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The Church of the East: There can be only one

It has been a big news week. And I already digressed into the area of moral theology and civility to comment on one of the rulings by the U.S. Supreme Court this week, i am not speaking of the rest (though, as a Catholic Christian, i believe universal access health care is a good, and capital punishment is not, so it was a pretty mixed bag all around).

Ecumenically, there have been a few interesting developments.

Metropolitan Hilarion

Metropolitan Hilarion

The General Synod of the United Church of Christ (USA) unanimously approved a full communion agreement with the United Church of Canada yesterday. The UCC and the UCC are both ‘united and uniting’ churches, themselves the products of previous ecumenical reunion efforts. The UCC (USA) already has similar agreements with the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), the Union of Evangelical (read:Lutheran) Churches in Germany, the Presbyterian Church (USA), the Reformed Church in America, and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

Two days ago, the Corriere della Sera published an interview with Metropolitan Hilarion Alfeyev, the head of external relations for the Moscow Patriarchate. He is quoted as saying that a meeting between Patriarch Kiril and Pope Francis “is getting closer every day”. Though this is his boilerplate response when asked about a meeting between the head of the largest Orthodox church with the bishop of Rome, he alluded that it was actually on the agenda – though no date is set, and it would certainly be in a ‘neutral’ location like the Austro-Hungarian Empire Austria or Hungary. This meeting has been in discussion for 20 years, since the intended meeting between Alexy II and John Paul II was cancelled at the last minute.

And of course there was the annual delegation from the Phanar to the Vatican on the patronal feast of Rome, Sts. Paul and Peter. Leading the delegation this year was Metropolitan John (Zizioulas) of Pergamon, who was also part of the panel presentation of the environmental encyclical Laudato Si. He and Metropolitan Hilarion were both in Rome this week as part of the drafting committee of a statement, “Towards the Understanding of Synodality and Primacy in the Church of the First Millennium” by the International Commission for Theological Dialogue between the Orthodox and Catholic Churches.

Pope Francis and Metropolitan John

Pope Francis and Metropolitan John

Probably the most interesting, and potentially most dramatic, however, was the proposal of Patriarch Raphael I (Louis Sako) of Bablyon, head of the Chaldean Catholic Church, who proposed a plan for a united Church of the East that would entail his own resignation.

The schism between the Church of the East and the rest of the orthodox Christian world is the oldest surviving division in the Church, its origins dating back to the Council of Ephesus in 431 AD. It was the Christian Church in the Persian Empire, and has often (wrongly) been called Nestorian. Acknowledging that there is now brief way to do justice to the history of communion and schism between the Church of the East and the Catholic/Orthodox Church(es) in the last 1600 years, suffice it to say that what remains is a very small community based in Baghdad but effectively existing as a diaspora community, with its leaders often in Exile.

There are three current churches succeeding from that original Church of the East, which was founded, according to tradition, by the apostle Thomas and by Mar Addai (Jude/Thaddeus, maybe, or a disciple of Thomas) and Mari, a disciple of Addai.

The Assyrian Church of the East, whose Catholicos (Patriarch) Mar Dinkha IV died in March, consists of about 250,000 faithful, mostly in the U.S., Europe, and Oceania. The election of his successor has been postponed until September. The patriarchate went into exile to the United States in the 1930s. (The Assyrian Church is, to the best of my knowledge, the only ancient apostolic church where priests and deacons have been allowed to marry even after ordination; in the Orthodox and Catholic Churches, married men could be ordained, but ordained men could not be married).

Patriarch Raphael I and Mar Dinkha IV

Patriarch Raphael I and Mar Dinkha IV

The Ancient Church of the East, whose Catholicos is Mar Addai II (since 1970!) numbers about 100,000 faithful and the patriarchate remains in Baghdad. From at least 1450 until 1976, the patriarchate of the Assyrian Church of the East had become a hereditary office, passing from uncle to nephew. In 1964, some members of the Assyrian Church used the official adoption of the Gregorian calendar as an opportunity to split from the rest, the underlying reason being objection to this hereditary practice and perhaps wanting to keep the hierarchy based in its ancient homeland.

The Chaldean Catholic Church was initially established in 1553 when a similar break-away faction of the Assyrian hierarchy (also objecting to a hereditary patriarchate) sought full communion with Rome, and over the next three centuries there was a great deal of fluidity back and forth, only stabilized about 1830. The Chaldeans number somewhere between 500,000 and 750,000, also mostly in diaspora. Patriarch Raphael I has been the primate of this church since 2013.

For the last three decades, there have been very successful ecumenical dialogue between the Catholic Church and the Assyrian Church of the East, resulting in a Joint Christological Declaration in 1996, resolving the theological issue that had divided the churches of Rome and Persia back in the 5th century. Ten years later an agreement on sacraments was reached but not promulgated due to some internal issues. The only remaining issue holding back full communion was that of common ecclesiastical governance, and this is what Patriarch Raphael of the Chaldean Catholic Church has proposed to resolve now, if he and Patriarch Addy II both resign, and the bishops of all three churches come together to elect a single Catholicos-Patriarch.

Let us pray that this comes to fruition this year!


Patriarch Raphael’s Proposal:

I would like to share some personal thoughts with those of others, since they may contribute to achieving the project of “the unity of the Church of the East”.

