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In the weeks following, I attended two ecumenical evenings, of quite different character.
The first was with an informal network that has been meeting for decades, the Jerusalem Ecumenical Friends Network (or some variation thereof). Moderated by a kindly White Father (Missionaries of Africa), about 25 of us gathered in the Austrian Hospice (founded 1863) including representatives of the Anglican, Armenian Apostolic, Baptist, Greek Orthodox, Lutheran, and Catholics of Latin, Melkite, and Maronite churches. Focolare and Chemin Neuf were both present. Others are often represented, often including Churches with little or no official dialogue. A pleasant evening and a great way to connect with some of the local ecumenists. From Tantur, the rector, librarian, and myself were present. Simpler in nature, this was the real ecumenists’ meeting; the second was more grand, though a little less on-topic for Christian Unity. The opportunity no less appreciated for that, however.
A few days after returning from meetings in D.C. and at [the University of] Notre Dame, I was privileged again to join an ecumenical group for an evening affair. This time, we started with liturgy at the chapel of the Sisters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul, followed by a reception and dinner at Notre Dame Centre of Jerusalem, just north of the Damascus Gate. (No affiliation of the former with the latter, to my knowledge, but someone recently told me that the bar serves glasses with the monogram ND on it. Will have to go investigate.)
Having been to the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris on my way to the University of Notre Dame, this makes the third Notre Dame I had been to in little more than a week’s time.
The installation liturgy was accompanied by an impressive Polish choir and included clergy representatives from the Latin and Melkite Catholics, the Armenian Apostolic Church, the Greek Orthodox, the Coptic and Syriac Oriental Orthodox, Anglican, Lutheran, and the United Protestant Church of France. Arab Catholic scouts were present as servers and standard bearers.
In a bit of interesting trivia, I only just discovered that the Centre is actually a Territorial Prelature, giving it quasi-diocesan status, distinct from the Latin Patriarchate, with the Apostolic Delegate as Ordinary. Originally built as a pilgrim house for the French by the Assumptionists in 1904, the Yom Kippur War left it in a state of disrepair. It was given over the Holy See in 1972, and Pope John Paul II established it as a territorial prelature barely two months into his papacy. In late November 2004, just four months before his death, a motu proprio was issued giving control of the Centre to the scandalously problematic Legion of Christ. Given the pope’s known health issues at the time as well as the already well known problems in the Legion, this move was, shall we say, controversial.
The occasion this time was an elaborate ceremony and dinner celebrating the installation of a new Grand Master of the Order of St. Lazarus* and the initiation of several new members from around Europe and the Mediterranean, including an Orthodox colleague I have met here.
Prior to this event, all I knew of the Order was that they had some connection to, or inspiration from, the crusader-Hospitaller order of the same name, and their intentional ecumenical inclusion of members, and their support of a keynote at the National Workshop in Christian Unity in the U.S. It is this ecumenical inclusion – if not explicit goal of Christian Unity – that makes this Order more appealing to some ecumenists than some of the more widely known charitable Orders – such as the Sovereign Military Order of Malta, or the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre. (I am coming to think of all of these organizations as elaborate donor recognition societies, or as the Knights of Columbus on steroids. Which is no bad thing, in itself).
I was impressed with the conversations I had, with both officers and guests, including delightful dinner conversation with the local Finnish Lutheran pastor and her daughter, though we shared the experience as sort of outsiders – coming from cultures where the medieval concepts of royalty and nobility have been excised. Many of those present were from European countries where these ideas are still very much alive, if in a different form than was the case when monarchs were heads of government as much as heads of state. That lead me into further investigation of the Order and of the crusader orders in general which are, or claim to be, extant today.
* Five major military-monastic orders were formed in the Holy Land during the era of the first crusades:
- Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem (c.1099)
- Order of the Knights of St. John of Jerusalem, Rhodes and Malta (Knights Hospitaller) (c. 1099)
- Poor-Fellow Soldiers of Christ and of the Temple of Solomon (Knights Templar) (c.1118)
- Order of the Brothers of the German House of St. Mary in Jerusalem (Teutonic Knights) (1190)
- Order of St Lazarus of Jerusalem (1123).
