15 June 2016
The title of the 1970 film, “Suppose They Gave a War and Nobody Came,” has recently morphed into the question “what if they called a Great and Holy Synod and nobody came?”
Since 1961, there has been talk among the 14 autocephalous (or independent) Orthodox churches, comprising some 300 million people, about the possibility and necessity of a meeting — a Pan-Orthodox Council or, more formally, a Great and Holy Synod. The obstacles to convening a synod of the Orthodox churches have been many and sometimes great. But, finally, after decades of negotiating and tumultuous change in the lands of most of these churches, a synod was planned for June 2016. The original venue was scheduled to be in Istanbul, the seat of the ecumenical patriarch of Constantinople, but that was unacceptable to the patriarch of Moscow of the Orthodox Church of Russia. Instead, the synod is to take place in Crete from 19 to 26 June.
The idea of a synod of all the Orthodox churches began in 1961 with Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras of Constantinople. While the ecumenical patriarch is recognized as the “first among equals” in the Orthodox communion of churches, he has no authority over those churches that are fully independent. Consequently, issues of leadership surface, raised especially by those Orthodox churches backed by powerful civil governments.
While synods of bishops generally govern each of the independent Orthodox churches, meeting at least annually, the Orthodox world has little experience with general councils: Occasional synods and councils, with varying degrees of participation and canonical recognition among the churches, stretch back to Nicaea in the year 787, when the last of the universally recognized ecumenical councils was convoked by the emperor of the Romans.
The proposed Great and Holy Synod has been compared in the media — especially in the West — with the Catholic Church’s Vatican II. In actuality nothing could be further from the truth. Should the synod take place, each of the 14 churches will be a full and equal member — there is no emperor or pope to convene and preside. And no single individual will approve the decrees of the synod; they are accepted or rejected by unanimous consensus.
A gathering of Orthodox leaders — a Synaxis of Prelates — met in January 2016 and set six issues on the synodal agenda: ecumenism, marriage, fasting, autonomy of churches, the diaspora and mission. But there is little unanimity on any of the topics. Ecumenism is a major issue of contention. Some Orthodox churches do not consider any other Christian body to be a valid church. These churches do not recognize the baptism or other sacraments of other Christians. Marriage between an Orthodox and non-Orthodox Christian, even if the non-Orthodox individual is a baptized Christian, is forbidden. Other Orthodox churches are more open in their acceptance. At present there is clearly no consensus.
Deep theological issues, however, are not the only obstacles to the synod. There are conflicts among several of the Orthodox churches. Almost all of the objections can and are articulated in theological terms, making dialogue and compromise more difficult.
At present, five of the 14 autocephalous churches — Antioch, Russia, Serbia, Bulgaria and Georgia — have indicated they will not attend. The patriarch of Antioch has broken communion with the patriarch of Jerusalem, who has appointed a bishop in Qatar, traditionally the territory of the patriarch of Antioch. Thus the Orthodox Church of Antioch, one of the first patriarchates and the third most in importance, will not participate in the synod. The Orthodox Church of Bulgaria has decided not to attend the synod because, among other things, it was not happy with the seating arrangements.
For an outsider this is a tragedy. The world has changed since Athenagoras first proposed a pan-Orthodox synod. One of the greatest strengths of Orthodoxy has been its ability to enculturate and adapt to the culture where it lives. While that is still of great value in the homelands of Orthodoxy, it proves an anomaly in the diaspora. More and more Orthodox Christians are living in the “New World,” which is culturally, linguistically and philosophically very different from the homelands of these churches. Almost every Orthodox Church is represented, for example, in North America. Very often they have little to do with other Orthodox churches in their area — despite being in full communion. As they lose contact with the ancient homeland, they run the risk of becoming ghettoized in the new world, isolated from the home church and also isolated from each other.
It is an open question whether the Great and Holy Synod will take place and, if it does, whether it will have any impact on Orthodoxy in particular and Christianity in general. It is not an open question whether the Great and Holy Synod is necessary. It is very necessary if Orthodoxy is to remain an integral part of the modern, globalized world.
29 February 2016
Tags: Ecumenism Christian Unity Orthodox
Abune Mathias I, patriarch of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church, visited Pope Francis today. (video: Rome Reports)
Pope Francis today met with His Holiness Abune Mathias, Patriarch of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church:
During the meeting the bishop of Rome emphasized that the patriarch’s visit strengthens the fraternal bonds that already unite both churches. He mentioned as milestones of the common path towards unity His Holiness Abune Paulos’s encountered with St. John Paul II in 1993 and with Pope Benedict XVI in 2009, who invited him to participate in the Synod of Bishops for Africa as was common practice in the early church for representatives to be sent to the synods of other churches. Likewise, a delegation from the Holy See was present at the 2012 funeral of Patriarch Abune Paulos.
