Diversity is not a danger, but a treasure for the whole Church
Meeting of the Bishops of the Catholic Eastern Rite Churches in Europe
Lisbon-Fatima, Portugal, 20-23 October 2016
Fatima, 21 October 2016. With a heartfelt appeal to the international community for an end to the conflict in Ukraine and a reminder about persecuted Christians especially in the Middle East, the Patriarch of Lisbon, Cardinal Manuel Clemente, yesterday afternoon in the Portuguese capital opened the meeting of the Bishops of the Catholic Eastern Rite Churches in Europe.
In the Rua dos Jerónimos parish church hall, in the presence of a large delegation of bishops from Ukraine, led by His Beatitude Sviatoslav Shevchuk, Patriarch Clemente recalled the forgotten conflict in the Doneck region, inviting the international community to “take this conflict seriously” so that “private interests do not gain the upper hand over the good of peoples and peace”. Turning then to the other bishops gathered in the Portuguese capital – more than 50 bishops from 14 Catholic Eastern Rite Churches, and representatives of the Bishops’ Conferences of Germany, Italy and France – the Patriarch of Lisbon wanted to draw attention to the persecuted Churches. “Today, if your Churches are able to enjoy the fruits of re-discovered freedom, we also have the duty to remember the Churches which today are still persecuted, especially in the Middle East. So allow me to testify to the closeness of the whole of the Portuguese episcopate to the Churches in the Middle East: we do not forget you. Your martyrdom hangs over us! May the Consoler ensure you feel His presence”.
Focussing then on the theme of the meeting The pastoral care of Eastern Rite Catholic migrants in Western countries, the Portuguese Patriarch recalled how the phenomenon of the migration of thousands of Christian faithful which accompanied the fall of the Iron Curtain contributed not just to a better awareness of the ‘Catholicity’ of the Church but also to renewing it: “if years ago you were unknown by the majority of Portuguese, today your countries and your Churches have become for us names, real people, work colleagues, neighbours. This is the other side of migration. … now we don’t know you just as something heard about, but because we have seen and known you, because we have eaten, celebrated and cried with you. This experience of sharing life allows us to say with joy that your people and your Churches are a gift for all of us”.
For his part, Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, Prefect of the Congregation for the Oriental Churches, the Vatican body in charge of care for these Churches, wanted to highlight the motive and significance of this meeting, being held so close to the famous Mosteiro dos Jerónimos, where in 2007 “today’s Europe was founded” through the Lisbon Treaty. “We are here as Eastern Rite Catholic Churches in Europe because we, too, have at heart the future and identity of this continent, and we want to walk together with the Bishops of the Latin Church in order to manifest the communion and beauty of all being part of the Universal Church, which gathers to itself a variety of expressions and traditions”. In the face the phenomenon of migration which has profoundly touched the Eastern Rite Churches, too, Cardinal Sandri underlined how “the European, the Italian, Spanish, French, German, Portuguese, Polish, Hungarian [person] ... has been a migrant. We must be mindful of this from an ecclesial point of view, too”. The Cardinal Prefect recognised that “at times we were unprepared”, and the background to the migrants is not well-known “and so forms of minimalist reductionism are applied”, such as, for example, Mass in the Arabic language but according to the Latin Rite and without taking into account the different ecclesial origins where “Arabic is the largely the language of daily life, but not the instrument of ecclesial recognition and adherence”.
The opening session then concluded with greetings from His Beatitude the Greek Melkite Patriarch Gregorios III Laham of Antioch and His Beatitude Sviatoslav Shevchuk, Major Archbishop of Kyiv-Halych. The Greek Melkite Patriarch recalled how Christians in Syria are experiencing a long via crucis which has led to a “tsunami of emigrants”, with the consequent drastic reduction in the number of Christians in the country. But alongside the many sufferings experienced by the Syrians, the Greek Melkite Patriarch showed how this time of trial is also marked by a great diaconia (charitable service) among the Christians themselves, by a better and more intense relationship between the people and the church hierarchy, and by an ecumenism of life which overcomes ecclesial divisions. For his part, the Ukrainian Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk stated that he saw in this “encounter-pilgrimage” an opportunity to reflect on “how to be fathers and pastors for our migrants who live in other European nations”. The leader of the Greek-Catholic Church in Ukraine also underlined the positive value of this unique migration. The faithful of the Eastern Rite Catholic Churches in Western countries are not just objects of pastoral care, but true and proper “agents of the new evagelisation”. Thanking the Patriarch of Lisbon for the appeal to end the conflict in Ukraine, Archbishop Schevchuk presented him with an icon of Our Lady of Fatima, conceived and painted precisely in the Doneck region.
In the evening, the participants transferred to Fatima, where the remainder of the meeting will take place. This morning, at the beginning of the works, Cardinal Antonio Maria Vegliò, for some years President of the Vatican dicastery for the care of migrants, sent a message in which he underlined how “Catholics belonging to the different Eastern Rite Catholic Churches, while being a minority, represent an important, even an essential sign of the catholicity of the Church. Alongside the Latin faithful, they are in nuce the other lung of Christianity”. For the Italian Cardinal, who for years has met with refugees and migrants, “diversity is not a danger, but an undeniable treasure for the Universal Church”. Therefore it is necessary to “find the courage” to live “harmony in multiplicity or diversity”, especially in the countries historically characterised by the presence of one Rite. Finally, the Italian Cardinal recalled how the Eastern Rite Catholic Churches, even though in part different in themselves in their liturgy, ecclesiastical discipline and spiritual patrimony, nevertheless are all in the same way entrusted to the pastoral governance of the Roman Pontiff. So it falls to the Pope “who has the divine mandate of directing the choir” to do so in such a way that “there are no false notes and the symphony of truth and charity is thus guaranteed”.
The first meeting took place in 1997 in the diocese of Hajdúdorog (Hungary) and was promoted by Cardinal Achille Silvestrini, then Prefect of the Congregation for the Oriental Churches, who wanted to create a space where the bishops of those churches, which had been particularly damaged by atheistic regimes, “may find with ever greater clarity their role in today’s Europe and be loved and respected for their history of loyalty to the Church and to the Pope, paid at a dear price” (From Cardinal Achille Silvestrini’s Introduction to the Acta of the first meeting).
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