Unity is the commandment of the Lord Jesus, “so that they may be one” (John 17/11), and the demand of Christians who face significant challenges that threaten their existence in diaspora with assimilation, and in the motherland with extinction

I propose that we adopt a single denomination for the church: The Church of the East as it was for many centuries, and that we not maintain the factional denominations. The single denomination will give it strength and momentum, and it can become a model for other churches.

The communion of faith and unity with the Roman See is a fundamental base of unity. It is an increase of power, not a decrease, especially since there is no difference in doctrine, but only in its formal expression. Therefore, to think of disassembling the link of “the Church of the East” with the See of Rome would be a great loss and cause of weakness. Unity does not mean uniformity, nor the melting of our own church identity into one style, but it maintains unity in diversity and we remain one apostolic universal church, the Oriental Church, that maintains its independence of administration, laws and liturgies, traditions and support through respect for the authority of the Patriarch and the Synod of Bishops.

After deliberation and dialogue between the three branches and the acceptance of this communion with Rome:

1. The current Patriarchs: Louis Raphael Sako, Patriarch of the Chaldean Catholic Church, and Mar Addai II, Patriarch of the ancient Church of the East, would submit their resignations without any conditions, but their desire for unity.

2. The Bishops of the three churches would meet to choose a new Patriarch.

3. The elected Patriarch should have assistants from each branch to enhance the “weft” (the permanent Synod).

4. The Patriarch and the Synod would leave national interests to the laity, because the church should be open to everyone and concerned with the best interests of all.

5. The Patriarch and the Synod would prepare for a General Synod to develop a new road-map for The One Church of the East.

[For the best guide to navigating the byzantine waters of Eastern Christianity, see Ron Roberson, The Eastern Christian Churches, now in its 7th Edition]


50th Anniversary of Unitatis Redintegratio celebrated in Rome


Ecumenical Blogs from Atonement Friars

LutheranChapelTalinnI want to take a moment to highlight two blogs from the world of ecumenism hosted by Atonement friars.

The Centro Pro Unione in Rome is the ecumenical center for the Eternal City, and the main library for the ecumenical section of the theology faculty at the Angelicum. Housed in the Collegio Innocenziano overlooking Piazza Navona, it was once one of several ecumenically oriented institutions in the building, including the Lay Centre, Casa Foyer Unitas, and Taize. It is the site of the Thursday debriefing during the Council for ecumenical observers, who were staying upstairs as Foyer Unitas at the time.

Its director, Prof. James Puglisi, SA, is also director of the ecumenical section at the Angelicum, and has started a blog here: Ecumenism Around the World:

From the American branch of the Society of the Atonement, based at Graymoor, NY, comes the monthly publication Ecumenical Trends and the homonymous blog,

Week of Prayer for Christian Unity 2014 (Rome)


The schedule of events that i could collect to be celebrated here in Rome for the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. This excludes several parishes which dedicate daily liturgy and/or devotions to the theme. 

Settimana di preghiera per l’unità dei Cristiani

Has Christ Been Divided? Cristo non può essere diviso! (I Cor 1.1-17)

General information on the Week of Prayer can be found here.




Thursday, 16 January:  Day of Jewish-Christian Dialogue and Reflection

 18.00      Jewish-Catholic Dialogue Fifty Years after Nostra Aetate: A Latin-American Perspective
Rabbi Abraham Skorka at the Pontifical Gregorian University
Moderated by Cardinal Kurt Koch

 Saturday, 18 January

16.30       Incontro di preghiera dei consacrati/e della Diocesi di Roma
Basilica San Lorenzo fuori le Mura

 17.30       Vespers at Capella di Santa Brigida, Piazza Farnese  96
Cardinal Kurt Koch, Archbishop Leo (Chiesa di Finlandia), Bishop Makinen (Luterano),
Bishop Sippo (Diocesi Cattolica di Helsinki),  and Bishop Brian Farrell

[invite]      Vespers at Pontifical Beda College, Viale San Paolo 18
Very Rev. Ken Howcroft preaching

20.00      Ukrainian Catholic (Byzantine Rite) Divine Liturgy – Basilian Fathers, Santa Maria in Via Lata, Via del Corso 306

 Sunday, 19 January

 11.00       Catholic Eucharist with Archbishop David Moxon Preaching
Caravita Community, Via del Caravita 7

12.00       Angelus with Pope Francis, Piazza San Pietro

16.00      Celebrazione Ecumenica Finlandese
Bishop Teemu Sippo, SCI (Catholic), Bishop Kari Mäkinen (Lutheran), Archbishop Leo (Orthodox)
Santa Maria Sopra Minerva ,Piazza del Minerva 42

18.00      Incontro di preghiera del Gruppo Romano del SAE
Capella delle Suore Francescane di Maria, Via Macchiavelli 32

18.30       Celebrazione Ecumenica Tedesca with German/Hungarian College, S. Maria dell’Anima
At Christus Kirche Via Sicilia 70

20.00      Roman Catholic (Latin Rite) Eucharist– Archbishop Piero Marini, presiding
Santa Maria in Via Lata, Via del Corso 306

 Monday, 20 January

18.00      Anglican Choral Evensong  with Ven. Jonathan Boardman Preaching
Basilica San Paolo fuori le mura

18.30       Santa Messa at Parocchia di S. Maria delle Grazie alle Fornaci
19.30       Conferenza “Il movimento ecumenico, la santità”, Padre Ciro Bova

