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Pope Francis says Eastern Catholic Churches have shown heroic faith amid miseries of war

Courtney Mares   By Courtney Mares for CNA

Pope Francis shares a laugh with members and consultants of the Congregation for Eastern Churches, which was holding its plenary meeting Feb. 18, 2022, at the Vatican. At left is Cardinal Christoph Schonborn of Vienna; in the center is Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, prefect of the congregation; and at the right is Cardinal Berhaneyesus Souraphiel of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. (CNS photo/Vatican Media)

Vatican City, Feb 18, 2022 / 12:00 pm (CNA).

Pope Francis said on Friday that the Eastern Catholic Churches have witnessed to heroic faith amid the miseries of war.

“We have witnessed the slaughter resulting from conflicts in the Middle East, in Syria and Iraq, and those in the Ethiopian region of the Tigray,” Pope Francis said on Feb. 18.

“Threatening winds continue to blow in the steppes of Eastern Europe, lighting fuses and firing weapons, and turning to ice the hearts of the poor and the innocent.”

In an audience with Catholic leaders from the Middle East, Africa, and Eastern Europe at the Vatican, the pope observed that these lands torn and threatened by war are also the motherlands of the Eastern Catholic Churches, which have preserved centuries-old traditions.

“Your daily life is therefore like a mixture of the precious dust of the gold of your past and the heroic witness of faith of many in the present, together, however, with the mud of the miseries for which we are also responsible and the pain caused to you by external forces,” the pope said.

Pope Francis lamented that previous popes’ pleas for peace — from Benedict XV’s denunciation of war as a “useless massacre” amid World War I to St. John Paul II’s appeal in 2003 to avoid conflict in Iraq — went unheeded.

“We had hoped that there would be no need to repeat similar words in the third millennium, yet humanity still seems to be groping in darkness,” Francis said.

“As in this moment, in which there are so many wars everywhere, this appeal both of popes and of the men and women of good will is unheard … We are attached to wars and this is tragic,” he said.

The pope added that while humanity has made advances in science, it has moved “backward in weaving peace.”

“And this puts us all to shame. We must pray and ask for forgiveness for this attitude,” he said.

Pope Francis met with participants in the Vatican Congregation for the Eastern Churches’ plenary assembly, which took place in Rome this week.

The Congregation for the Eastern Churches works with the 23 Eastern Catholic Churches that are sui iuris, or self-governing, and in full communion with Rome.

Among them are the Maronite Church, which celebrates the liturgy in Aramaic and Arabic, and the Syriac Catholic Church, which has members spread across Syria, Iraq, and Lebanon, as well as a growing diaspora in the United States.

The Coptic Catholic Church, Armenian Catholic Church, Syro-Malabar Catholic Church, and Greek Byzantine Catholic Church are other examples of Eastern Catholic Churches.

“The beauty of the Eastern rites is far from being an oasis of escape or conservation,” Pope Francis said.

“The liturgical assembly … listens to the voice of Another … and for this very reason feels the urgency of going out to its brothers and sisters, bringing the proclamation of Christ.”

“Even those traditions that preserve the use of the iconostasis, with the royal door, or the veil that hides the sanctuary at certain moments of the rite, teach us that such architectural or ritual elements do not convey the idea of God’s distance, but on the contrary exalt the mystery of condescension — of synkatabasis — in which the Word came and is coming into the world,” the pope added.

The Eastern Churches’ plenary assembly marks the 25th anniversary of the Vatican’s publication of the “Instruction for Applying the Liturgical Prescriptions of the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches.”

Pope Francis said that he saw the gathering as an opportunity for the Eastern Churches to get to know each other and to “walk together” on the path indicated by the Second Vatican Council.

“On that path, it is most helpful that each part of the one and ‘symphonic’ Catholic Church always listen attentively to the other traditions, their itineraries of research and of reform, while preserving its own uniqueness,” he said.

“Fidelity to uniqueness is what creates the ‘symphonic’ richness of the Eastern Churches. One can discuss, for example, the possibility of introducing editions of the liturgy in the languages of the countries where their faithful are found, but where the form of the celebration is concerned, it is necessary that unity be experienced in accordance with what has been laid down by the Synods and approved by the Apostolic See, avoiding liturgical particularisms that in reality manifest divisions of another kind within the respective Churches.”

Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, the prefect of the Congregation for the Eastern Churches, offered Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica before the assembly’s audience with Pope Francis.

“This morning you prayed before the Tomb of the Apostle Peter, renewing together his profession of faith: ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the living God,’” Pope Francis said.

“We did the same thing before the Mass for the inauguration of the pontificate, in order to manifest, as Pope Benedict XV declared, that ‘in the Church of Jesus Christ, which is neither Latin, nor Greek, nor Slav, but Catholic, no discrimination exists between her children; all, Latins, Greeks, Slavs and other nationalities have the same importance,’” he said, quoting the 1917 encyclical Dei Providentis.


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2 Comments

  1. There is one rather ominious paragraph in your report: ” What has been laid down by the Synods and the Apostolic See, avoiding litugical particularisms that in reality manifest divisions of another kind ….” Firstly: What Synods? Secondly the tone of the talk suggests uniformity of liturgy could be brought to apply to the Eastern churches as well. The ambiguities in the text and track record of this papacy suggests that the Eastern churches should read these words carefully and be very watchful.

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