Every second Saturday of the month, 4 pm - Divine Liturgy in English of Sunday - Ukrainian Catholic Cathedral of the Holy Family, Duke Street, London W1K 5BQ. Followed by refreshments.
Next Liturgy: Saturday 8th July, 4pm

To purchase The Divine Liturgy: an Anthology for Worship (in English), order from the Sheptytsky Institute here, or the St Basil's Bookstore here.

To purchase the Divine Praises, the Divine Office of the Byzantine-Slav rite (in English), order from the Eparchy of Parma here.

The new catechism in English, Christ our Pascha, is available from the Eparchy of the Holy Family and the Society. Please email johnchrysostom@btinternet.com for details.


Wednesday, 30 June 2010

Pilgrimage to Albania and Macedonia - 1967

Fr John Salter writes in Chrysostom, Pascha 2010:
 
In the summer of 1967 I was in the Croatian town of Dubrovnik. Yugoslavia was still intact as the Union of the Southern Slavs, and Communism was   in power. In the hotel foyer I spotted a notice advertising a visit to Albania, a country which had fascinated me since my boyhood reading of   “The Voyage of the Gyro Car” and my meeting some years later with Auberon Herbert, whose father known as ‘The Man who was Greenmantle’ had been offered the Albanian throne, and his friend Maria-Selma Zavalani and Albanian Catholic who had accompanied the exiled King Zog and Queen Geraldine to London.
    Thus it was that I caught a ‘bus at 5.30 in the morning from the city gates of Dubrovnik to the second city of Albania, Schodra. In Schodra I discovered that the dictator, Enver Hoxha, had declared that Albania was the first atheist state. As a sign of the embracing of atheism the Franciscan friars, who had been active in Catholic churches throughout the Balkans and in Skodra itself had been locked in their basilica and burnt alive. The ruins were still smouldering when I arrived. That Christmas of 1967, Pope Paul VI announced on Vatican Radio that the Catholic Church in Albania had peace – the peace of the grave. It looked as though atheism had triumphed as similar atrocities were perpetrated against the Orthodox Church and the Moslems.
    In September I was able to join the annual pilgrimage of the Anglican and Eastern Churches’ Association, which was to Albania and Macedonia, and having heard of the great revival in the Churches of Albania I was eager to see the work that had been done by particularly Archbishop Anastasios ( appropriately named ‘Resurrection’) a Greek  sent from Kenya by the Ecumenical Patriarch, who had taken over responsibility for the Orthodox in Albania.
   Albania, although only three and a half hours flight from London, had been isolated from the rest of the world, except Mao’s China, but was now opening up after the collapse of Communism; so it was with some excitement and expectancy that I arrived in the capital, Tirana.
   On my first day in Tirana I made my way into the central square, where my hotel was situated, and noticed a preponderance of Mercedes and some attractive looking hotels, including the Sheraton.  There was now a King Zog and a Mother Theresa boulevard competing with Skandebeg boulevard. The saintly nun had been born in Macedonia, but was of Albanian blood, and was recently re-claimed by the Albanian government as one of their own, having been ostracized by the Enver Hoxha regime.
    An interesting and pacific sight was that of ‘The Bell of Peace’ which had been constructed following the 1997 riots, when many bullets had been fired, the casings being collected by one of the few remaining Catholic priests to be fashioned into the  bell. Near at hand was the new Catholic cathedral of St. Paul, whom according to Albanian legends visited here on his way to Rome. Surrounding the cathedral were blocks of flats painted in the sort of style one might see in Mexico – an outpouring of colour and vitality. Purple and cobalt blue, orange and jade green, canary yellow and bright pink had been daubed across the soviet style grey walls, when the new Mayor of Tirana asked the youth of the city to cheer the place up. ‘Have fun’ he had said and they certainly had!
    After the visual stimulation of the student paintwork to enter the Catholic cathedral was to enter a space of utter tranquility. The walls were purest white with the Blessed Sacrament on the left of the high altar, behind which was the Bishop’s throne backed with some elegant and interesting heraldry. The only other decoration was a sort of icon of Mother Theresa constructed with shells.
     On the opposite side of the narrow stream was the Orthodox cathedral, a brand new building and the largest church in Albania.
    I made my way to the mosque opposite my hotel in the central square of Tirana. This, like the Catholic and Orthodox churches, had been closed during the Enver Hoxha reign of terror. I was told that during this period the male head of a  Moslem household at the hour of prayer would say to his wife and family; “ I am going to take the air in the garden”, in case the family betrayed him to the authorities. Orthodox parents would lock up their icons and get them out of their hiding places when the children had gone to bed. Catholics did the same with crucifixes, which were banned as were coat hangers which looked like crosses!
  Next to this mosque is the large museum. Here there is an interesting display of the Family Tree of King Zog and a film showing continuously the wedding of the king to the Hungarian Catholic Countess Geraldine Apponyi. The best man at their wedding seemed to be the man who eventually betrayed them – Count Ciano, a member of the Fascist government of Italy under Mussolini. Prince Regent Paul of Yugoslavia was a guest at the wedding. In another room there was a film of Queen Geraldine with her son King Leka and of her grandson Prince Leka, who is a member of the government. He makes a speech in the film expressing a wish to be of help to Albanians “on the ground”. On display were photographs of Frasheri and Selma Zavalani; Aubrey Herbert, who did not make it to be king; and of the priest Fan Noli, who formed a sort of temporary government before fleeing into exile in the United States. A grisly relic was the gun that shot Mussolini. It was not clear as to how the Albanians obtained this weapon.
    I tore myself away from this fascinating exhibition in order to meet fellow pilgrims at the British Embassy for drinks with Fiona McIlwham, the ambassador, who filled us in on life in Albania over white wine. A visit to the large new Orthodox cathedral followed and then we were whisked off to the nearby hills for a dinner of innumerable courses, which would have outdone even Parson Woodford.
     The nest morning after breakfast we were received at the Archbishop’s residence by Bishop Andron, the assistant bishop, the Archbishop Anastasios being at the ecumenical gathering in Krakow. Bishop Andron is a very young bishop and was formerly a Moslem, but was converted to Christianity through reading the books published by Protestant sects, which he was able to access under Enver Hoxha’s regime.  The bishop showed us a film of the progress made in the Orthodox Church since the arrival of Archbishop Anastasios. He told us that as there were only sixteen Orthodox priests, and they very old or in poor health after the purges following 1967, there were now 140. We were told that there were now monks in the Orthodox Church, but not yet proper monasteries, but a convent for nuns was about to open.  We were told that Archbishop Anastasios has under his jurisdiction both the New Calendarist Orthodox (the Orthodox number among their members in Albania - Albanians, Greeks and Montenegrins) and Old Calendarists. “What is wrong with keeping Our Lord’s Birthday twice ?” asked Bishop Andron. The bishop reminded us that the Kossovan Moslems were helped by the Albanian Orthodox when they were attacked by the Serbian Orthodox. He also pointed out that in Albania there had never been religious wars. The national hero, Skanderbeg, had kept the Ottoman Turks out of Albania and on his return from Turkey in 1443 had won a battle against a local Pasha.  He  was an interfaith figure in that his father was a Catholic, his mother Serbian Orthodox and he had converted to Islam in 1453, but had re-converted to Catholicism. The then Pope had hoped that Skanderbeg, “The Athlete of Christ” would have led a Crusade, but it never came to pass; nevertheless he kept the Turks out of that part of Europe, otherwise the Italians would be speaking Turkish today.
    We visited some of the villages near Tirana to which the Communists had brought electricity and full employment, but the villages were desperately poor as the party had unwittingly destroyed the peoples’ will to work. In factories of 20 only 5 really did any work and this led to economic collapse. Most people wanted to leave the country and there are more Albanians now abroad than there are in Albania. A great deal of the land is unworked. Money comes in from families living overseas otherwise many in Albania would starve. Like most Communist leaders Enver Hoxha was totally paranoid, and was particularly worried about foreign invaders and on the Albanian shore   of Lake Ochrid had built concrete bunkers every few yards; 700,000 of these had been planned.
     In the town of Elbasan we visited the Orthodox church, which because it was in a narrow winding street was inaccessible to the party’s bulldozers, which had succeeded in razing to the ground a large number of ancient churches, some from the Byzantine period. One church seemed to be in the hands of the Uniates and had probably been re-opened by the Italo-Albanians of Calabria or Sicily, where there are colonies several centuries old particularly in Palermo and the almost totally Albanian town some thirty miles from Palermo, Piana degli Albanesi, formerly Greci.
   In Elbasan our group was accosted by a religious fanatic of  evangelical persuasion  dressed from head to foot in white who demanded whether we were 100% certain we were going to heaven. With British sang froid we looked at our boots.
   The pilgrimage moved on to Korce past Moslem villages where the fast of Ramadan was being observed. In Korce we were warmly received by the Orthodox  Bishop  John at the new cathedral. He, like Bishop Andron, was a very young bishop. He told us that he had come to the Christian faith through his French studies when he had been given a copy of the Gospels in French, during the period of intense persecution. He told us of a priest friend of his father who had been executed for baptizing a baby; baptizing was a capital offence   after 1967. He spoke of the lack of joy in the world and reminded us that we were to  “enter into the joy of thy Lord”; not a kingdom of peace, but of joy.   He came from a family of eight and despite the terrible times he had lived through he knew joy in his family. He felt that a Christian should not be alone, but in a community. He told us he drank coffee with the local Moslem imans and the Catholic clergy in public at the street cafes on a regular basis as a witness to common humanity, in actions not words. Although he was a close friend of the Orthodox bishop of Ochrid across the lake in Macedonia he could not concelebrate the Divine Liturgy with him as the other Orthodox Churches  did not recognize the autocephaly or self government of the Macedonian Orthodox Church as it had been done unilaterally and not with the consent of the Ecumenical Patriarchate and other National Churches. It was a surfacing again of the old problem of Orthodoxy – Phyletism, or nationalism. Whenever the national Churches of the Orthodox world had declared  autocephaly it had always been unilaterally, but eventually the  Phanar and the Ecumenical patriarch had to accept the situation, but it often took time and in the case of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church it took a very long time to resolve.
   Bishop John said that the Albanian Churches were the  Churches of the Resurrection “We were dead, but behold we live again!”
  From Korce we made our way into the country and visited a very remote basilica as yet unrestored. In the churchyard were   marble graves stones on the tomb of the parish priest and his wife. It was a peaceful place with lovely views and one hoped the priest and his wife, owing to this isolated position, had managed to die peacefully and without violence. In the next village we met the married parish priest and were shown his church of St. Nikodim of the New Martyrs of the Turkish Yoke, an 18th century victim of the Ottoman Empire. The next day being Sunday we attended the Divine Liturgy in the new cathedral in Korce, where there was splendid singing accompanied by an organ a most unusual practice for an Orthodox church as only the Armenians among the Eastern Churches use the organ, a Latinization from Crusader times. Another village church we visited on our journey back to Macedonia was of very early date and its churchyard soon filled up with village children on our arrival and it was an ideal place to distribute old Christmas cards! This created a brawl for possession!
   There was a sad incident on Lake Ochrid when a party of tourists from Bulgaria were drowned when a boat sank. The lake was very rough and there had been an earthquake in the area. We crossed the frontier into Macedonia at 9.30 a.m. on Monday morning and our first visit was to the large monastery of St. Naum. If you pressed your ear against his tomb you could hear the dead saint’s heart beating - for sure ! There are five monks here in this delightful setting, where peacocks roam in the garden and along the lake. A monastic notice in English warns that “The Peacocks may harm your children”.
    The ancient city of Ochrid once a very important ecclesiastical centre has an 11th century basilica of St.Sophia, which in the 15th century had been converted into a mosque, but was now a church. Philip II of Macedon, father of Alexander the Great, had conquered the city and in Christian times it was known as the Jerusalem of the Balkans as it boasted 365 churches, some from the 5th century. The Via Ignatia runs through the town and it was along this road in Roman times that Christianity was spread making Ochrid the epi-centre of Christianity in the Balkans. It linked Ochrid to Thessalonika and Constantinople and St. Paul travelled along it. St Clement’s basilica is one of the major sights of the area. 
    Our journey took us along the Black Drin river to the Convent of St. John. In 1945 with the advent of the Communist regime it had been turned into a stable, but in 1999 it had been restored and re-occupied by a community of nuns, who cared for girls who had fallen victim to drug addiction. The nuns make a living by vestment making and by manufacturing magnificent mitras or crowns for Orthodox bishops throughout the Balkans and beyond. They had close links with a convent in the United States, the Convent of the Nativity of the Mother of God. The nuns were very proud of their convent and rightly so for it is beautifully kept and is surrounded by very colourful gardens. It contains relics of St. George. Refreshed in the abbess’s parlour by coffee, cakes, raki and Turkish Delight we made the short distance to the  monks at the next monastery of St.John the Forerunner. This had been destroyed by the Turks, but had been rebuilt in 1743 and had a very fine iconastasis erected in 1829-1835. Here, as at the local convent, the monks take in young men who have drug addiction problems.
     Our pilgrimage came to an end as we made our way to Skopje airport for the flight to Zagreb and London.   What I had witnessed at the Franciscan church in 1967 seemed to mark the end of Christianity or any religion in Albania, but it brought home to me that God is always creative and can make dry and dead bones live. It is not by accident that the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomeos I of Constantinople had chosen an Archbishop with the name Anastasios to resurrect the Church in Albania!
                                                                            