20.00      Greek Catholic (Byzantine Rite) Divine Liturgy – Pontifical Greek College
Santa Maria in Via Lata, Via del Corso 306

Tuesday, 21 January

11:45       Anglican Center Eucharist, Piazza Collegio Romano 2

18.30       Santa Messa, Parrocchia S. Maria delle Grazie alle Fornaci
19.30       Conferenza: L’ecumenismo, il punti di vista dei fratelli ortodossi”, P. Vladimir Zelinsky

 20.00      Syro Malankara Catholic (Antiochene Rite) Holy Qurbana – Damascene College

Santa Maria in Via Lata, Via del Corso 306

Wednesday, 22 January

10.30       General Audience with Pope Francis, Sala Audienza Paolo VI

[Invite]   Vespers at Pontifical Irish College, Archbishop David Moxon preaching

18:30    Venerable English College, Rev. Keith Pecklers, SJ, preaching

18.30       Santa Messa at Parrocchia di S. Maria delle Grazie alle Fornaci
19.30 Confronto e dibattito sul tema della santita nell/’ecumenismo: P. Ciro Bova, P. Vladimir Zelinsky

20.00      Armenian Catholic (Armenian Rite)  Divine Liturgy – Armenian College
Santa Maria in Via Lata, Via del Corso 306

 Thursday, 23 January

16.30    Mixed Salad Ecumenism in the Caribbean: Is there a Future? 
Archbishop Donald Reece, Archbishop Emeritus of Kingston, Jamaica;
Followed by a Celebration of the Word with
Rev. Willie McCulloch presiding, and Very Rev. Ken Howcroft preaching
At Centro Pro Unione, Via S. Maria dell’Anima 30 (Cosponsored by Lay Centre at Foyer Unitas)

18.30       Diocesan vespers at with Ven. Jonathan Boardman preaching,
SS. Martiri dell’Uganda, Via Adolfo Ravà 31

20.00      Maronite Catholic (Antiochene Rite) Divine Liturgy – Maronite Order of the BVM
Santa Maria in Via Lata, Via del Corso 306

Friday, 24 January

 20.00      Gruppo Incontro at Chiesa Valdese, Piazza Cavour

20.00      Romanian Catholic (Byzantine Rite) Divine Liturgy – Romanian College
Santa Maria in Via Lata, Via del Corso 306

 Saturday, 25 January

 17.30       Papal Vespers, Basilica San Paolo fuori le mura (tickets required)

20.00      Ethiopian Catholic (Alexandrian Rite) Divine Liturgy – Pontifical Ethiopian College
Santa Maria in Via Lata, Via del Corso 306

 Sunday, 26 January

16.00      Churches Together in Rome Unity Service
Rev. Dr. Karen Hamilton, Secretary General of Canadian Council of Churches
Basilica San Silvestro in Capite, Piazza di San Silvestro 17A

Monday, 27 January

14:30     Il concilio e ecumenismo: Lectio Conclusiva di ‘Il Concilio Vaticano II: Storia e Sviluppi
Bishop Charles Morerod, OP,  bishop of Lausanne, Genève et Fribourg
at Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas (Angelicum)



Jeffrey Gros, FSC: In Memoriam

Prof. Jeffrey Gros, FSC

Prof. Jeffrey Gros, FSC

I was in Montenegro when I received word of Br. Jeff’s passing this summer (12 August). For more than a decade, Br. Jeff Gros has been one of my chief ecumenical mentors. There have been many who have helped me along the way, but few as significant an educator and supporter as Brother Jeff.   I have been reflecting on his life and his help to me in these years, and I keep finding it a daunting task to do justice to his memory and contributions.

There has never been any vocation for me but that of ecumenist. I barely remember wanting to do anything with my life other than be an ecumenist, even to the point of seeking it out as a university major (not an option, so I had to settle for Theology in general!). Whether the path to living it out was through the presbyterate, diaconate, lay ecclesial ministry, or academic theology always seemed to me to be a secondary question.

Br. Jeff was part of that generation that came of age just at the time of the Second Vatican Council. He completed his BA in the same year that Good Pope John called the council, and spent the years of the Council teaching in high schools and in his own graduate studies. In 1965 he published a master’s thesis on ministry and orders in the presbyterian church. In the very year the council ended! He wrote his doctorate at Fordham in the height of the energy and expectation about ecumenism, at a time when people seemed to think that reunion with Anglicans, Lutherans, and Orthodox, at least, would happen by the end of the decade.

Jeff was hired on as the first Catholic director of Faith and Order for the National Council of Churches during the 80’s, so he was on hand just as the WCC Faith and Orders most famous convergence statement, Baptism, Eucharist, and Ministry, was prepared, published, and received. In the most cutting-edge era of modern ecumenism, Jeff was at the forefront, and widely acknowledged as one of the most knowledgeable and approachable experts in a field populated by many of the best and brightest the Churches had to offer.

After a decade at Faith and Order, he was brought into the staff of the USCCB office for Ecumenism and Interreligious Dialogue, at that office’s height of effort and episcopal support. In the same year Pope Benedict was elected, the USCCB suffered a number of cutbacks and reorganizations, shrinking the office to half its previous staffing levels.

