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Volume 44, Number 3
30 November 2011
Michael J.L. La Civita

José de Ribera rendered this classic portrait of St. Andrew in oil on canvas circa 1616.

Catholics and Orthodox Christians reserve today to commemorate the apostle Andrew, “the first-called.” On this feast, the successor of St. Peter sends a delegation to the Turkish city of Istanbul — the former imperial city of Constantinople — where they honor the memory of Peter’s brother with the ecumenical patriarch, who according to tradition is the successor of St. Andrew. This shared celebration between the churches of Rome and Constantinople reminds us of how much Catholics and Orthodox share.

But what divides us?

A few years ago I asked the esteemed ecumenist, Jesuit Father John Long, that very question. His response generated an article for our magazine that launched our “issues” series. In “A Century of Catholic-Orthodox Relations,” Father Long, now sadly deceased, looked back on what had been accomplished between these sister churches in the recent past. He writes:

For those of us who have participated in the dialogue of the Catholic and Orthodox churches these past 40 years, it has been an exhilarating experience. Sometimes a healthy dose of realism is needed to remind us that, in order to achieve reconciliation and restore full communion, we must overcome a millennium of tension, discord, prejudice and hatred.

We have learned to define ourselves by what we are not. This attitude remains common in the world at large and among Christians in particular.

The events of the last 20 years — the unraveling of the Soviet Union and the decline of its allies, the increase of violence in the Middle East and the resurrection of nationalism in the Balkans for example — have thrown this into relief by liberating many of the sentiments and feelings held in check for at least 50 years.

The Christians affected by these changes, particularly those who had once lived with some limited freedoms and those who now rise from the well of oppression, have to recognize that relations between the Christian East and the Christian West have evolved.

In Europe, the vast majority, clergy and laity alike, have been asked by their leaders (many of whom, rightly or wrongly, were perceived as collaborators with oppressive regimes) to accept ideas and participate in activities they understand as unfaithful to their traditions and faith. They fear for their national, cultural and spiritual identities, which seem threatened. And some comfortable institutions, structures that have withstood many tests over the centuries, may in fact have to be dismantled.

Daunted by the magnitude of Christian renewal and re-evangelization, and strapped for resources and personnel, some in positions of leadership have no time for ecumenism.

Catholics and Orthodox have a strong sense of the ecclesial and religious life anchored in tradition. We recognize that it is a living tradition in which the Holy Spirit is constantly at work, both in word and sacrament. The core of our disappointments in these last 15 years is our struggle to maintain the tension between “the revelation given once and for all to the saints” and to the Spirit who continues to speak. Since the end of the 19th century that Spirit has been at work as Catholics and Orthodox have progressed from estrangement to reconciliation.

The events of the past decades cannot be undone. The documents published cannot be unwritten. They challenge and inspire and, as we continue in this new millennium, they will stand in judgment upon us if we avoid them.

To read more, see A Century of Catholic-Orthodox Relations.

Tags: Unity Ecumenism Catholic-Orthodox relations

25 October 2011
Michael J.L. La Civita

From the left: Thomas Varghese, CNEWA Vice President for India and Northeast Africa;
Monsignor John Kozar, CNEWA President; Bishop Vincent Mar Paulos of the Syro-Malankara
Catholic Church of Marthandam; and Father Sunny Mathew Kavuvila. (photo: Erin Edwards)

Yesterday, Vincent Mar Paulos, the Syro-Malankara Catholic Bishop of Marthandam in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu, paid a visit to Monsignor John Kozar at our offices in New York.

The jovial, 48-year-old bishop talked about a man who helped make his vocation possible, a CNEWA donor from Grafton, Ohio.

A.G., said the bishop, has supported more than 16 seminarians through CNEWA. Two of them have even become bishops in the Syro-Malankara Church, which numbers some 420,000 Malankara Catholics, most of whom live in southern India.

A.G. is “a lovely man and a real missionary,” said the bishop. “His wealth is the men he has assisted in their formation as priests.”

Tags: India Priests Syro-Malankara Catholic Church Sponsorship Indian Bishops

13 October 2011
Michael J.L. La Civita

Brother Donald Mansir (right) and Father Denis Madden review the progress of the restoration of the great dome at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. (photo: Joel Fishman)

An important member of the CNEWA family, Brother Donald Mansir, F.S.C., died early last Saturday in Walnut Creek, California. He was 62.

A brother of the De La Salle Brothers of the Christian Schools and a knight of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem, Brother Donald joined CNEWA in 1989 as the field projects coordinator for the Pontifical Mission’s Jerusalem office. In 1990, he became its associate director, and later that year, he was named office director. As such, Brother Donald supervised the expansion of the agency’s programs and services in Palestine and Israel, earning respect for his balanced but strong advocacy for justice and peace issues throughout the Holy Land. In 1993, he succeeded Sister Maureen Grady, C.S.C., as chief operating officer and vice president of the Pontifical Mission.

Brother Donald was instrumental in the restoration of the dome of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem. Working with CNEWA’s Msgr. Robert Stern and (then) Father Denis Madden, he brought together the shrine’s Armenian Apostolic, Greek Orthodox and Latin Catholic custodians with concerned donors in the United States anxious about the dome’s structural integrity. To learn more about this “Turning Point for Christendom,” read Brother Donald’s own account published in CNEWA’s magazine in 1996. A year later, Father Denis Madden (now an auxiliary bishop in the Archdiocese of Baltimore) reflected on this historic moment engineered by this agency of the Holy See.

