the cardinal, “We see that our positions are close on a number of current issues, including the peaceful settlement of crises, fighting terrorism and extremism, promoting the dialogue among religions and civilizations and strengthening social justice and the role of the family.”
And, he said, it is important that the strengthening of Vatican-Russian relations is “complemented by the dialogue between religions, which was launched during the historical meeting between Patriarch Kirill and Pope Francis in Cuba.”
Cardinal Parolin began his visit to Russia with a meeting with Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk, head of external relations for the Russian Orthodox Church.
After the meeting, he told reporters their time together was very constructive, and that even though there are “thorny issues,” there also is a great desire to overcome them. As an example of an ongoing difficulty, Cardinal Parolin said the existence of the Ukrainian Catholic Church “remains for the Russian Orthodox Church an obstacle.”
In the evening on 21 August, Cardinal Parolin presided over a Mass for Moscow’s Catholics in the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception. Before Mass, he had met with the country’s Catholic bishops.
17 August 2017
In this image from 2013, Slovak Archbishop Cyril Vasil, secretary of the Congregation for Eastern Churches, prays at the Mass opening a plenary meeting of the congregation. The congregation is celebrating the 100th anniversary of its establishment as a Vatican office dedicated to supporting the Eastern Catholic churches and ensuring their liturgies, spirituality and traditions continue to be part of the universal Catholic Church. (photo: CNS/L’Osservatore Romano)
The Vatican is celebrating the 100th anniversary of the establishment of the Congregation for Eastern Churches, an office that supports the Eastern Catholic churches and strives to ensure that the universal Catholic Church treasures its diversity, including in liturgy, spirituality and even canon law.
Coincidentally established five months before the Russian Revolution, the congregation continually has had to face the real persecution and threatened existence of some of the Eastern churches it was founded to fortify.
Until 1989-90, many of the Byzantine Catholic churches — including, notably, the Ukrainian Catholic Church, the largest of all the Eastern churches — were either outlawed or severely repressed by the communist governments of Eastern Europe, said Archbishop Cyril Vasil, a member of the Slovak Catholic Church and secretary of the congregation.
No sooner had the Soviet bloc disintegrated and once-persecuted churches begun to flourish, then the first Gulf War broke out. And then there was the invasion of Iraq. And the turmoil of the Arab Spring across North Africa. Then the war in Syria. And Israeli-Palestinian tensions continue. The Chaldean, Syriac Catholic, Coptic Catholic, Melkite and Maronite churches have paid a high price.
“In all of this, the Eastern churches suffer the most because they find themselves crushed in the struggle between bigger powers, both local and global,” Archbishop Vasil said in mid-August. Even those conflicts that are not taking direct aim at Christians in the Middle East make life extremely difficult for them, and so many decide to seek a more peaceful life for themselves and their families outside the region.
One impact of the “exodus,” he said, is the greater globalization of the Catholic Church. While 100 years ago, when the Congregation for Eastern Churches was established, only a few Eastern churches had eparchies — dioceses — outside their traditional homelands, today they can be found in Australia, North and South America and scattered across Western Europe.
“In Sweden today, a third of the Christians are Chaldeans or Armenians,” he added. “In Belgium and Holland, where Catholicism has suffered a decline, communities are reborn with the arrival of new Christians, which is a reminder of the importance of immigrants bringing their faith with them.”
In countries like Italy, where thousands of Ukrainians and Romanians have come to work, they add ritual diversity to the expressions of Catholicism already found there, he said.
The growing movement of people around the globe means that part of the congregation’s job is to work with the Latin-rite bishops and dioceses, “sensitizing church public opinion” to the existence, heritage, needs and gifts of the Eastern Catholics moving into their communities, the archbishop said. Where an Eastern Catholic hierarchy has not been established, the local Latin-rite bishop has a responsibility “to accept, welcome and give respectful support to the Eastern Catholics” as their communities grow and become more stable.
The idea, Archbishop Vasil said, is to help the local Latin-rite bishop seriously ask himself, “How can I help them free themselves of me and get their own bishop?”