Papal Homily for Feast of Sts. Peter and Paul, 2010



The Unity of the Church Is Rooted in Its Union With Christ


Here is the Vatican translation of the homily Benedict XVI delivered Tuesday at the Mass in St. Peter's Basilica on the solemnity of Sts Peter and Paul. During Mass, he bestowed the pallium on 38 archbishops and welcomed the annual delegation from the Ecumenical Patriarchate

* * *

Dear brothers and sisters!

The biblical texts of this Eucharistic Liturgy of the solemnity of Sts. Peter and Paul, in their great wealth, highlight a theme that could be summarized thus: God is close to his faithful servants and frees them from all evil, and frees the Church from negative powers. It is the theme of the freedom of the Church, which has a historical aspect and another more deeply spiritual one.

This theme runs through today's Liturgy of the Word. The fir st and second readings speak, respectively, of St Peter and St Paul, emphasizing precisely the liberating action of God in them. Especially the text from the Acts of the Apostles describes in abundant detail the intervention of the Angel of the Lord, who releases Peter from the chains and leads him outside the prison in Jerusalem, where he had been locked up, under close supervision, by King Herod (cf. at 12.1 to 11). Paul, however, writing to Timothy when he feels close to the end of his earthly life, takes stock which shows that the Lord was always near him and freed him from many dangers and frees him still by introducing him into His eternal Kingdom ( see 2 Tim 4, 6-8.17-18). The theme is reinforced by the Responsorial Psalm (Ps 33), and also finds a particular development in the Gospel of Peter's confession, where Christ promises that the powers of hell shall not prevail against his Church (cf. Mt 16:18).

Observing closely we note a certain progression regarding this issue. In the first reading a specific episode is narrated that shows the Lord's intervention to free Peter from prison. In the second Paul, on the basis of his extraordinary apostolic experience, is convinced that the Lord, who already freed him "from the mouth of the lion "delivers him" from all evil", by opening the doors of Heaven to him. In the Gospel we no longer speak of the individual Apostles, but the Church as a whole and its safekeeping from the forces of evil, in the widest and most profound sense. Thus we see that the promise of Jesus -- "the powers of hell shall not prevail" on the Church -- yes, includes the historical experience of persecution suffered by Peter and Paul and other witnesses of the Gospel, but it goes further, wanting to protect especially against threats of a spiritual order, as Paul himself writes in his Letter to the Ephesians: " For our struggle is not with flesh and blood but with the principalities, with the pow ers, with the world rulers of this present darkness, with the evil spirits in the heavens"(Eph 6:12).

Indeed, if we think of the two millennia of Church history, we can see that -- as the Lord Jesus had announced (cf. Mt 10.16-33) -- Christians have never been lacking in trials, which in some periods and places have assumed the character of real persecution. These, however, despite the suffering they cause, are not the greatest danger for the Church. In fact it suffers greatest damage from what pollutes the Christian faith and life of its members and its communities, eroding the integrity of the Mystical Body, weakening its ability to prophesy and witness, tarnishing the beauty of its face. This reality is already attested in the Pauline Epistle. The First Epistle to the Corinthians, for example, responds to some problems of divisions, inconsistencies, of infidelity to the Gospel which seriously threaten the Church. But the Second Letter to Timothy -- of which we h eard an excerpt - speaks about the dangers of the "last days", identifying them with negative attitudes that belong to the world and can infect the Christian community: selfishness, vanity, pride, love of money, etc. (cf. 3.1 to 5). The Apostle’s conclusion is reassuring: men who do wrong -- he writes -- "will not make further progress, for their foolishness will be plain to all" (3.9). There is therefore a guarantee of freedom promised by God to the Church, it is freedom from the material bonds that seek to prevent or coerce mission, both through spiritual and moral evils, which may affect its authenticity and credibility.