Some, like the Templars, were disbanded (giving us Friday the Thirteenth as an unlucky day). Others morphed into elaborate charitable organizations, continuing the work of hospitals or support of the Christians in the Holy Land, but abandoning the militaristic aspects after the conquest of Acre in the late thirteenth century. The Order of St. Lazarus survived in this transformed mode, and various attempts were made by popes to merge it with other Orders (Order of Our Lady of Bethlehem, the Order of Malta, the Order of St Maurice) throughout the fifteenth and sixteenth century. At the beginning of the seventeenth, the Order was effectively transferred from papal oversight to the royal house of France. It effectively ceased following the French Revolution, Royal Protection being withdrawn from the Order in 1830.
Whether it continued then or in what form is apparently a matter of some dispute among historians of chivalrous orders, nobility, and the like.
In 1910, though, the Melkite patriarch and some veterans of the papal army revived the Order as a non-profit charitable association under French law. Its efforts at ecumenical inclusion began in the 1960s, in fidelity to the reforms of the Second Vatican Council and in the interest of expanding into the anglophone world.
Ironically, just as the Order embraced these ecumenical values, tensions between anglophone and francophone leadership lead to a schism in 1969 between what became known as the Malta and Paris obediences, respectively. Attempts at reunion only partially succeeded in 1986, when a significant portion of the anglophone members in the Malta obedience joined the Parisian sector, including the U.S. In 2004, a schism within the Paris obedience resulted in an Orleans obedience, under the spiritual patronage of the Archbishop of Prague. Further confusion is caused when, in 2010, some of the original leadership of the Orleans obedience broke away and formed St. Lazare International, based in Jerusalem. Happily, in 2008, the majority memberships present in the Paris and Malta obediences reunited, leaving three main branches of the Order (indicated with their respective spiritual protectors):
- Order of St. Lazarus – Malta-Paris – Melkite Patriarch Gregory III Laham
- Order of St. Lazarus – Orleans – Archbishop Dominik Duka, OP, of Prague
- Order of St. Lazarus – Jerusalem – Bishop Richard Gerard, emeritus Representative of the Archbishop of Canterbury to the Holy See.
There is also an Italian ‘branch’ that seems to have little to do with the rest:
- Ordine San Lazzaro – “Bishop” Giovanni Ferrando (who appears nowhere in the Italian hierarchy list and whose supposed address is the local renaissance castle…)
Nevertheless, the charitable work of the Order – mostly hospital and ambulance work – and its ecumenical inclusion are worthy of admiration. All such orders could, perhaps, divest themselves a bit of concerns over nobility and dynastic ties and promote based on merit alone. That being said in principle, my impression of Prince Sixte-Henri and his officers was positive, setting the standard for what one supposes nobility is supposed to represent in the first place.
The official Christian delegates included Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople, Archbishop Rowan Williams of Canterbury, Archbishop Norvan Zakaryan of the Armenian Apostolic Church, Secretary General Olav Fyske Tveit of the World Council of Churches.
In all, there were representatives of the Orthodox Churches from the Patriarchates of Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch, Moscow, Serbia, Romania, and the Ukrainian, Belarusian, Cypriot, Polish and Albanian churches. The Oriental Orthodox were represented by the Syrian Patriarchate of Antioch, the Armenian Apostolic Church (both Catholicossates) and the Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church. The Assyrian Church of the East was represented by the Metropolitan of India, the bishop of California and a priest.
The Anglican Communion, the Old Catholic Church, Lutheran World Federation, World Communion of Reformed Churches, the World Methodist Council, the Baptist World Alliance, World Convention of the Churches of Christ, the Mennonite World Conference, the World Evangelical Alliance, and the World Council of Churches were all represented, along with the Church of Scotland, the Disciples of Christ, the Salvation Army, and the classical Pentecostal churches.
176 representatives of non-Christian religions were present, including Reform and Orthodox Judaism; Sunni, Shi’a, Alawite and Ismaili Muslims; Hinduism (including Rajmohan Gandhi, grandson of the Mahatma); Jainism; Zoroastrianism; Buddhism (including Shaolin, Zen, Tibetan, Theravada, Tendai, Jogye, Jodo-Shu, and other forms); Confucianism; Taoism; Shinto; Mandaean (Gnostics); Sikh; Baha’i; traditional African, American, and Indian Religions; and “new religions” such as Tenrikyo, Ennokyo, and Myochi-kai.
Four “non-believers” were invited, a first, emphasizing Pope Benedict’s interest in the New Evanglization and his effort to engage secularism and religion on a level of common interest in the quest for truth. These included Julia Kristeva, Bulgarian-French psychoanalyst; Guillermo Hurtado, the Mexican philosopher; Walter Baier, a politician from Austria; and Remo Bodei an Italian professor of Aesthetic and philosophy.