Brother Donald was more than just an efficient colleague. He was a wise boss and a good friend. He counseled patience, urged clarity and oozed elegance. He was a “cool cat” who believed the church had responsibility for all the people of God, not just a selected few. May the Lord reward Donald for the souls he touched with dignity, grace, love — and wit.

6 October 2011
Michael J.L. La Civita

New Maronite Catholic Patriarch Bechara Rai looks on during his installation ceremony in Bkerke, Lebanon, March 25. (photo: CNS/Reuters)

Were Maronite Patriarch Bechara and U.S. President Barack Obama scheduled to meet or not? Our good friends at Catholic News Service have dug deeper, unearthing some additional details:

Chorbishop Michael Thomas, Bishop [Gregory] Mansour’s vicar general, told Catholic News Service that, last spring, after the new patriarch was elected, U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, who is of Lebanese descent, visited the new Maronite leader to congratulate him. At that time, LaHood invited Patriarch Rai to visit Washington and meet with Obama, and the patriarch accepted.

Chorbishop Thomas said Bishop Mansour was given the Oct. 3 date early in September. He said that, early the week of Sept. 19, the U.S. ambassador to Lebanon visited the patriarch “to ask his stance on certain issues,” including Syria. Chorbishop Thomas said Lahood told Bishop Mansour Sept. 22 that Obama had no intention of meeting with the patriarch because of the Maronite leader’s stance on Syria.

Read more here.

Tags: Syria Lebanon Patriarchs Maronite Church

4 October 2011
Michael J.L. La Civita

The head of the Maronite Church, Patriarch Peter Bechara, has stirred up controversy in his home turf of Lebanon, as well as in Europe and North America. Earlier in September — while in France on his first official trip as the patriarch of the world’s 5.5 million Maronites — he voiced his concern for Syria’s Christians should the current government there collapse.

While not supporting the Assad regime, the patriarch expressed alarm about the possibility of a militarized civil war in Syria, which could divide the country along religious lines, and the subsequent rise of a militant Islamic state. While Christians make up 10 percent of the population, they are a protected minority by President Bashar al-Assad, who belongs to the Alawite community, a small sect derived from Shiite Islam. The vast majority of Syrians, 80 percent of the population, are Sunni Muslims.

The patriarch’s remarks created a furor in Lebanon, where Maronite Christians are divided between those who support Syria and their Shiite Muslim allies in Lebanon and those Maronites who have sought alliances with Lebanon’s Sunni Muslims. This controversy has affected the patriarch’s first pastoral visit to the United States, when a meeting with President Barack Obama was canceled. Though no official explanation has been given for the change of plans, Bishop Gregory Mansour of the Maronite Eparchy of St. Maron of Brooklyn has made it clear in an open letter to the president that the Obama Administration rebuffed the patriarch:

“Because he has spoken out expressing his concern for the future of Christians in the Middle East, he has been rebuffed by you and your Administration. It is pure hypocrisy for the leader of the free world to refuse to meet with Patriarch Rai especially since the Prime Minister of Israel can come and completely disregard essential parts of a peace plan and still be given a warm welcome, and the King of Saudi Arabia, where Christians have no freedom whatsoever, can be received with highest honors. Mr. President, you are ignoring the plight of Christians in the Middle East!”

Catholic News Service has more background and information over at their blog.

3 October 2011
Michael J.L. La Civita

In the 10 October edition of America magazine, the national Catholic weekly published by the Jesuits, CNEWA’s own Father Elias Mallon writes that the “journey toward democracy” in the Arab nations of the Middle East “will be neither easy nor short. These emerging democracies of the Arab Spring need all the help and support they can get.”

But, Father Elias writes, “Those who would help ... must realize that democracy does not mean ‘just like us.’ ”

The rights and treatment of religious minorities in these countries, the friar of the Atonement writes, “provides a benchmark against which the rights of all citizens can be measured.”

“Christianity,” he reminds us, “spent several centuries in conflict and reflection before it found a way of living in societies where members of other religious traditions were equal before the law.”

Read his excellent piece here.

27 September 2011
Michael J.L. La Civita

A Melkite Greek Catholic priest from southern Syria sits with his family.
(Photo: Armineh Johannes)

The Middle East’s Arab Spring has brought joy to some and grief to others. In Syria, the government of Bashar al-Assad is combating an uprising that has claimed more than 2,600 lives. Led primarily by Sunni Muslims, the uprising has also received some support from the Alawite community — a Shiite Muslim sect that dominates the government — and Christians, who include up to ten percent of the Syrian population. Despite their numbers, Christians have flourished under the Assad regime.

In today’s New York Times, we hear how many Christians in Syria are ambivalent about the uprising. They fear that Syria, without the current totalitarian regime, will descend into chaos as in Iraq, and that Christians and other minorities will bear the brunt of religious sectarian violence.

“What does freedom mean?” wrote one Syrian Christian to her confreres in the faith. “Every one of you does what she wants and is free to say what she wants. Do you think if the regime falls (God forbid) you will gain freedom? Then, each one of you will be locked in her house, lamenting those days.”

For more, check out the article “Fearing Change, Many Christians in Syria Back Assad” on The New York Times website.

Tags: Syria

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