He was a member of the National Association of Evangelicals and of the Society for Pentecostal Studies, being elected president of the later on their 40th anniversary plenary. He knew the churches and communities from the inside out, and I daresay, sometimes better than many of their own leaders (Catholic Church included, of course).

I met Jeff in 2002, the year I finally got connected with national-level ecumenical networking (there was no ecumenical network for youth in the US then!), through my advisor at CUA, John Ford, CSC. First there was the CUIC Inauguration in Memphis, the National Workshop on Christian Unity in Cleveland, and Orientale Lumen in Washington, DC.  Jeff was one of the many “rock stars” of the ecumenical movement I encountered for the first time that year. I would have the privilege of his tutelage during the USCCB’s Institute for Ecumenical Leadership twice (basic and advanced) and at several conferences over the years, most commonly the NWCU.

Jeff was a walking encyclopedia of ecumenism. Having lived through the Catholic Church’s entire history of ecumenical commitment since the Council, as an academic and educator throughout, and having witnessed and documented most of it personally as staff at the NCC and USCCB for a quarter century, the number of people who paralleled his first-hand experience and knowledge of the movement can probably be counted on one hand.

I remember sitting at a table with Jeff when I admitted I had been confused when a speaker kept referencing Arminianism, and I had assumed they were talking about the Armenian Apostolic Church (and it was not making much sense). “How could you study the Synod of Dordt and not remember Arminius?” he chided with a smile as he launched into an enthralling history lesson on the intricacies of early 17th-century Dutch Reformed theology and its internecine conflicts. I did not have the heart to tell him that my survey of church history had not even covered the synod.

It was one of many teachable moments i had with Jeff, rather that he had with me, which encouraged me to further study. (Encouragement also sometimes took the form of a kick in the pants: “A.J., you know ecumenism, you know the material, just get your thesis written already!”) In fact, the last correspondence we had before he died was to encourage me to apply to a position as ecumenical officer in a large diocese that would allow me teaching opportunities as well.

Br. Jeff at the NWCU

Br. Jeff at the NWCU

Talking to other young ecumenists (though I no longer qualify for the young part, I fear), everyone had an encounter with Jeff that pushed them along the path to unity.

But it was not just the external dialogue that Br. Jeff modeled. A lay brother, he knew the sting of clericalism long before lay ecclesial ministry had its rise and subsequent decline. I once found myself complaining to him about the disparity of opportunity for those of us without a Roman collar, when it hit me like a bolt – if Jeff had been ordained, he probably would have been made cardinal, a la Avery Dulles. What I found cause for grumbling, he handled with aplomb and renewed dedication.

He was tireless. He published more in the eleven years I have known him that I have hopes to achieve in a lifetime. More than twenty books bear his name as author, contributor, or editor, and some of them are massive tomes. Others are incredibly practical, pastoral, and handy for catechesis. He has over the 300 articles, and so many book reviews that they would probably fill an entire bookshelf in themselves. He consulted, taught, corresponded, and was present to just about everyone who has engaged in the search for Christian Unity in the Anglophone world in the last fifty years, I suspect.

Brother Jeff was an indefatigable proponent of the Gospel plea for unity in place of uniformity, for communion in place of conflict, for dialogue in place of division. He was and remains an inspiration to two generations of ecumenists, at least, and, I have no doubt, is in a place to intercede on our behalf as we recall and reclaim the final prayer of Christ. He will be missed in this here and now, but I am grateful every day to have counted him a friend and mentor.

Requiem æternam dona eis, Domine,
et lux perpetua luceat eis.
Te decet hymnus Deus, in Sion,
et tibi reddetur votum in Ierusalem.
Exaudi orationem meam;
ad te omnis caro veniet.
Requiem æternam dona eis, Domine,
et lux perpetua luceat eis.

Summer Stage II: English and Ecumenism in Eastern Romania

Providence provides again. After three weeks in Cyprus, the choice of destination was determined by one and only one question: what was the cheapest flight out of Larnaca? Wherever it went, that is where my next stop would be.

As it happened, the answer was Bucharest. I missed my mother’s trip to Romania by just under a week, too, but the timing worked in my favor. After having booked the tickets, a Georgian friend sent a facebook message about a ‘summer camp’ for students from central and eastern Europe interested in ecumenism and improving their English. The target age seemed to be university students in their twenties, or late teens – “youth” by the European definition. A little past the upper limit, I wrote the organizers to see if they were interested in having a native-English speaking ecumenist join them, and offer a lesson or two.

Patriarchal Cathedral of Sts. Constantine and Helen, Bucharest

Patriarchal Cathedral of Sts. Constantine and Helen, Bucharest

The idea of spending ten days in a castle in northeastern Romania for no more than the cost of getting there was appealing, too, I admit. A few hours in Bucharest gave us time to visit the patriarchate (where we got parking only because our host told security that I was a theologian visiting from the Vatican), and a walking tour of the city. Then it was a night train to Roman.