The theme of the freedom of the Church, guaranteed by Christ to Peter, also has a specific relevance to the rite of the imposition of the pallium, which we renew today for thirty-eight metropolitan archbishops, to whom I address my most cordial greeting, extending with it affection to all who have wanted to accompany them on th is pilgrimage. Communion with Peter and his successors, in fact, is the guarantee of freedom for the Church's Pastors and the Communities entrusted to them. It is highlighted on both levels in the aforementioned reflections. Historically, union with the Apostolic See, ensures the particular Churches and Episcopal Conferences freedom with respect to local, national or supranational powers, that can sometimes hinder the mission of the ecclesial Church. Furthermore, and most essentially, the Petrine ministry is a guarantee of freedom in the sense of full adherence to truth and authentic tradition, so that the People of God may be preserved from mistakes concerning faith and morals. Hence the fact that each year the new Metropolitans come to Rome to receive the pallium from the hands of the Pope, must be understood in its proper meaning, as a gesture of communion, and the issue of freedom of the Church gives us a particularly important key for interpretation. This is evident in the case of churches marked by persecution, or subject to political interference or other hardships. But this is no less relevant in the case of communities that suffer the influence of misleading doctrines or ideological tendencies and practices contrary to the Gospel. Thus the pallium becomes, in this sense, a pledge of freedom, similar to the "yoke" of Jesus, that He invites us to take up, each on their shoulders (Mt 11:29-30). While demanding, the commandment of Christ is "sweet and light" and instead of weighing down on the bearer, it lifts him up, thus the bond with the Apostolic See – while challenging -- sustains the Pastor and the portion of the Church entrusted to his care, making them freer and stronger.

I would like to draw a final point from the Word of God, in particular from Christ's promise that the powers of hell shall not prevail against his Church. These words may also have a significant ecumenical value, since, as I mentioned earli er, one of the typical effects of the Devil is division within the Church community. The divisions are in fact symptoms of the power of sin, which continues to act in members of the Church even after redemption. But the word of Christ is clear: " Non praevalebunt -- it will not prevail" (Matt. 16:18). The unity of the Church is rooted in its union with Christ, and the cause of full Christian unity -- always to be sought and renewed from generation to generation - is well supported by his prayer and his promise. In the fight against the spirit of evil, God has given us in Jesus the 'Advocate', defender, and after his Easter, "another Paraclete" (Jn 14:16), the Holy Spirit, which remains with us always and leads the Church into the fullness of truth (cf. Jn 14:16; 16:13), which is also the fullness of charity and unity. With these feelings of confident hope, I am pleased to greet the delegation of the Patriarchate of Constantinople, which, in the beautiful custom of reciprocal visits, participates in the celebrations of the patron saints of Rome. Together we thank God for progress in ecumenical relations between Catholics and Orthodox, and we renew our commitment to generously reciprocate to God's grace, which leads us to full communion.

Dear friends, I cordially greet all of you: Cardinals, Brother Bishops, Ambassadors and civil authorities, in particular the Mayor of Rome, priests, religious and lay faithful. Thank you for your presence. May the Saints Peter and Paul help you to grow in love for the holy Church, the Mystical Body of Christ the Lord and messenger of unity and peace for all men. May they also help you to offer the hardships and sufferings endured for fidelity to the Gospel with joy for her holiness and her mission. May the Virgin Mary, Queen of Apostles and Mother of the Church, always watch over you and especially over the Ministry of metropolitan archbishops. With her heavenly help may you always live and ac t in that freedom that Christ has won for us. Amen.

© Copyright 2010 -- Libreria Editrice Vaticana

Tuesday, 29 June 2010

Pope Benedict Praise the Orthodox Commitment to Unity

This is a translation of the address Benedict XVI delivered on 28 June 2010 upon receiving a delegation sent by the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople to Rome to celebrate the Solemnity of SS Peter and Paul. The delegation was led by Metropolitan Gennadios of Sassima, who is the co-secretary of the Joint International Mixed Commission for Theological Dialogue between the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church, and vice moderator of the central committee of the World Council of Churches in Geneva, Switzerland. The other members include Bishop Bartholomaios (Ioannis Kessidis) of Arianzos, assistant to the metropolitan of Germany; and Deacon Theodoros Meimaris of the Patriarchal See of Fanar.



Dear Brothers in Christ,

"Grace to you and peace from God our Father" (Colossians 1:2). With great joy and heartfelt affection I welcome you in the Lord to this City of Rome, on the occasion of the annual celebration of the martyrdom of Saints Peter and Paul. Their feast, which the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Churches celebrate on the same day, is one of the most ancient of the liturgical year, and it testifies to a time when our communities were living in full communion with one another. Your presence here today -- for which I am deeply grateful to the Patriarch of Constantinople, His Holiness Bartholomaios I, and to the Holy Synod of the Ecumenical Patriarchate -- brings great gladness to the hearts of us all.

I thank the Lord that the relations between us are characterized by sentiments of mutual trust, esteem and fraternity, as is amply testified by the many meetings that have already taken place in the course of this year.

All this gives grounds for hope that Catholic-Orthodox dialogue will also continue to make significant progress. Your Eminence is aware that the Joint International Commission for Theological Dialogue, of which you are Joint Secretary, is at a crucial point, having begun last October in Paphos to discuss the "The Role of the Bishop of Rome in the Communion of the Church in the First Millennium". With all our hearts we pray that, enlightened by the Holy Spirit, the Members of the Commission will continue along this path during the forthcoming plenary session in Vienna, and devote to it the time needed for thorough study of this delicate and important issue. For me it is an encouraging sign that Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomaios I and the Holy Synod of Constantinople share our firm conviction of the importance of this dialogue, as His Holiness stated so clearly in the Patriarchal and Synodal Encyclical Letter on the occasion of Orthodoxy Sunday on 21 February 2010.

In the forthcoming Special Assembly for the Middle East of the Synod of Bishops, which I have convoked for the month of October here in Rome, I am certain that the theme of ecumenical cooperation between the Christians of that region will receive great attention. Indeed, it is highlighted in the Instrumentum Laboris, which I consigned to the Catholic Bishops of the Middle East during my recent visit to Cyprus, where I was received with great fraternal warmth by His Beatitude Chrysostomos II, Archbishop of Nea Justiniana and All Cyprus. The difficulties that the Christians of the Middle East are experiencing are in large measure common to all: living as a minority, and yearning for authentic religious freedom and for peace. Dialogue is needed with the Islamic and Jewish communities. In this context I shall be very pleased to welcome the Fraternal Delegation which the Ecumenical Patriarch will send in order to participate in the work of the Synodal Assembly.

Your Eminence, dear members of the Delegation, I thank you for your visit. I ask you to convey my fraternal greetings to His Holiness Bartholomaios I, to the Holy Synod, to the clergy and all the faithful of the Ecumenical Patriarchate. Through the intercession of the Apostles Peter and Paul, may the Lord grant us abundant blessings, and may he keep us always in his love.

© Copyright 2010 -- Libreria Editrice Vaticana




Sunday, 27 June 2010

Pope Benedict addresses Eastern Churches Aid Agencies

This is a translation of the address Benedict XVI delivered today on receiving in audience members of the Assembly of Societies for Aid to Eastern Churches (ROACO).
 



[In Italian]

Esteemed Cardinal,
Venerated Brothers in the Episcopate and the Priesthood,
Dear Members and Friends of ROACO,

I welcome you with joy for the summer session of the Reunion of Aid Agencies for the Oriental Churches, and my heartfelt thanks to Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, prefect of the Congregation for Eastern Churches, for the greeting he addressed to me. I return it accompanied by my remembrance in prayer to the Lord and I extend it to the archbishop secretary, to the undersecr etary and to the collaborators of the dicastery, with a cordial thought for the papal representative in Jerusalem, in Israel and Palestine, for the Maronite archbishop of Cyprus and the Father Custos of the Holy Land, gathered here with the representatives of the international Catholic agencies and of Bethlehem University. I express to all my gratitude and that of the whole Church, in particular of the pastors and of the Eastern and Latin faithful of the territories entrusted to the Oriental Congregation and of all those who have emigrated from the homeland.