Although it has only 26 employees — counting the prefect, Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, and the receptionist — the Congregation for Eastern Churches works with 23 Eastern Catholic churches and communities, fulfilling the same tasks that for Latin-rite Catholics fall to the congregations for bishops, clergy, religious, divine worship and education. It supports the Pontifical Oriental Institute, which offers advanced degrees in Eastern Christian liturgy, spirituality and canon law. And it also coordinates the work of a funding network known by the Italian acronym ROACO; the U.S.-based Catholic Near East Welfare Association and Pontifical Mission for Palestine are part of that network.
The congregation’s approach in some areas is different than its Latin-rite counterparts because it follows the Eastern Catholic traditions and the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches. For instance, some of the Eastern churches ordain married men to the priesthood.
And, like the Congregation for Bishops, the Congregation for Eastern Churches helps prepare the nomination of bishops by Pope Francis, but only for dioceses outside the Eastern churches’ traditional homeland. The Eastern Catholic synods of bishops elect new bishops closer to home and submit their names to the pope for his assent.
But the congregation’s primary concern is the survival of the Eastern Catholic churches, which is an issue not only in places where Eastern Catholics are threatened with death or driven from their homelands by war.
Archbishop Vasil said others risk losing their Eastern Catholic identity through assimilation.
Some of the blame, at least before the Second Vatican Council, lies with the Vatican and the Latin-rite hierarchy and religious orders, who, for decades encouraged Eastern Catholics to be more like their Latin-rite brothers and sisters.
Vatican II urged a recovery of the Eastern Catholic traditions, liturgy and spirituality. But, especially for Eastern Catholics living far from their churches’ homelands, uprooting vestiges of the “Latinization” can prove difficult, Archbishop Vasil said.
Using his own Slovak Catholic Church as an example, he said parishes have been asked beginning 1 September to return to the Eastern Catholic tradition of administering baptism, chrismation (confirmation) and the Eucharist together at the same liturgy, even for infants. In Slovakia, as in some parishes in North America, Eastern Catholics adopted the Latin-rite church’s practicing of withholding the Eucharist until a child is about 7 and then celebrating the child’s first Communion.
Especially for Eastern Christians whose ancestors immigrated two or three or four generations ago, the archbishop said, maintaining their specific identity as Chaldean, Ruthenian or Syro-Malankara Catholics is a challenge.
“The greatest danger in the coming years is extinction,” Archbishop Vasil said. “We don’t know what history has in store for us, but we must make sure we have done everything possible to avoid this danger.”
15 June 2017
In the video above, Pope Francis and religious leaders from many different faiths describe why it is important to reach out to people of other religions. (video: Elijah Interfaith Institute/YouTube)
Reaching out to people of other religions can be both challenging and enriching for individuals and is the only hope for true peace in the world, said a variety of religious leaders, including Pope Francis.
The pope and his friend Rabbi Abraham Skorka appear in a video montage and together in their own video as part of the “Make Friends” initiative coordinated by the Elijah Interfaith Institute, which has offices in Israel and in Dallas.
The video series, posted on YouTube 14 June, also includes Orthodox, Anglican and Lutheran leaders, Jewish rabbis, Sunni and Shiite Muslim clerics, Buddhist monks and nuns, and Hindu and Sikh leaders.
In their video, Pope Francis and Rabbi Skorka talk about how their own religious convictions led them into conversations with each other, and how those conversations not only increased their understanding of God and formed the basis of a television series and book, but also led to true friendship.
Pope Francis and Rabbi Abraham Skorka discuss their friendship in a special video for the Elijah Interfaith Institute. (video: Elijah Interfaith Institute/YouTube)
When sending emails back and forth, “because we still have projects going on,” Rabbi Skorka said, they address each other as “‘Dear brother,’ and it’s not just a saying. We have such open, deep and affectionate conversations. We understand each other.”
As they met and held discussions in Buenos Aires, Argentina, “the friendship grew, always retaining our respective identities,” the pope said. “‘Brother and friend’ — those are my feelings for him.”
Explaining the “Make Friends” initiative, the Elijah Interfaith Institute said, “Friendship and getting to know one another are the antidotes to negativity and divisions in society, enhancing understanding and unity.”
Rabbi Alon Goshen-Gottstein is the founder and director of the institute.
You can read more about the initiative at this website.