The Lingua Franca Summer Camp was organized by the European Region of the World Student Christian Federation, an organization i had somehow not encountered before. It started originally in the early nineties at the collapse of the Soviet Union as a way to promote Christian leadership and provide English-language training for young Christians from behind the Iron Curtain. The length of the program has reduced dramatically in the last 20 years, from three months to ten days, but still serves many of the same countries. All the participants already had some mastery of English, and some involvement in ecumenical student movements. I was privileged to lead a small discussion group of advanced English speakers from Armenia, Georgia, Ukraine, and Finland during language training, and participate in the program the rest of the week. The other participants or staff came from Armenia, Bulgaria, Georgia, Germany, Finland, Ireland, Italy, Lithuania, Moldova, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, UK, Ukraine, and US.

Studza Castle, Miclăuşeni

Studza Castle, Miclăuşeni

The setting is the almost surreal nineteenth century neo-gothic Sturdza Castle, near the village of Miclăuşeni. Built on the site of a fifteenth century manor estate, the castle once boasted a library of 60,000, including several rare first editions. Most of these were lost during the second world war, burned as fuel or stolen either by Nazi or Soviet soldiers. In 1947 the heiress donated the property to the Romanian Orthodox Metropolitanate of Iasi, and established a monastic community there. Only six years later, however, Communist authorities seized the land, and used the castle successively as a munitions depot, museum of military metallurgy, and hospital for children with severe mental disabilities. Villagers looted some of the original furniture, and other pieces were lost in two fires over the decades. As late as 2002, the place was still in complete disrepair. Recent work to restore it seems to have done a great job, but there is still a lot to be done – many of the original frescoes and decorations are so ruined, it seems more a question of renovation than restoration. A retreat center has been started, and the metropolitanate hopes to make a museum of part of the place. An iconography workshop already takes part of the space in the monastery complex, and the community of sisters numbers about forty.

The educational piece was organized in cooperation with the metropolitanate, under the guidance of the vicar for education, Archimandtrate Hrisostom Radasanu, a graduate of the Orientale in Rome. An articulate and erudite young cleric, his presentation to the group was apparently his first ever teaching occasion in English, and it was nearly flawless. I imagine the ecumenical world will be hearing his name a lot more in the years and decades to come, and I look forward to it.

Traditional Armenian dance demonstration

Traditional Armenian dance demonstration

The best part of the experience was, naturally, the people who participated. I met some amazing young ecumenists and future leaders. I learned a great deal from them, about everything from the specter of Russian imperialism, perceptions of American politics and the degree to which we don’t always appreciate our country, to ecclesiastical reality in different countries and experience with Islam, to the situation for gay rights in Georgia (In May, a demonstration of about four dozen in support of gay rights was overwhelmed when something like 35,000 counter-protesters turned out). I also learned a bit about Romanian Orthodox Ecclesiology in practice, like the fact that they will not ordain someone without a pastoral office (ie, a parish or chancery role) that is open and requires a deacon or presbyter. I have to go read Fr. Ron Roberson’s doctoral dissertation now…

Two familiar faces from a great youth conference I attended in Sarajevo three years ago (!) were there too: Pip, an implacably irenic North Irish Anglican PK, now father of a beautiful daughter himself, who brought no less than six bodhráin with him; and Paweł, the Polish editor-in-chief of the WSCF-E publication Mozaik, whose English is more British than most Englishmen I know.

Catholic Cathedral of Mary, Queen of Heaven, in Iasi. Bishop Petru Gherghel's motto is 'ut unum sint'.

Catholic Cathedral of Mary, Queen of Heaven, in Iasi. Bishop Petru Gherghel’s motto is ‘ut unum sint’.

I met a Georgian who could be a Republican from the Peach State, an inquisitive Ukrainian with a passion for learning, Romanian teens whose Byzantine chant was angelic, a fey Finn of Russian roots with a compelling story, and an awesome Armenian foursome. My new Slovak friend is the very image of a central European intellectual, with a cigarette in one hand and a book on existentialism in the other, slightly unkempt beard and untucked dress shirt completing the ensemble. A Bulgarian duo were inseparable, indefatigable, and inspiring. The German regional secretary proved a kindred ecumenical spirit.

I could go on, and in more depth. I was impressed by the quality of each, and by the opportunity they had here. I had support from some key ecumenists in my years post-college around the US, but there was nothing like this for us to tap into, to network with ecumenists our own age. Europe may struggle with its Christian identity, but at least religion is still recognized as enough a part of culture that its diversity is something to be addressed, rather than ignored. Western Europe may be increasingly secular and unprepared to comfortably address religious questions, but there is a light in the East.

Golia Monastery, Iasi

Golia Monastery, Iasi

Malines Conversations Group – Communiqué

From March 17 to 20, a group of Anglican and Catholic theologians gathered at the Monastery of Chevetogne in Belgium to initiate a new ecumenical exploration under the title ‘Malines Conversations Group’.  Desiring to stand in the tradition of the Malines Conversations, which were convened by Cardinal Mercier of Mechelen (Malines) in the 1920’s, the Group’s first meeting included reflection on socio-cultural, liturgical and ecclesial developments from the time of the Malines Conversations to the present, and on the anthropological dimension of liturgical experience in our two communions.

During the meeting, the Conversation participants joined the monks of Chevetogne for their worship, both in the Byzantine and Latin rite traditions. They also went on pilgrimage to Mechelen and joined in prayer at the tomb of Cardinal Mercier.