[In French]

We all desire for the Holy Land, Iraq and the Middle East the gift of a stable peace and solid coexistence. These are born from respect of human rights, of families, communities and peoples, and by the overcoming of religious, cultural or social discrimination. I entrust you to God, but also to you the appeal I launched in Cyprus for the Christian East. As instruments of ecclesial c harity, continue collaborating for the construction of justice, liberty and peace!

I encourage the brothers and sisters who, in the East, share the inestimable gift of baptism, to persevere in the faith and, despite the many sacrifices, to stay where they were born. At the same time, I urge the Eastern migrants not to forget their origins, above all the religious. Their fidelity and human and Christian coherence depend on it. I wish to pay special homage to Christians who suffer violence because of the Gospel, and I commend them to God. I continue to count on the leaders of nations to guarantee in a real way and everywhere, without distinction, the public and community profession of the religious beliefs of each one.

Last year, on the occasion and because of the Year for Priests, I requested that special attention be given to the ministers of Christ and of the Church. Abundant fruits of holiness have arisen not only for priests, but also for the whole peop le of God. I pray to the Holy Spirit that He confirm these signs of divine favor through the gift of vocations, which the ecclesial community so needs, both in the East as well as the West.

[In German]

I am happy to see that the Catholic Eastern Churches have collaborated zealously in the concretion of the objectives of the Year for Priests and that ROACO's aid works have also supported them in this area. You not only considered the formation of the candidates to Holy Orders, which is a constant priority, but also the needs of the clergy active in the pastoral care of vocations as, for example, spiritual and cultural updating  and aid to priests, above all in the difficult but at the same time fruitful phase of sickness and old age. Thus you contribute to radiate in the Church and in present-day society the precious and indispensable gift of the priestly service. In the ancient world, the East was the headquarters of great schools of priestly spirituality. The Church of Antioch, to give an example, produced exceptional saints: extremely educated priests, who did not put themselves forward but Christ and the Apostles. They were entirely dedicated to the proclamation of the Word and to the celebration of the divine mysteries. They were able to touch persons profoundly in their conscience and to reach what merely human means cannot reach.

Dear friends, with your commitment you contribute above all to the fact that the priests of the Eastern Churches can be, in our time, echo of that spiritual heritage. In the network of school and social institutions, which is, in fact, one of your endeavors, it will give a strong impulse to flower in a firm pastoral perspective. When priests are guided in their service by truly spiritual motives, then the laity also is reinforced in its commitment to be engaged in temporal things according to their own Christian vocation.

[In English]

We now have the common task of preparing for the Special Assembly for the Middle East of the Synod of Bishops. I thank God for this initiative, which is already producing the beneficial fruits of "communion and witness" for which the synod was initially convoked. Last year at Castel Gandolfo, I had the pleasure of announcing this Synodal Assembly during a meeting of fraternal prayer and reflection with the Patriarchs and Major Archbishops of the Eastern Churches. During my recent visit to Cyprus, which I recall with much gratitude to God and to those who welcomed me, I consigned the Instrumentum Laboris of this Special Assembly to representatives of the Episcopate of the Middle East. I am pleased at the broad cooperation provided thus far by the Eastern Churches and for the work which, from the beginning, R.O.A.C.O. has done, and continues to do for this historical event. This joint effort will have fruitful results because of the presence of some of your representativ es at this episcopal gathering and your ongoing relationship with the Congregation for the Eastern Churches.

[In Italian]

Dear friends, I ask you to contribute with your works to maintain alive the "hope that does not disappoint" among the Christians of the East (Romans 5:5; cf. Instrumentum laboris, Conclusions). In the "little flock" (Luke 12:32) that they make up already operating is the future of God, and the "narrow way" that they are following is described by the Gospel as "way of life" (Matthew 7:13-14). We would always like to be by their side! Confident of the intercession of the most Holy Mother of God and of the holy Apostles Peter and Paul, I entrust to the Lord the benefactors, friends and collaborators living and dead, joined in different ways to ROACO, with a particular remembrance of monsignor Padovese, recently deceased, while I impart to each one of you, to those who make up and those who su pport the international agencies, as well as to all the beloved Eastern Catholic Churches the comforting Apostolic Blessing.

[Translation by ZENIT]

Friday, 25 June 2010

Fourth Century Images Found in Catacomb of S. Tecla, near St Paul's outside the Walls, Rome

Thanks to The History Blog, and to Zenit

Oldest Known Depictions of Andrew and John
By Carmen Elena Villa

ROME, JUNE 22, 2010 (Zenit.org).- In what is thought to be the tomb of a Roman noblewoman in the Catacombs of St. Tecla, the oldest known images of the Apostles Andrew and John have been discovered.

The find was presented today a a press conference led by the president of the Pontifical Council for Culture, Archbishop Gianfranco Ravasi.

The images are part of a set of four apostles -- Peter, Paul, Andrew and John -- surrounding Christ the Good Shepherd. The discovery of Paul, also thought to be the oldest known image of him, was announced last year. There are known images of Peter thought to be older.

The restoration of the images was possible because of laser technology, which eliminated layers of white c arbon calcium collected on the images over the centuries. The project was particularly delicate due to the humid, dark environment of the catacombs.

Barbara Mizzei, director of the project, explained how the restoration took place without haste and how the laser was able to vaporize the layers of grime.

The noblewoman is thought to have been of the Roman aristocracy of the late fourth century. Pious women and virgins of the Roman aristocracy promised a devotion to the martyrs and the apostles, at the time of Pope Damasus I (366-384).

According to Archbishop Ravasi, the presence of the apostles in this sepulcher "evokes a kind of devotion and protectorate alternate to that of the Roman martyrs."

Monsignor Giovanni Carru, secretary of the Pontifical Commission of Sacred Archaeology, pointed out that these works "have brought back, both to experts and visitors, a very important iconographic patrimony to reconstruct the history of the Christian community of Rome, that, with the paintings that decorate its cemeteries, expresses its culture, its civilization and its faith."



St Peter -

St Paul

St Andrew

St John





Inaugural Meeting of the Pan-Orthodox Assembly for the British Isles

The Archdiocese of Thyateira and Great Britain has issued this communique on behalf of the new Pan-Orthodox Assembly of Bishops in Britain and Ireland, 22 June 2010:

The Inaugural Meeting of the Pan-Orthodox Assembly of Bishops with Churches in the British Isles was held on 21st June 2010 at Thyateira House, the centre of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of Thyateira and Great Britain. The Assembly operates in accordance with the Decision reached at the 4th Pre-Conciliar Pan-Orthodox Conference Meeting at Chambésy (Switzerland) on 13th June 2009.

The following bishops were present:

  • His Eminence Archbishop Gregorios of Thyateira & Great Britain (Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople)
  • The Most Revd Metropolitan John of Western & Central Europe (Patriarchate of Antioch)
  • His Eminence Archbishop Elisey of Sourozh (Patriarchate of Moscow)
  • The Rt Revd Bishop Dositej of Great Britain & Scandinavia (Patriarchate of Serbia)
  • The Most Revd Archbishop Iossif of Western & Southern Europe (Patriarchate of Romania)
  • The Rt Revd Bishop Zenon of Dmanisi & Great Britain (Patriarchate of Georgia)
  • The Most Revd Archbishop Mark of Berlin , Germany & Great Britain (Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia)
  • The Most Revd Archbishop Anatoly of Kerch (Diocese of Sourozh)
  • The Most Revd Metropolitan Kallistos of Diokleia (Archdiocese of Thyateira)
  • The Rt Revd Bishop Chrysostomos of Kyanea (Archdiocese of Thyateira)
  • The Rt Revd Bishop Athanasios of Tropaeou (Archdiocese of Thyateira)

The Most Revd Metropolitan Simeon of Central and Western Europe (Patriarchate of Bulgaria) and The Rt Revd Ioan of Parnassos (Ecumenical Patriarchate’s Ukrainian Orthodox Diocese in Great Britain ) were unable to attend. All those present noted the importance of this Meeting: until now in the British Isles there has been no kind of Inter-Orthodox Episcopal Committee.