“Assisi alone is enough reason to beatify Pope John Paul II” was the headline of the Catholic Herald in the UK last April, a fortnight before the late pope was approved for veneration on the calendar of the diocese of Rome and in Poland as one of the “Blessed”. Karol Wojtyła became a pope of many firsts, and John Allen, Jr. has recently quipped that Joseph Ratzinger has become a pope of seconds – but that these second times can be as important as the first.
In part, this is because it gives certain sustainability to an event or program, showing that it was not a personal proclivity of the past pope, doomed to die with him. This has been true of World Youth Day, and now of the Assisi pilgrimage for peace.
Another aspect is this: Pope Wojtyła was an actor, a master of stage and screen. He had the timing and the panache to make big waves with spectacular images and actions. One curial cardinal was asked, at a meeting of his dicastery, “When will we see some of these grand images of [the pope’s] turn into policy?” The cardinal leaned to his secretary and was overheard to say, “Come si dice ‘senza fiato’ in inglese? (How do you say, ‘we are out of breath’ in English?) … We can barely keep up with him!”
The current bishop of Rome is a theologian, a teacher, and an introvert. He takes a few of these grand points, and is digging deeper, giving them ‘staying power’ in the system and with reflection. In the process, he is adding his own spin on things, too. Much ado was made of the fact that this time around, the fourth gathering of interreligious leaders to Assisi for the cause of peace, there would be no ‘common prayer’ so that not even the most rigorous of the right-wing could cry foul (or so it was thought).
Never mind that there was never ‘common prayer’ in the first case, either. Coming together to pray is different than coming to pray together. In 1986, the day concluded with a series of prayers, each religious group leading its own prayer, while other participants looked on in respectful silence. It was close enough that even Ratzinger was reserved about the appropriateness at the time.
(In the annals of the bizarre, and as a reminder of how much of Italian journalism at the time was about inflammatory rhetoric more than fact, one Italian reporter made claims that African animists sacrificed a chicken on the altar of the Basilica of Santa Chiara, inciting charges of sacrilege and syncretism. The fact that the basilica was closed and no such act ever took place does not stop certain elements from bringing it up from time to time to discredit the Spirit of Assisi and Pope John Paul II.)
This year, the day started at the Basilica Santa Maria degli Angeli with a series of 10 scheduled talks on peace, after an introduction from Cardinal Turkson of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, which organized this year’s event. The appeals were offered by four Christians, followed by five non-Christian religious leaders, and one ‘non-believer’. There was a confused moment as the apparent Muslim guest was brought to the lectern, refused the notes he was offered, and went on to explain in Arabic that he was not the person listed on the program, but offered a reflection anyway. Only after the last scheduled speaker was the original Muslim representative produced to deliver his address; I still do not know who the first Muslim presenter was or what else he said.
Before the day, Fr. Tom had asked what language the day would be presented in. Based on my experiences in Rome for major liturgies and events, I indicated Italian, with only smatterings of others. I was wrong. Throughout the day, the three cardinals all spoke in English. In the morning, it was clear that efforts were made to be as universally understood as possible: English was used by the Anglican, WCC, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, African animist religious representatives. French was spoken by the Orthodox and agnostic. The Buddhist representative spoke in Korean, and the unplanned Muslim speaker was in Arabic. In the afternoon, native languages were used, and worth noting that Arabic was not just “the Muslim language” but also that of the Syrian Orthodox and the Lutheran representatives.
Instead of a series of prayers lead by different religious groups, this time the afternoon session in the lower piazza of the Basilica San Francesco included a series of solemn commitments to peace by assorted religious leaders. This was introduced by Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, and lead by the Ecumenical Patriarch, Bartholomew I. Ten religious leaders and another non-believer made their solemn commitments, followed by an address of Pope Benedict XVI, and closed with an invitation to exchange a sign of peace by Cardinal Kurt Koch of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity (and the Pontifical Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews).
There is no question that it was a beautiful day, and inspiring simply to bring all of these people together as a witness for peace, the positive contribution of people of faith to the world, and even of the potential to overcome the modern myth of a necessary animosity between “people of faith” and “people of science” – ie, secularity.
