“No conditions but one profession of faith” for full unity between Catholic and Orthodox Churches

“I believe that it is important to reaffirm respect for this principle as an essential condition, accepted by both, for the restoration of full communion, which does not signify the submission of one to the other, or assimilation. Rather, it means welcoming all the gifts that God has given to each, thus demonstrating to the entire world the great mystery of salvation accomplished by Christ the Lord through the Holy Spirit. I want to assure each one of you here that, to reach the desired goal of full unity, the Catholic Church does not intend to impose any conditions except that of the shared profession of faith.”

This passage from Pope Francis’ message to Patriarch Bartholomew I today struck me as a very happy and hopeful one. The Orthodox Churches are so close to us in faith, sacraments and apostolic succession that the most immediate hope for full unity, the goal of ecumenism, is with them. And they have much to give us: a sense of mysticism that we have sometimes lost, especially in the west; of sacramentality and new ways of considering the Divine and how we relate to God in our worship and daily life.

The principle that Pope Francis refers to at the start of passage regards Unitatis Redintegratio, the Vatican II Decree on Christian Unity, and specifically the 15th and 16th chapters thereof. The conclusion of Chapter 15 summarises the principle that is deemed so essential for full communion:

“The very rich liturgical and spiritual heritage of the Eastern Churches should be known, venerated, preserved and cherished by all. They must recognize that this is of supreme importance for the faithful preservation of the fullness of Christian tradition, and for bringing about reconciliation between Eastern and Western Christians.”

Chapter 16 adds to that the importance of the laws and customs of the Orthodox Churches:

“Far from being an obstacle to the Church’s unity, a certain diversity of customs and observances only adds to her splendor, and is of great help in carrying out her mission, as has already been stated. To remove, then, all shadow of doubt, this holy Council solemnly declares that the Churches of the East, while remembering the necessary unity of the whole Church, have the power to govern themselves according to the disciplines proper to them, since these are better suited to the character of their faithful, and more for the good of their souls.”

The liturgical and spiritual heritage of the Orthodox Churches, as well as their laws and customs are no obstacle for full unity. Indeed, they are essential for the further purpose of that unity: the fullness of Christian tradition, worship and evangelisation. The word of God will resound all the stronger.

francis bartholomew

Photo credit: CNS photo/Paul Haring

Synod of Bishops – Day Five

The Friday sessions, presided over by Cardinal Robles Ortega, of the Synod started normal enough, with a series of interventions by  23 Synod fathers.

Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk, Major Archbishop of Kyiv-Halyc and head of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, suggested that the effectiveness of homilies be made a topic for a future assembly of the Synod. Before him, Bishop Javier Echeverría Rodríguez of Opus Dei had also mentioned the need for this, and suggested that could be achieved by the homilist directing is word also to himself, to lead by example, so to speak.

Cardinal Ravasi spoke, among others, about the tensions between science and faith:

“The incompatibility between science and faith and the prevarications of one against the other and vice versa, as has occurred in the past and continues to occur, should be replaced by mutual recognition of the dignity of their respective epistemological statuses: science is dedicated to the “scene”, that is the phenomenon, while theology and philosophy look to the “foundation”. A distinction, but not of separateness to the point of reciprocal exclusion, since they have a single common object, that is, being and existence. It is therefore comprehensible that overlaps and tensions occur, especially in the field of bioethics.
Dialogue is therefore indispensable, without arrogance and without confusion linked to specific levels and approaches. As John Paul II indicated in 1988, “it is absolutely important that each discipline continues to enrich, nurture and provoke the other to be more fully what it should be and to contribute to our vision of what we are and where we are going”. The great scientist Max Planck, father of quantum theory, also confirmed this: “Every serious and reflective person realizes… there can never be any real opposition between religion and science; for the one is the complement of the other”.

Archbishop Józef Michalik, of Przemysl, Poland, reminded the Synod that we can’t lay the blame for the current crisis of faith merely with others:

“If the faith of today becomes ever weaker, we must not only blame others, but rather ourselves. If the message of faith is not interesting or attractive – this is perhaps the case because that same message is no longer interesting or attractive to us, because it does not excite us, because we do not preach Christ to our families or on the streets of our cities.”

In the afternoon, Pope Benedict XVI hosted the Synod fathers, together with Patriarch Bartholomaois I of Constantinople and Archbishop Rowan Williams of Canterbury, for a lunch in the Paul VI Hall. He followed the “lovely tradition initiated by Pope John Paul II to crown the Synod with a shared meal.” He likened the Synod experience to the disciples on the road to Emmaus. Jesus “lit up their hearts and illuminated their minds” allowing them to recognise Him at supper.

“Thus in the Synod we are walking together with our contemporaries. We pray to the Lord that He may illuminate us, that He may light up our hearts so they may become prophetic, that He may illuminate our minds; and we pray that at supper, in the Eucharistic communion, we can really be open, see Him and thus also light up the world and give His light to this world of ours.”

The evening session, the Eighth General Congregation began later, as the Holy Father had already suggested during the lunch. First up was an intervention by Professor Werner Arber, professor of microbiology and President of the Pontifical Academy for Sciences. He gave a “Reflection on the relations between the sciences and religious faith”.

Following this, the members of the Commission for the Message were announced. Four of these, including the president, Cardinal Betori, and the Vice President, Archbishop Tagle, were appointed by the pope, while the remaining eight were elected by the Synod fathers. The members, tasked with composing the pastorl message related to the topic of the Synod, are:

Giuseppe Cardinal Betori, Archbishop of Florence, Italy
Archbishop Luis Tagle, Archbishop of Manila, Philippines
Polycarp Cardinal Pengo, Archbishop of Dar-Es-Salaam, Tanzania
Christoph Cardinal Schönborn, Archbishop of Vienna, Austria
Gianfranco Cardinal Ravasi, President of the Pontifical Council for Culture
George Cardinal Alencherry, Major Archbishop of Ernakulam-Angamaly of the Syro-Malabars, India
Timothy Cardinal Dolan, Archbishop of New York, United States
Archbishop André-Joseph Léonard, Archbishop of Mechelen-Brussels, Belgium
Archbishop John Atcherley Dew, Archbishop of Wellington, New Zealand
Archbishop Sérgio Da Rocha, Archbishop of Brasilia, Brazil
Archbishop Socrates Villegas, Archbishop of Lingayen-Dagupan
Father Adolfo Nicolás Pachón, Superior General of the Society of Jesus

Photo credit: [2] Bishop Gerald Kicanas