The bishops discussed the future organisation of their work, and an Executive Committee was set up, with Archbishop Gregorios as President, Metropolitan John and Archbishop Elisey as
Vice-presidents, Bishop Dositej as Treasurer, and Archbishop Iossif as General Secretary. Bishop Zenon, Archbishop Mark and Metropolitan Kallistos were also appointed Members of the Executive Committee. The Secretariat of the Committee is made up of Archimandrite Vassilios Papavassiliou and Protopresbyter Samir Gholam.

Three Committees were set up:

  1. Theological Committee, Chairman: Metropolitan Kallistos (For the time-being, this will also deal with liturgical, canonical and ecumenical questions, and with the preparation of an agreed list of Saints of the British Isles)
  2. Pastoral Committee, Chairman: Archbishop Elisey (This will also deal with inter-Orthodox relations and with the organisation of Pan-Orthodox events)
  3. Educational Committee, Chairman: Archbishop Gregorios (This will be concerned, among other things, with chaplains to universities, catechetical work and publications)

In the case of each committee, each Orthodox diocese will appoint a representative from either the clergy or the laity.

In the course of the discussion, the bishops mentioned in particular the need to keep children and young people within the Church. They spoke of pastoral problems arising in connection with marriage, and canonical issues involving the transfer of clergy from one diocese to another. They noted that there was a need to discuss current issues in bio-ethics and questions connected with the theology of the human person. It was decided that a further Meeting would be held in December 2010. The Meeting concluded with a festal meal provided by Archbishop Gregorios at Thyateira House.

On 22nd June, the Orthodox Bishops were received by His Grace Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Rowan Williams at Lambeth Palace and were entertained to dinner.

Sunday, 13 June 2010

Bishop Rodrigo of Soddo - The Ethiopian Catholic Church

Bishop Rodrigo Mejia Saldarriaga SJ

Zenit carries an interview by a journalist from Aid to the Church in Need (Marie-Pauline Meyer) with Bishop Rodrigo Mejia Saldarriaga SJ, apostolic vicar of Soddo, Ethiopia. It is entitled "Championing Women's Rights in Ethiopia", but it is a more wide-ranging discussion discussing modern society in the federal republic, educating the population, the spreading of human rights and Christian values, hopes for closer ecumenical relations with the Ethiopian Orthodox Tawahedo (One Nature) Church, plans for a Catholic University in Addis Ababa, and the work of Catholic evangelisation among remoter tribes practising African traditional religion which have not been evangelised before.

At the end reference is made to the Ethiopian Catholic Church. Bishop Mejia is a Latin, but strcitly speaking the ECC is not an Eastern Catholic Church sui juris. The Catholics of Ethiopia of both the Ge'ez rite and the Roman rite constitute a unified Church (naturally, being in full ecclesial communion) and share common structures nationally. The archdiocese of Addis Abeba and Ethiopia to the north, including the two eparchies, use the Ge'ez rite. To the south of the capital, there are no permanent dioceses and the needs of the faithful are served by the specially constituted apostolic vicariates and prefectures of the Latin Church. There are also Ge'ez rite parishes and faithful in these territories.

Friday, 11 June 2010

Patriarch Kirill of Moscow visits the graves of Katyn

Prime Ministers Putin and Puck in April 2010 at the Katyn Memorial
The Russian Orthodox patriarch has visited the graves of the 22,000 Poles near Smolensk, who were massacred under the rule of Stalin during the Second World War. In April 2010, it was recently the site of a ceremony involving Russian and Polish leaders sharing the commemoration in a spirit of truth and reconciliation. Unfortunately, on the way to the ceremony, the plane carrying President Kaczincki of Poland and many leading figures of Polish life and society - including Archbishop Miron, the Orthodox ordinary for the Polish Army - crashed, making the commemoration especially sorrowful for the people of Poland. The tragedy was met with an outpouring of grief and sorrow from people in Russia and the adversity has since served to sustain a desire for greater reconciliation and friendship on both sides since.

Patriarch Kirill saw the model of the Church of the Resurrection which is being built on the site, and whose foundation stone was laid in April by the Prime Ministers of Poland and Russia together.

Beatification of Maronite Friar

Stephen Nehme

KFIFAN, Lebanon, JUNE 10, 2010 thanks to Zenit.org
 
 
Stephen Nehme (born Joseph), who will be beatified June 27 in Kfifan, Lebanon, was known for his constant awareness of God's presence in his life.

On Tuesday the Vatican announced that Benedict XVI approved the beatification of this Lebanese professed religious of the Order of Maronites who died Aug. 30, 1938, at the age of 49.

The ceremony will be presided over by the prefect of the Congregation for Saints' Causes, Archbishop Angelo Amato, on behalf of the Pope. 

Friar Stephen was known as a man of prayer and was called a "disciple of the land." He saw this land as a "school of sanctity" and a "source of spirituality." 

Joseph (Yusuf) Nehme was born in March 1889 in the town of Lehfed, in the Jbeil district, as the youngest of seven children.

He studied at Our Lady of Grace School, which was run by the Lebanese Maronite Order. 

It is said that one day, Nehme, who was in the fields watching over animals of his father's farm, saw a small badger enter an underground cave. 

After noting the presence of traces of water, he began to dig and saw water spring from inside the cave until it became a fountain. This fountain is currently known as the "badger's fountain." 

In 1905, two years after his father's death, Nehme entered the novitiate of the Order of Maronites, in the Monastery of Sts. Cyprian and Justina in Kfifan.

On Aug. 23, 1907, he made his monastic vows, taking the name Stephen after the patron saint of his birthplace. 

Having become a friar, Nehme spent his life in different monasteries of the order, working in the fields and gardens, and dedi cating himself to carpentry and construction jobs. 

Always and everywhere Friar Stephen was known for his ability to transmit the Good News to his brothers. He lived an intense life of prayer, faithful to the order's constitutions and spirituality.

His generous spirit, his prudent judgment and his compassion for the difficulties of others won him the respect and love of his coworkers. 

Friar Stephen's spirituality was marked by the awareness of the Lord's constant presence in every instance of his life, which he himself summarized by often repeating: "God sees me." 

Nehme lived through the adversities of World War I, carrying his cross, denying himself and following the Lord with trust and courage. 

His whole life can be described as a great act of love, a total gift of his being to God and an uninterrupted pilgrimage to heaven. 

Friar Stephen died of natural causes and was buried in the monastery at Kfifan, where his body remains intact.

Thursday, 10 June 2010

Insturmentum Laboris of the Special Assembly of the Synod of Bishops on the Catholic Church in the Middle East

Thanks to Zenit.org, here is a translation of the unofficial synthesis of the "instrumentum laboris" (working document) of the Special Assembly for the Middle East of the Synod of Bishops, which will take place in October in Rome. This unofficial summary was published Saturday by the Vatican press office.  Benedict XVI delivered the "instrumentum laboris" to the seven patriarchs and two archbishops of the Middle East on Sunday, the last day of his apostolic journey to Cyprus. The full text of the document can be found here:

http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/synod/documents/rc_synod_doc_20100606_instrumentum-mo_en.pdf

* * *

The "instrumentum laboris" of the Synod for the Middle East, that is, the working document for the Synodal meeting, was published in four languages: Arabic, French, English and Italian. Benedict XVI gave it to the representatives of the episcopate of the Middle East in the course of his apostolic visit to Cyprus. The Special Assembly will take place from Oct. 10-24 on the topic: "The Catholic Church in the Middle East: Communion and Testimony. 'Now the company of those who believed were of one heart and soul'" (Acts 4:32). The document, of some 40 pages, was produced from the numerous answers to the Questionnaire of the Lineamenta, given by the Synods of Bishops of the sui iuris Oriental Churches, by the Episcopal Conferences, by the Dicasteries of the Roman Curia, by the Union of Superiors General, as w ell as by many individual persons and ecclesial groups.

In the Preface, the secretary general of the Synod of Bishops, archbishop Nikola Eterovic, stresses that "the present situation of the Middle East is, in not a few aspects, similar to that experienced by the primitive Christian community in the Holy Land" in the midst of difficulties and persecutions. "The first Christians acted in very adverse situations. They met with the opposition and enmity of the religious powers of their own people ...their homeland was occupied, inserted within the powerful Roman empire." Despite this "they proclaimed the Word of God integrally," including love of enemies, witnessing "with martyrdom fidelity to the Lord of life."