Yet, there also is no question in my mind that something was lost with the over-emphasized intentional lack of prayer. How can a ‘pilgrimage’ be true to its nature without prayer? How can you gather religious leaders together, and tell them not to pray? This year, there were not even the sequestered opportunities for prayer that marked the last such event, in 2002, held in response to the terrorist attacks of 9/11, much less the series of prayers offered in public that marked the first event 25 years ago.
There was a moment of silence in the afternoon session for everyone to “pray or commit their thoughts to peace” – on one hand, very hospitable for even those who do not pray. On the other, I think the type of prayer offered in 1986 lends itself less to accusations of syncretism (exaggerated in either case), where each tradition is allowed to be true to itself, rather than having a single, mixed, everybody-do-what-you-want moment or prayer and positive thoughts.
Some of the speakers offered prayers spontaneously as part of their delivery, others quoted scriptures.
For our own part, an unplanned opportunity presented itself. In what must be a first for a papal event, the closing ceremony actually finished half an hour early, and the restaurant we planned for a quick pizza before returning to Rome was not yet open. With half an hour to kill, our group split in various directions, some to shop, some to wander, some to pray. About ten of us wandered up to the 13th century Church of Santo Stefano, a beautifully simple church whose bells were said to have miraculously pealed at the moment of Francis’ death.
As the Christians prayed in the front of the church, some of our Muslim pilgrims prepared for their own evening prayer, at the back of the church. As Christians finished, instead of walking out past the praying Muslims, most stopped and waited as respectful observers. It was just a few minutes, it was spontaneous, and it made the day a genuine pilgrimage of truth, for peace.
With guests in town since Holy Thursday, we had done the liturgical marathon of the papal Triduum, including the Eucharistic adoration pilgrimage, and on Easter Monday set out for Florence. We stayed there a couple of nights, then to Assisi for a couple nights, and returned to Rome on Friday along with growing crowds of pilgrims and tourists: Little time to prepare for the next spiritual marathon, with the events surrounding the beatification of Pope John Paul II.
To give a sense of it, I left the Lay Centre at 11:00am Saturday morning, and returned for only an hour-long nap and a shower before really returning at 11:30pm Sunday night. I then had to be at the Angelicum by 9:00am Monday. My voice disappeared last night and is yet to be seen or heard. I made up for all this with a four-hour nap this afternoon. (I am collecting stories from other students in the Lay Centre and around Rome, and am typing up my own for a post soon to come. )
This morning, while showing Professor Israel Knohl around the University, we passed a classroom where we heard applause – I assumed a seminar presentation had just finished. The only words I heard come out through the window were, “President Obama…”
“That’s funny,” I chuckled (sotto voce) to Professor Knohl, “You do not expect to hear the U.S. president’s name in a Roman university classroom – that is a first for me!”
“Ah, because of Osama.” Then, in response to my questioning look, “They got him last night. They killed him.”
And that is how I found out about American justice being served on the Sunday called Divine Mercy by the pope who was being beatified on that very day.
I had not had time to check news or mail much in the last dozen days, and none at all in the last 48 hours.
My first reaction was that the timing is interesting. As I said above, American justice served out on Divine Mercy Sunday; The coincidence of three news events, each treated in order of growing importance – the royal wedding, beatification, and killing of bin Laden all on one weekend; the fact that the day before, my guests (whose time in rome seems to have coincided exactly with the final stages of presidential preparation to go into the compound) and I having just had a conversation about how we have heard nothing from or about Osama bin Laden in months. Also interesting given that JPII and the Catholic Church were so clearly opposed to the second Iraq War, a point made during the Vigil on Saturday night.
While some friends and classmates began to celebrate (there was applause in the Angelicum remember, and I know of a priest who publicly stated it was good to celebrate Osama’s death), I kept thinking that our CIA and SEALs did exactly what they are trained to do – and what they are deservedly respected for – executing with extreme prejudice. They served justice, but there was no room for mercy, whether that was the intended result or not (and until we hear otherwise, I assume that it was the intent to capture if possible – but the worry that it was not remains).
I am glad it is over, but do not rejoice in the killing of a man, no matter how heinous his actions or warped his view of the world and of his own faith. He was no more a Muslim than Hitler was a Christian, because he did not submit to God. On that i am certain, though i claim no great expertise in Islam. I wonder what divine mercy is like for one such as he? (What is divine mercy like for one such as me?)
Incidentally, as far as I am aware, the preference for Muslims is to buried in the ground, but burial at sea is allowed for various reasons, including fear of desecration of the body – which would seem to be a reasonable fear in this instance – so the choice made was respectful of Islamic practice (even if bin Laden himself was certainly not!)