Like the Malines Conversations of the 1920’s, the current dialogue is informal and not officially sponsored by Anglican and Catholic Churches, though it has been organized in consultation with and has received the blessing of Church authorities. Archbishop Rowan Williams and Cardinal Godfried Danneels have agreed to serve as Patrons of the Conversations.  At the recommendation of those responsible for coordinating ecumenical relations in the Catholic Church and the Anglican Communion, the Malines Conversations Group will remain in communication with both the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission (ARCIC) and the International Anglican-Roman Catholic Commission for Unity and Mission (IARCCUM).

Though not intentionally planned this way, the meeting was held during the same historic week as the inauguration of the Petrine Ministry of Pope Francis and the enthronement of Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, and was imbued with the hope which those events carried for the life of our two communions, and the future of our relations.

Anglican participants:

  • Rev. Dr. Jennifer Cooper, College of the Resurrection, Mirfield, UK
  • Rev. Dr. James Hawkey, Westminster Abbey, London, UK
  • Rev. Dr. Simon Jones, Chaplain of Merton College, Oxford, UK
  • Rev. Dr. Jeremy Morris, Dean of King’s College, Cambridge, UK
  • Rev. Dr. Michael Nai-Chiu Poon, member of ARCIC III, Singapore
  • Canon Dr. Nicholas Sagovsky, member of ARCIC III, London, UK

Catholic participants:

  • Most Rev. Donald Bolen, Catholic Co-Chair of IARCCUM, Saskatoon, Canada
  • Dr. Joris Geldhof, Catholic University of Leuven, Belgium
  • Dr. Maryana Hnyp, Catholic University of Leuven, Belgium
  • Rev. Dr. Keith Pecklers, S.J., Gregorian University, Rome
  • Rev. Dr. Thomas Pott o.s.b., Monk of Chevetogne, University of Sant’Anselmo, Rome
  • Rev. Cyrille Vael o.s.b., Monk of Chevetogne

The Malines Conversations Group members expressed their heartfelt thanks to Abbot Philippe Vanderheyden and the monks of Chevetogne for the extraordinary welcome extended to them.  Their aim is to meet again next March at a location in the United Kingdom.

Pope Francis greets ecumenical and interreligious delegates

Audience with representatives of
Churches and Ecclesial Communities
and of other Religions



(Reposted from Vatican Radio) On Wednesday, March 20 2013, Pope Francis received several dozen representatives of the various Christian Churches and other world religions, who attended the Pope’s inauguration.

Among them were several leaders from the Orthodox Church, Orthodox Oriental Churches, the Anglican Communion, and various Protestant churches, including the Lutheran, Baptist and Methodist churches. Representatives from the Jewish and Muslim faiths were also present.

Please find below Vatican Radio’s translation of the Pope’s discourse:

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

First of all, heartfelt thanks for what my Brother Andrew* told us. Thank you so much! Thank you so much!

It is a source of particular joy to meet you today, delegates of the Orthodox Churches, the Oriental Orthodox Churches and Ecclesial Communities of the West. Thank you for wanting to take part in the celebration that marked the beginning of my ministry as Bishop of Rome and Successor of Peter.

Yesterday morning, during the Mass, through you , I recognized the communities you represent. In this manifestation of faith, I had the feeling of taking part in an even more urgent fashion the prayer for the unity of all believers in Christ, and together to see somehow prefigured the full realization of full unity which depends on God’s plan and on our own loyal collaboration.

I begin my Apostolic Ministry in this year during which my venerable Predecessor, Benedict XVI, with true inspiration, proclaimed the Year of Faith for the Catholic Church. With this initiative, that I wish to continue and which I hope will be an inspiration for every one’s journey of faith, he wished to mark the 50th anniversary of the Second Vatican Council, thus proposing a sort of pilgrimage towards what for every Christian represents the essential: the personal and transforming relationship with Jesus Christ, Son of God, who died and rose for our salvation. This effort to proclaim this eternal treasure of faith to the people of our time, lies at the heart of the Council’s message.

Together with you I cannot forget how much the council has meaning for the ecumenical journey. I like to remember the words that Blessed John XXIII, of whom we will soon mark 50 years since his death, when he gave his memorable inauguration speech: “The Catholic Church therefore considers it her duty to work actively so that there may be fulfilled the great mystery of that unity, which Christ Jesus invoked with fervent prayer from His heavenly Father on the eve of His sacrifice. She rejoices in peace, knowing well that she is intimately associated with that prayer “.

Yes, dear brothers and sisters in Christ, let us all be intimately united to our Saviour’s prayer at the Last Supper, to his invocation: ut unum sint. We call merciful Father to be able to fully live the faith that we have received as a gift on the day of our Baptism, and to be able to it free, joyful and courageous testimony. The more we are faithful to his will, in thoughts, in words and in deeds, the more we will truly and substantially walk towards unity.
For my part, I wish to assure, in the wake of my predecessors, the firm wish to continue on the path of ecumenical dialogue, and I thank you, the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of Christian Unity, for the help it continues to offer in my name, for this noble cause. I ask you, dear brothers and sisters, to bring my cordial greetings to the Churches and Christian communities who are represented here. And I ask you for a special prayer for me so that I can be a pastor according to the heart of Christ.