Recalled in the Introduction is that Benedict XVI wished to announce this event personally on Sept. 19, 2009, thus taking up "the petition of numerous brothers in the episcopate, who in face of the p resent delicate ecclesial and social situation" proposed the convocation of a Synodal Assembly (1). The Synod has two main objectives: first of all, to "confirm and reinforce Christians in their identity through the Word of God and the Sacraments"; in the second place, to "revive ecclesial communion between the sui iuris Churches, so that they can give witness of authentic, joyful and attractive Christian life" (3). Energetically stressed also are ecumenical commitment and dialogue with Jews and Muslims "for the good of the whole of society" and so that "religion, above all that of those who profess one God" will become "ever more a motive of peace" (4). The Synod hopes "to give Christians the reasons for their presence in a predominantly Muslim society, whether Arab, Turkish, Iranian or Jewish in the State of Israel" (6). The reflection is guided by the Sacred Scriptures (7-12).

The first chapter is a bout the Catholic Church of the Middle East recalling that all Churches worldwide "go back to the Church of Jerusalem" (14). It states that the divisions between Christians (Councils of Ephesus and Chalcedon, in the 5th century, and separation of Rome and Constantinople in the 11th century) were due above all to political-cultural motives." However, "the Spirit works in all of the Churches to bring them closer and to remove the obstacles to visible unity desired by Christ." In the Middle East, the one Catholic Church is present in several Traditions, in different sui iuris Catholic Eastern Churches. In addition to the Church of Latin tradition, there are six patriarchal Churches each with its rich spiritual, theological liturgical patrimony. "These traditions are, at the same time, a richness for the universal Church" (15-18). It reminds that the Churches of the Middle East are of apostolic origin and that "it would be a loss for the univer sal Church if Christianity is weakened or disappears precisely where it was born." Hence, there is the "grave responsibility" to "maintain the Christian faith in these holy lands" (19).

Unfortunately, one sees that today "the evangelical push often seems stopped and the flame of the Spirit seems to have weakened" (20). "If the Church does not work for vocations, it is destined to disappear" (21). The crisis of vocations is due to several causes: emigration of families, decrease in births, an environment that is increasingly opposed to evangelical values. In addition "the lack of unity among the members of the clergy" is "an anti-witness" while "the human and spiritual formation of priests, men and women religious, perhaps leaves much to be desired" (22). Also "contemplative life, pillar of all true consecration ... is absent in the majority of congregations" (23).

Affirmed, hence, is that Christians, despite their "meager number," "belong fully to the social fabric and to the very identity" of these countries. Their disappearance would be a loss for the pluralism of the Middle East (24). Catholics are called to promote the concept of "positive laicism" of the State to "alleviate the theocratic character of the government" and allow "greater equality between the citizens of different religions, thus fostering the promotion of a healthy, positively lay democracy, which fully recognizes the role of religion, also in public life, in full respect of the distinction between the religious and temporal orders" (25).

Christians should be an active minority, without falling back on themselves, "in a ghetto attitude" (28). The Church encourages the forming of numerous families and promotes education, "which continues to be the greatest investment" (29): Catho lic schools and universities receive thousands of persons of all religions, as do hospital centers and the social services (40). However, the Churches and Catholic schools "could help the less fortunate more" (29). It is, "above all, thanks to the charitable activities directed not only to Christians but also to Muslims and Jews, that the action of the ... Churches in favor of the common good is particularly tangible" (30). There is also a "call to transparency in the management of the Church's money, above all on the part of Priests and bishops, to distinguish what is given for personal use from what belongs to the Church (31).

Hence, the document stresses that regional conflicts make the situation of Christians even more fragile. "The Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories makes daily life difficult for the liberty of movement, the economy and social and religious life (access to the Holy Places, conditioned by military permits granted to some and refused to others, for security reasons). Moreover, some fundamentalist Christian groups, basing themselves on the Sacred Scriptures, justify the political injustice imposed on Palestinians, which makes the position of Arab Christians even more delicate" (32).

Christians are among the principal victims of the war in Iraq. "Still today, world politics does not take them sufficiently into account" (33). "In the Lebanon, Christians are divided on the political and confessional plane." "In Egypt, the growth of political Islam on one hand, and the lack of commitment, in part necessary, of Christians to civil society, makes their life exposed to serious difficulties." "In other countries, authoritarianism, that is, dictatorship, pushes the population, including Christians, to endure everything in silence to save the essential. In Turkey, the present concept of laicism still poses problems to the full relig ious liberty of the country" (34).

Christians are exhorted not to be indifferent to their commitment in society despite temptations to discouragement (35). "In the East liberty of religion means only liberty of worship," but not "liberty of conscience, that is, the liberty to believe or not to believe, to practice a religion alone or in public without any impediment and, hence, the liberty to change one's religion. In the East, religion is, in general, a social and even a national choice, not an individual one. To change religion is regarded as a betrayal of the society, culture and nation built primarily on a religious tradition," it explains (37). Because of this "conversion to the Christian faith is seen as the fruit of biased proselytism, not of an authentic religious conviction. For a Muslim the latter is often prohibited by the laws of the State."

On the other hand, as regards Christians, "in some case s, conversion to Islam does not happen out of religious conviction, but out of personal interests. Sometimes it can be produced also under the pressure of Muslim proselytism." Some answers to the Lineamenta "state the firm rejection of Christian proselytism, though pointing out that it is openly practiced by some 'evangelical' communities. In fact, the question of proclamation needs a more profound reflection" to be able to affirm "the right of every person and his complete liberty of conscience" (38).

At the same time, Islamic extremism continues to grow throughout the area, constituting "a threat for all, Christians, Jews and Muslims" (41-42). In this context of tensions and disputes, economic difficulties and political and religious limitations, Christians continue to emigrate: "often ignored in the game of international politics is the existence of Christians, who are the first victims; this is one of the main causes o f emigration (43-44). Churches in the West are invited to sensitize the governments of their countries on this situation (45). Perceived, moreover, is the growing immigration in the Middle East of African and Asian workers, among them many Christians "often the object of social injustice ... exploitation and sexual abuses" (49). In this context Catholics are called "ever more" to be "authentic witnesses of the resurrection in society," it stresses (52).

The second chapter is dedicated to ecclesial communion. The document states that the faithful of the Middle East "are aware of the fact that Christian communion has as its foundation the model of divine life in the mystery of the Most Holy Trinity. God is love (cf. 1 John 4:8), and relations between the divine persons are relations of love." So it is necessary that, at the heart of each Church, each member live "the communion itself of the Most Holy Trinity. The life of the Church and of the Churches of the East must be communion of life in love, on the model of the union of the Son with the Father and the Spirit. Each one is a member of the Body whose head is Christ" (54). "This communion at the heart of the Catholic Church -- we read in the text -- is manifested through two main signs: Baptism and the Eucharist in communion with the Bishop of Rome, Successor of Peter, spokesman of the Apostles (hamat ar-Rusul), principle and perpetual and visible foundation of the unity of faith and of communion'" (55).

"To promote unity in diversity, it is necessary to surmount confessionalism in what it might have as limited or exaggerated, encourage the spirit of cooperation between the different communities, coordinate pastoral activity and stimulate spiritual emulation, not rivalry" (56). "Communion among the different members of a same Church or Patriarchate -- one reads in the "instrumentum laboris&quo t; -- happens according to the model of communion with the universal Church and with the Successor of Peter, the Bishop of Rome. At the level of the Patriarchal Church, communion is expressed through the synod that brings together the bishops of a whole community around the Patriarch, Father and head of his church. At the level of the eparchy/diocese, it is around the bishop where the communion of the clergy, of men and women religious, as well as of the laity, takes place" (57).

Christians are invited to feel themselves "members of the Catholic Church in the Middle East, and not just members of a particular Church." The ministers of Christ and the consecrated are called a "be a model and example to others ... for their part, many faithful wish for greater simplicity of life, real detachment in relation to money and the comforts of the world, an edifying practice of chastity and a transparent purity of customs" (58). "The Synod must en courage the faithful to assume largely their role as baptized promoting pastoral initiatives, especially in regard to the social commitment, in communion with the pastors of the Church" (60).

The third chapter addresses the topic of Christian witness. Reaffirmed, first of all, is "the importance of catechesis to know and transmit the faith," eliminating "detachment from the truth believed and the life lived": some methods of catechesis are enumerated (62-69). In regard to the liturgy, the document takes up the desire of many for "an effort of renovation, which, though remaining firmly rooted in tradition, takes into account modern sensitivity and present-day spiritual and pastoral needs." "The most important aspect of the liturgical renovation carried out to date consists in the translation into the vernacular, primarily in Arabic, of the liturgical texts" (70-75).