This afternoon, Fr. Federico Lombardi, S.J., released the following declaration on the news regarding the death of Osama Bin Laden:
“Osama Bin Laden, as is known, claimed responsibility for grave acts that spread division and hate among the peoples, manipulating religion to that end. A Christian never takes pleasure from the fact of a man’s death, but sees it as an opportunity to reflect on each person’s responsibility, before God and humanity, and to hope and commit oneself to seeing that no event become another occasion to disseminate hate but rather to foster peace”.
This morning I have already begun to hear stories of people’s experience here in Rome for the beatification, from one being interviewed by CNN in the middle of Piazza San Pietro, to others who gave up trying to get within a kilometer of the Vatican, and still others who deliberately skipped town to avoid the chaos and the crowd.
The Beatification Mass began at 10:00am Sunday, with an hour-long rosary and divine mercy chaplet planed ahead of time.
Vatican security had cleared the Piazza at 7:00pm Saturday night, though people had already staked places and laid out sleeping pads on the cobblestones around the square. They were moved back beyond a large perimeter. We saw nearly every law enforcement agency available in the city – Policia Municipale, Guarda di Finanza, Carabinieri, Corpo Forestale, Polizia di Stato, et al.
One friend was at the perimeter by 1:00am Sunday, and she made it no closer to the altar than the obelisk in the centre of the piazza. Others arrived at 4:00am and were never able to get into the square. The gates officially opened at 5:30am, allowing people into Piazza San Pietro and Via della Conciliazione. By 6:15am, people were packed up to Castel Sant’Angelo. We followed a group of bishops into the crowd, only to be turned back on the close side of the castle – even the bishops could not get through.
Even in lateral directions the area around the Vatican was packed – I have not yet seen an aerial photo that was able to capture the whole scene of people-packed streets, I do not know if any of the helicopters were high enough to get that wide a view.
Some people decided to bail, and go somewhere they could be less crowded and watch it on a jumbotron – the city had a dozen such locations set up, including the Cathedral of San Giovanni in Laterano and the Circo Massimo. Others continued to push in, but never made it close. We found shade and refreshment under the umbrellas of a café’s outdoor seating area, with an oblique view of a jumbotron at Piazza Risorgimento, with no audio but a pilgrims radio tuned to a station translating the whole thing into Polish.
We spent almost two hours in a line to get a cappuccino and cornetto, and then go to the bathroom, once it was decided there was no where better to go unless we wanted to bail and watch at one of the other centers around the city. We got out just in time for mass to start, and stood (thankfully in the shade with tables to put our things on), for the entire 3 hour liturgy and angelus address. Even the English reading was translated into polish on the radio, so I could only relay the parts of the mass as I saw from the partial view of the screen and from the singing in Latin.
I am glad I was here for an historic event, grateful to be in a place with shade and with a friend, but sorry that, given the exhaustion of staying up all night after the vigil that we did not get closer than we did. But, I never thought I would get as close as we did, either. For his canonization, which I expect this time next year, I think the view from San Giovanni in Laterano sounds pretty good – especially for a pope who repeatedly said his role as bishop of Rome, along with Servant of the Servants of God, was the most important responsibility of the pope.
Orientale Lumen 20, Pope John Paul II, 1995
[T]he Church of Rome has always felt was an integral part of the mandate entrusted by Jesus Christ to the Apostle Peter: to confirm his brothers in faith and unity (cf. Lk 22:32). Attempts in the past had their limits, deriving from the mentality of the times and the very understanding of the truths about the Church. But here I would like to reassert that this commitment is rooted in the conviction that Peter (cf. Mt 19:17 – 19) intends to place himself at the service of a Church united in charity. “Peter’s task is to search constantly for ways that will help preserve unity. Therefore he must not create obstacles but must open up paths. Nor is this in any way at odds with the duty entrusted to him by Christ: ‘strengthen your brothers in the faith’ (cf. Lk 22:32). It is significant that Christ said these words precisely at the moment when Peter was about to deny him. It was as if the Master himself wanted to tell Peter: ‘Remember that you are weak, that you, too, need endless conversion. You are able to strengthen others only insofar as you are aware of your own weakness. I entrust to you as your responsibility the truth, the great truth of God, meant for man’s salvation, but this truth cannot be preached or put into practice except by loving.’