And now I turn to you, distinguished representatives of the Jewish people, to whom we are bound by a very special spiritual bond, from the moment that, as the Second Vatican Council said, “thus the Church of Christ acknowledges that according to God’s saving design, the beginnings of her faith and her election are found already among the Patriarchs, Moses and the prophets”.(Decree Nostra Aetate, 4). I thank you for your presence and trust that with the help of the Almighty, we can continue that fruitful fraternal dialogue that the Council wished for. And that it is actually achieved, bringing many fruits, especially during the last decades .

I greet and thank cordially all of you, dear friends belonging to other religious traditions; firstly the Muslims, who worship the one living and merciful God, and call upon Him in prayer. I really appreciate your presence, and in it I see a tangible sign of the wish to grow in recipricol trust and in cooperation for the common good of humanity.

The Catholic Church is aware of the importance of the promotion of friendship and respect between men and women of different religious traditions – this I wish to repeat this: the promotion of friendship and respect between men and women of different religious traditions – this is attested evident also in the valuable work undertaken by the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue. The Church is equally aware of the responsibility that each of us bring towards our world, abd to the whole of creation, that we must love and protect. And we can do a lot for the good of the less fortunate, for those who are weak and suffering, to promote justice, to promote reconciliation, to build peace.. But above all, we must keep alive in our world the thirst for the absolute, and must not allow the vision of the human person with a single dimension to prevail, according to which man is reduced to what he produces and to what he consumes: this is one most dangerous threats of our times.

We know how much violence has been provoked in recent history by the attempt to eliminate God and the divine from the horizon of humanity, and we feel the need to witness in our societies the original openness to transcendence that is inherent in the human heart. In this we feel the closeness also of those men and women who, while not belonging to any religious tradition, feel, however the need to search for the truth, the goodness and the beauty of God, and who are our precious allies in efforts to defend the dignity of man, in the building of a peaceful coexistence between peoples and in the careful protection of creation.

Dear friends, thank you for your presence. To all, I offer my cordial and fraternal greetings.


*My Brother Andrew – that is, Bartholomew I, Patriarch of Constantinople, Successor of Andrew, the brother of Peter.

Capo d’anno – Looking back, looking ahead

Every year I find that I had many more ideas for my blog than I actually had time to post. The irony, of course, is that the busier and more interesting life gets, the less time to chronicle it.

Perhaps the biggest ‘distraction’ was a push to finish my License in Sacred Theology. I submitted my thesis in mid-September, at twice its intended length, and passed my oral comprehensive exams in early October, being awarded an S.T.L. in Ecumenism and Dialogue magna cum laude. I am now dedicated to finishing the doctorate – with the dubiously honorific postnominal initials of S.T.D. – in the next 18 months or so. (“Or so” indicating about a half year of flexibility for editing, revising, and Roman beaurocracy).

On paper, the S.T.L. seems to require only 20 lecture courses, 4 seminars, a thesis and oral comprehensive exams, and could be completed normally in two years. In fact, owing to extra requirements of my particular discipline, I completed 31 courses for credit and audited three others (including one with Cardinal Walter Kasper). … and that was with credit for seven courses walking in the door, owing to previous academic and pastoral work.

Translating American and Pontifical degrees is tricky, because each system inherently thinks itself superior to the other.  Roughly, the STL is equivalent to being ABD in the U.S. PhD system, though certain elements simply do not translate: There are no teaching assistants or lecture opportunities for anyone without a doctorate in hand, in the Roman system, for example. It is still a good indicator of where I am in my studies.


Certainly the biggest encounter, and one of the nicest surprises of the year, was a little one on one time with His Grace, The Most Rev. Dr. Rowan Williams, now retired Archbishop of Canterbury. On the day of his address to the Synod of Bishops in October, he came to the Caelian hill for a short tour, and I was invited to be his local guide and ecumenical host for the encounter. As we walked through the basilica of Ss. Giovanni e Paolo, the ruins of the Temple of Claudius, and onto the grounds the Lay Centre shares with the Passionists, we were able to talk briefly about the state of the church and the churches, and his upcoming remarks. Seeing his ‘entourage’ it was like a reunion of friends and respected colleagues, people I admire for their dedicated service to the Church and ecumenism from both communions.

The year began on an ecumenical note, as I traveled in January to Norway to celebrate the ordination of a friend and former housemate of mine as a pastor in the (Lutheran) Church of Norway, which took place in Nidaros Cathedral, in Trondheim, just a couple degrees south of the arctic circle.

January of course also sees the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, always a busy time in Rome. This year included, in January and February, a course at the Angelicum taught by Cardinal Walter Kasper on ecclesiological ecumenical themes.

During the spring semester, President Mary McAleese of Ireland, recently retired, moved to Rome to finish a License in Canon Law, and spent the spring semester in residence at the Lay Centre. She brought a wealth of knowledge of the church, experience in politics, and stories told with the kind of skill and humor that made the Irish famous as bards. She has been a great gift to the community.

March witnessed the first of two visits this year by Archbishop Rowan Williams, including a joint vespers service with Pope Benedict, on the occasion of the Camaldoli celebrating their millennial anniversary, at the Church of St. Gregory the Great, our next door neighbors on the Caelian hill, and the installation of an Anglican priest as the Catholic prior of the order’s chapter in Rome. (He was received into Catholic orders after his election as prior.)