Reaffirmed is the urgency of ecumenism, overcoming prejudices and mistrust through dialogue and collaboration: contributing in this regard also will be "the celebration of the sacraments of Confession, of the Eucharist, of the Anointing of the Sick in a Church different from one's own, in cases foreseen by canonical legislation." "Two signs are of particular importance: the unification of Christian feasts (Christmas and Easter) and the joint management of places in the Holy Land ... in mutual love and respect." "Proselytism that uses means that do not conform to the Gospel are roundly" condemned (76-84).

Also reviewed are relations with Judaism, which find "in Vatican Council II a fundamental point of reference." The dialogue with Jews is described as "essential, though not easy," resented because of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. The Church hopes that "both peoples will be able to live in peace in a homeland that is their own, within secure and internationally recognized borders." Reaffirmed is the condemnation of anti-Semitism, stressing that "the present negative attitudes between the Arab and Jewish peoples seem to be, rather, of a political character"; hence, foreign to any ecclesial discourse.

Christians are called to "take a spirit of reconciliation based on justice and equity on both sides. On one hand, the Churches of the Middle East invite to maintain the distinction between the religious and the political reality" (85-94). Also the Catholic Church's relations with Muslims are based on Vatican Council II. Benedict XVI's words are reaffirmed: "The inter-religious and intercultural dialogue between Christians and Muslims cannot be reduced to a temporary decision. It is, in fact, a vital need, on which our future depends to a large extent." It shows that "it is important on one hand to have bilateral dialogues -- with the Jews and with Islam -- and after wards also a trilateral dialogue."

"Relations between Christians and Muslims are, more or less frequently, difficult -- one reads in the document -- above all because of the fact that Muslims do not make the distinction between religion and politics, which places Christians in the delicate situation of non-citizens, while the latter have been citizens of these countries well before the arrival of Islam. The key to the success of coexistence between Christians and Muslims depends on the recognition of religious liberty and of the rights of man." "Christians are called ... not to isolate themselves in ghettos, in defensive attitudes, withdrawn in themselves, typical of minorities. Many faithful insist on the fact that Christians and Muslims are called to work together to promote social justice, peace and liberty, and to defend human rights and the values of life and of the family." Suggested is "the revision of school books and especiall y of religious education, so that they are free of all prejudice and stereotypes about the other" and it invites to dialogue of the "truth in charity" (95-99).

In the conflictive situation of the region Christians are exhorted to promote "the pedagogy of peace": it is a "realistic" way, "although it runs the risk of being rejected by the majority; it also has more possibilities to be accepted, given that violence, both of the strong as well as of the weak, has led in the Middle East region only to failures and a general blockade." It is a situation "taken advantage of by the most radical world terrorism." The contribution of Christians," which calls for much courage, is indispensable" although "too often" the countries of the Middle East "identify the West with Christianity" causing great harm to the Christian Churches (100-102).

The document also analyzes the str ong impact of modernity, which appears to the believing Muslim "with an atheist and immoral face. He regards it as a cultural invasion that threatens him, disturbing his system of values." "Modernity, however, is also a struggle for justice and equality, and the defense of rights." Catholic schools attempt to "form persons capable of discerning the positive from the negative, to take only the best." However, "modernity is also a risk for Christians": the societies of the region are also threatened by the absence of God, by atheism and materialism, and even more so by relativism and indifference ... Such risks, as well as extremism, can easily destroy ... families, societies and Churches (103-105). "From this point of view, Muslims and Christians must follow a common path."

For their part, Christians must be aware of belonging to the Middle East and of being in it "an essential component as citizens": on the contrary, "they have been the pioneers of the rebirth of the Arab nation" and "their role is recognized in the society" (106-108) although "with the growth of Muslim fundamentalism, attacks on Christians increase to a degree everywhere" (110). "The Christian has a special contribution to make in the realm of justice and peace"; he has the duty to "denounce violence with courage, wherever it comes from, and to suggest a solution, which can only pass through dialogue," reconciliation and forgiveness. However, Christians must insist "with peaceful means" that their rights also "be recognized by the civil authorities" (111-114).

The document also addresses the topic of evangelization in a Muslim society, which can only come through witness: but "it is requested that it also be guaranteed by timely foreign interventions." In any case, the charitable activity of Catholic communities "towards the poorest and the excluded, without discrimination, represents the most evident way of the diffusion of Christian teaching." These services are often ensured only by ecclesial institutions (115-116).

In the Conclusion, the document shows "concern over the difficulties of the present moment but, at the same time, hope founded on the Christian faith." "History -- one reads -- has made us become a small flock. But we, with our behavior, can again be a presence that counts. For decades, the lack of resolution of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, the lack of respect for international law and human rights, and the egoism of the great powers has destabilized the balance of the region and imposed a violence on the populations that runs the risk of bringing them near to despair. The consequence of all this is emigration, especially of Christians.

"In face of this challenge and supported by the universal Christi an community, the Christian of the Middle East is called to accept his vocation, at the service of society."

The invitation to believers is that "they be witnesses, conscious of giving witness of the truth that can lead to their being persecuted." "To the Christians of the Middle East -- concludes the "instrumentum laboris" -- one can still repeat today: 'Fear not, little flock' (Luke 12:32), you have a mission, on you will depend the growth of your country and the vitality of your Church, and this will happen only with peace, justice and equality for all its citizens" (118-123).
 

Pope Benedict reflects on his Visit to Cyprus

Dear brothers and sisters!

Today I wish to reflect on my apostolic journey to Cyprus, which in many aspects is in continuity with my preceding trips to the Holy Land and Malta. Thanks be to God, this pastoral visit went very well, because happily it achieved its objectives. Already in itself it constituted a historic event; in fact, never before had a Bishop of Rome gone to that blessed land, site of the apostolic work of St. Paul and St. Barnabas, traditionally considered part of the Holy Land.

In the footsteps of the Apostle to the Gentiles I made myself a pilgrim of the Gospel , first of all to strengthen the faith of the Catholic communities, a small but lively minority on the island, encouraging them also to continue on the path toward full Christian unity, especially with our Orthodox brothers. At the same time, I wished ideally to embrace all the Middle Eastern populations, and bless them in the name of the Lord, invoking from God the gift of peace. I experienced a cordial welcome, which was given to me everywhere, and I happily take this opportunity to express again my heartfelt gratitude in the first place to the archbishop of Cyprus of the Maronites, Joseph Soueif, and to His Beatitude Patriarch Fouad Twal, together with their collaborators, renewing to each one my appreciation for their apostolic work. My heartfelt gratitude goes then to the Holy Synod of the Orthodox Church of Cyprus, particularly to His Beatitude Chrysostomos II, Archbishop of Nea Justiniana and All Cyprus, whom I had the joy of embracing with fraternal affection, as well as to t he president of the republic, to all the civil authorities and to all those who in different ways dedicated themselves commendably to the success of my pastoral visit.

It began on June 4 in the ancient city of Paphos, where I felt enveloped by an atmosphere that seemed almost like the perceptible synthesis of 2,000 years of Christian history. The archeological finds present there are the sign of an ancient and glorious spiritual heritage, which still today has a strong impact on the life of the country. A touching ecumenical celebration took place in the Church of St. Kiriaki Chrysopolitiss, a place of Orthodox worship open also to Catholics and Anglicans, located inside the archeological site. With Orthodox Archbishop Chrysostomos II and representatives of the Armenian, Lutheran and Anglican communities, we fraternally renewed our reciprocal and irreversible ecumenical commitment. I manifested such sentiments subsequently to His Beatitude Chrysostomos II in a c ordial meeting at his residence, during which I saw how much the Orthodox Church of Cyprus is tied to the fortunes of that people, keeping a devout and pleasing memory of Archbishop Makarios III, commonly regarded as father and benefactor of the nation, to whom I also wished to render homage pausing briefly at the monument that represents him. This rootedness in tradition does not impede the Orthodox community from being committed decisively to ecumenical dialogue together with the Catholic community, both animated by the sincere desire to restore full and visible communion between the Churches of the East and West.

On June 5, in Nicosia, capital of the island, I began the second stage of the journey by going to visit the president of the republic, who welcomed me with great courtesy. In meeting with the civil authorities and the diplomatic corps, I stressed the importance of founding positive law on the ethical principles of natural law, in order to promote moral t ruth in public life. It was an appeal to reason, based on ethical principles and charged with exacting implications for today's society, which often no longer recognizes the cultural tradition on which it is founded.

The Liturgy of the Word, celebrated in the elementary school of St. Maron, was one of the most thought-provoking moments in the meeting with the Catholic community of Cyprus, in its Maronite and Latin components, and it allowed me to see firsthand the apostolic fervor of Cypriot Catholics.

This is expressed also through educational and charitable activity with dozens of structures, which are placed at the service of everyone and are appreciated by the governing authorities as well as by the whole population. It was a joyful and festive moment, animated by the enthusiasm of numerous children, youth and young people. Not lacking was the aspect of memory, which made perceptible in a moving way the spirit of the Maronite Church, which precis ely this year celebrates the 1,600th anniversary of the death of the founder St. Maron. Particularly significant, in this connection, was the presence of some Maronite Catholics, natives of four villages of the island where Christians are a people who suffer and hope; I wished to manifest to them my paternal understanding of their aspirations and difficulties.

In that same celebration I was able to admire the apostolic commitment of the Latin community, led by the solicitude of the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem and the pastoral zeal of the Friars Minor of the Holy Land, who are at the service of the people with persevering generosity. The Catholics of the Latin rite, very active in the charitable realm, give special attention to workers and the neediest. To all, Latins and Maronites, I assured my remembrance in prayer, encouraging them to witness to the Gospel also through the patient work of reciprocal trust between Christians and non-Christians, to build lasting peace and harmony between peoples.

I wished to repeat the invitation to trust and hope in the course of the Holy Mass, celebrated in the parish of the Holy Cross in the presence of priests, consecrated persons, deacons, catechists and representatives of lay associations and movements of the island. Beginning with reflection on the mystery of the cross, I then addressed a heartbroken appeal to all Catholics of the Middle East so that, despite the great trials and the well known difficulties, they not yield to dejection and the temptation to emigrate, since their presence in the region constitutes an irreplaceable sign of hope. I guaranteed them, especially the priests and religious, the affectionate and intense solidarity of the whole Church, as well as incessant prayer that the Lord will help them to always be a lively and peacemaking presence.

Certainly the culminating moment of the apostolic journey was the presentation of the "instrumentum laboris" of the Special Assembly for the Middle East of the synod of bishops. This ceremony took place on Sunday, June 6, in the Sports Centre of Nicosia, at the end of the solemn Eucharistic celebration, in which patriarchs and bishops of various ecclesial communities of the Middle East took part. The participation of the People of God was unanimous, "with glad shouts and songs of thanksgiving, a multitude keeping festival," as the Psalm says (42:5). We had a concrete experience of this, also thanks to the presence of so many immigrants, who constitute a significant group of the island's Catholic population, where they have integrated without difficulty. We prayed together for the soul of the mourned Bishop Luigi Padovese, president of the Turkish episcopal conference, whose sudden and tragic death has left us saddened and dismayed.

The theme of the synodal assembly for the Middle East, which will take place in Rome this October, speaks of com munion and openness to hope: "The Catholic Church in the Middle East: Communion and Witness." This important event is designed in fact as a gathering of the Catholic community of that area, in its different rites, but at the same time as a renewed search for dialogue and courage for the future. Hence, it will be supported by the prayerful affection of the whole Church, in whose heart the Middle East occupies a special place, inasmuch as it is precisely there that God made himself known to our fathers in the faith. However, attention from other individuals of world society will not be lacking, specifically of protagonists in public life, called to work with constant commitment so that the region will be able to overcome the situations of suffering and conflict that still afflict it and finally rediscover peace in justice.

Before taking leave of Cyprus I wished to visit the Maronite Cathedral of Nicosia -- where Cardinal Pierre Nasrallah Sfeir, patriarch of Antioch of the Maronites, was also present. I renewed my sincere closeness and deep understanding to every community of the ancient Maronite Church spread around the island, on whose coast the Maronites arrived in different periods and were often harshly tired to remain faithful to their specific Christian heritage, whose historical and artistic memories constitute a cultural patrimony for the whole of humanity.

Dear brothers and sisters, I returned to the Vatican with a spirit brimming with gratitude to God and with sincere sentiments of affection and esteem for the inhabitants of Cyprus, by whom I felt welcomed and understood. In the noble Cypriot land I was able to see the apostolic work of the different traditions of the one Church of Christ and I was almost able to feel so many hearts beating in unison, precisely as the theme of the journey affirmed: "One heart, one soul." The Cypriot Catholic community, in its Maronite, Armenian and Latin expressions, makes an incessant effort to be one heart and one soul, both among itself as well as in cordial and constructive relations with Orthodox brothers and with the other Christian denominations. May the Cypriot people and the other nations of the Middle East, with their governors and the representatives of various religions, be able to build together a future of peace, friendship and fraternal collaboration. And we pray that, through the intercession of Mary Most Holy, the Holy Spirit will render this apostolic journey fruitful and animate throughout the world the mission of the Church, instituted by Christ to proclaim the Gospel of truth, love and peace to all peoples.

Pope Benedict greeted the people in several languages. In English, he said:
Dear Brothers and Sisters,

In my Apostolic Journey to Cyprus this past week, I walked in the footsteps of Saints Paul and Barnabas, who first brought the Gosp el to that island, and visited the small but lively Catholic communities of the island. I thank the Authorities for their warm hospitality, and I particularly thank the Holy Synod of the Orthodox Church of Cyprus and His Beatitude Archbishop Chrysostomos the Second for their fraternal welcome. In my celebrations with the Maronite and Latin Catholic communities I witnessed their strong faith and traditions, and the vitality of their educational and charitable institutions. In Cyprus and throughout the Middle East, Christians are called to overcome divisions and to persevere in their witness to the Gospel in those lands. At Sunday Mass in Nicosia I consigned the working document for the forthcoming Special Assembly for the Middle East of the Synod of Bishops. Let us pray that the Synod will strengthen those ancient Christian communities in communion and hope, and help them to build a future of peace throughout the Middle East.

I offer a warm welcome to the ecumenical study group from the School of Theology at Seton Hall University, and to the members of the International Leadership Programme for LaSallian Universities. My cordial greetings also go to the scholars and experts taking part in the international conference sponsored by the International Insolvency Institute. I greet the many student groups present, and I thank the choirs for their praise of God in song. Upon all the English-speaking visitors present in today's Audience, especially those from Ireland, the Philippines and the United states, I invoke Almighty God's blessings of joy and peace.

©Copyright 2010 - Libreria Editrice Vaticana

Sunday, 6 June 2010

THE NEW PATRIARCH OF MOSCOW AND ALL THE RUSSIAS

Fr John Salter, Chairman, writes in Chrysostom for Pascha 2010:

     Following the death of Patriarch Alexis II the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Patriarchal Church has elected   Metropolitan Kyril of Smolensk and Kalingrad. The election took place in the newly built Cathedral of the Saviour, near the Kremlin, which was blown up in 1931 on Stalin’s orders and a swimming pool built on the site. Its reappearance may be due to the persistence of Babuska Power, that of the old ladies, who are a force to be reckoned with in the Russian Church. Today it is a symbol of the revival of that Church.

     Patriarch Kyril has expressed his deep concern about Church Unity, not necessarily the lack of unity between different traditions, but the break down of unity in the Ukraine since the collapse of the Soviet Union. The largest group of Orthodox loyal to Moscow makes up one third of the entire Patriarchate of Moscow, but some of its churches are closed and sealed, and there is pressure for it to become autocephalous. Alongside this there are two other Orthodox jurisdictions, plus the Old Believers with their seat at Byelo-Krinitza in Bukovina, now in the Southern Ukraine. On top of this there is the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, which has recently moved its headquarters from L’viv to Kiev.


      Pope Benedict has welcomed the appointment of Patriarch Kyril, and wrote : “I warmly congratulate you and wish you every strength and joy in the fulfilment of the great task that lies before you”. The Apostolic Nuncio to Russia, Archbishop  Antonio Mennini, wrote to  the Patriarch : “Together with Catholic communities living in Russia at this solemn hour I am praying to the merciful God so that He helps you to accept the legacy of the loving memory of Patriarch Alexy II Your  predecessor… In these years I had a chance to get to know you as a profound theologian striving to revive the Russian Orthodox tradition after the hardships experienced by the Church in the 20th century, as well as a visionary pastor working zealously for  the benefit of God’s people and full of the desire to fulfil  Christ’s commandment, ‘That they may be One’”.