In April, I was able to head up to Assisi for a conference sponsored by the Ecclesiological Investigations Network, and included several U.S. graduate students and theologians. Cardinal Koch gave a significant lecture on fifty years of Jewish-Catholic dialogue as this year’s annual John Paul II Lecture on Interreligious Understanding, sponsored by the office I work for, the John Paul Center for Interreligious Dialogue.

 In June, I was invited by the Holy See’s Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews to be a plenary speaker from the Catholic side at a Jewish-Catholic dialogue in New York, with a focus on emerging leadership in this oldest and closest interreligious dialogue.  

I spent the summer in Rome, practicing Italian and learning first-hand why anyone who can, leaves. It is impossible to think in that kind of heat and humidity, the universities and libraries close, and there is virtually nowhere in the city with air conditioning. I did get a trip to Germany and the Netherlands at the end of the summer to cool down a little. September included a working visit to Budapest.

October was a busy month, with the synod for bishops, the 50th anniversary of Vatican II opening, visits by the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Patriarch of Constantinople, an international conference at the Lay Centre, the orientation of a new cohort of Russell Berrie Fellows, and of course the comprehensive exams for my license.

November took an eastern focus, with conferences on Eastern Catholicism, and Middle Eastern Christianity. December was about wrapping up the year and getting ready to head home for my first Christmas holiday in the States since 2008. 

Eastern Catholics explain tradition, value of married priests

Tuesday, November 13, 2012
By Cindy Wooden Catholic News Service

ROME (CNS) — In Eastern Christianity — among both Catholics and Orthodox — a dual vocation to marriage and priesthood are seen as a call “to love more” and to broaden the boundaries of what a priest considers to be his family, said Russian Catholic Father Lawrence Cross.

Father Cross, a professor at the Australian Catholic University in Melbourne, was one of the speakers at the Chrysostom Seminar in Rome Nov. 13, a seminar focused on the history and present practice of married priests in the Eastern churches.

The Code of Canons of the Eastern (Catholic) Churches insist that “in the way they lead their family life and educate their children, married clergy are to show an outstanding example to other Christian faithful.”

Speakers at the Rome conference — sponsored by the Australian Catholic University and the Sheptytsky Institute of Eastern Christian Studies at St. Paul University in Ottawa — insisted the vocation of married priests in the Eastern churches cannot be understood apart from an understanding of the sacramental vocation of married couples.

“Those who are called to the married priesthood are, in reality, called to a spiritual path that in the first place is characterized by a conjugal, family form of life,” he said, and priestly ordination builds on the vocation they have as married men.

Father Cross and other speakers at the conference urged participants to understand the dignity of the vocation of marriage in the way Blessed John Paul II did: as a sacramental expression of God’s love and as a path to holiness made up of daily acts of self-giving and sacrifices made for the good of the other.

“Married life and family life are not in contradiction with the priestly ministry,” Father Cross said. A married man who is ordained is called “to love more, to widen his capacity to love, and the boundaries of his family are widened, his paternity is widened as he acquires more sons and daughters; the community becomes his family.”

Father Basilio Petra, an expert in Eastern Christianity and professor of theology in Florence, told the conference, “God does not give one person two competing calls.”

If the church teaches — as it does — that marriage is more than a natural institution aimed at procreation because it is “a sign and continuation of God’s love in the world,” then the vocations of marriage and priesthood “have an internal harmony,” he said.

Father Petra, who is a celibate priest, told the conference that in the last 30 or 40 years some theologians and researchers have been making a big push to “elaborate the idea that celibacy is the only way to fully configure oneself to Christ,” but such a position denies the tradition of married priests, configured to Christ, who have served the church since the time of the apostles.

Father Thomas J. Loya, a Byzantine Catholic priest and member of the Tabor Life Institute in Chicago, told the conference it would be a betrayal of Eastern tradition and spirituality to support the married priesthood simply as a practical solution to a priest shortage or to try to expand the married priesthood without, at the same time, trying to strengthen Eastern monasticism, which traditionally was the source of the celibate clergy.

He called for a renewed look at what the creation of human beings as male and female and their vocations says about God to the world.

Father Peter Galadza of the Sheptytsky Institute told conference participants that the problem of “cafeteria Catholics” who pick and choose which church teachings they accept is found not just among Catholics who reject the authority of the church’s leaders; “those who believe they are faithful to the magisterium” also seem to pick and choose when it comes to the church’s official recognition of and respect for the Eastern tradition of married priests.

“We know we are only 1 percent of the world’s Catholics, but Eastern Catholics have a right to be themselves,” he said.

“As we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council, we hope the same Holy Spirit who guided the authors of its decrees would guide us in implementing them,” he said, referring specifically to Vatican II’s affirmation of the equality of the Latin and Eastern churches and its call that Eastern churches recover their traditions.

“There has been a long history of confusing ‘Latin’ and ‘Catholic,'” he said, and that confusion has extended to an assumption that the Latin church’s general discipline of having celibate priests is better or holier than the Eastern tradition of having both married and celibate priests.

The speakers unanimously called for the universal revocation of a 1929 Vatican directive that banned the ordination and ministry of married Eastern Catholic priests outside the traditional territories of their churches. The directive, still technically in force, generally is upheld only when requested by local Latin-rite bishops.

Copyright (c) 2012 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops

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