Moreover, as Francis explained, since 2004 the Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox churches have deepened their communion through theological dialogue in the International Joint Commission, which over the years has analyzed the fundamental concept of the churches’ communion understood as participation in the communion between Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Many things have been found in common: one faith, one baptism, one Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, and many elements of the monastic traditions and the liturgy. “What unites us,” the pope said, “is greater than what divides us.”
The meeting comes at a time when Ethiopia is facing tremendous challenges. As we’ve reported in our magazine, the country is undergoing rapid urbanization and contending with the worst drought in decades. To learn more about the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church — and its rich history in Africa — check out our profile from the May 2010 edition of ONE.
22 March 2013
Tags: Pope Francis Ecumenism Christian Unity Patriarchs Ethiopian Orthodox Church
Pope Francis shakes hands as he greets diplomats during an audience with the Vatican diplomatic corps in the Apostolic Palace’s Sala Regia on 22 March. (photo: CNS/Tony Gentile, Reuters)
Pope Francis this morning met with nearly 200 members of the diplomatic corps, and spoke powerfully and poignantly about the church’s mission in the world:
As you know, there are various reasons why I chose the name of Francis of Assisi, a familiar figure far beyond the borders of Italy and Europe, even among those who do not profess the Catholic faith. One of the first reasons was Francis’ love for the poor. How many poor people there still are in the world! And what great suffering they have to endure! After the example of Francis of Assisi, the church in every corner of the globe has always tried to care for and look after those who suffer from want, and I think that in many of your countries you can attest to the generous activity of Christians who dedicate themselves to helping the sick, orphans, the homeless and all the marginalized, thus striving to make society more humane and more just. But there is another form of poverty! It is the spiritual poverty of our time, which afflicts the so-called richer countries particularly seriously. It is what my much-loved predecessor, Benedict XVI, called the “tyranny of relativism,” which makes everyone his own criterion and endangers the coexistence of peoples. And that brings me to a second reason for my name. Francis of Assisi tells us we should work to build peace. But there is no true peace without truth! There cannot be true peace if everyone is his own criterion, if everyone can always claim exclusively his own rights, without at the same time caring for the good of others, of everyone, on the basis of the nature that unites every human being on this earth.
One of the titles of the Bishop of Rome is “pontiff” — that is, a builder of bridges with God and between people. My wish is that the dialogue between us should help to build bridges connecting all people, in such a way that everyone can see in the other not an enemy, not a rival, but a brother or sister to be welcomed and embraced! My own origins impel me to work for the building of bridges. As you know, my family is of Italian origin; and so this dialogue between places and cultures a great distance apart matters greatly to me, this dialogue between one end of the world and the other, which today are growing ever closer, more interdependent, more in need of opportunities to meet and to create real spaces of authentic fraternity. In this work, the role of religion is fundamental. It is not possible to build bridges between people while forgetting God. But the converse is also true: it is not possible to establish true links with God, while ignoring other people. Hence it is important to intensify dialogue among the various religions, and I am thinking particularly of dialogue with Islam. At the Mass marking the beginning of my ministry, I greatly appreciated the presence of so many civil and religious leaders from the Islamic world. And it is also important to intensify outreach to non-believers, so that the differences which divide and hurt us may never prevail, but rather the desire to build true links of friendship between all peoples, despite their diversity.
Fighting poverty, both material and spiritual, building peace and constructing bridges: these, as it were, are the reference points for a journey that I want to invite each of the countries here represented to take up.
The entire text can be read at the Vatican news site.
20 March 2013
Tags: Pope Francis Unity Ecumenism Christian Unity Dialogue
Pope Francis embraces Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople, spiritual leader of Orthodox Christians, at the Vatican on 20 March. The pope met with Patriarch Bartholomew before a meeting with the Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, Sikh and Jain delegations that had come to the Vatican for his inauguration. (photo: CNS/L’Osservatore Romano via Reuters)
A potentially significant development today:
The ecumenical patriarch of Constantinople has invited Pope Francis to travel with him to the Holy Land next year to mark the 50th anniversary of the embrace between Patriarch Athenagoras and Pope Paul VI, the pioneers of Catholic-Orthodox dialogue. During their private meeting, Patriarch Bartholomew and Pope Francis explored possible paths towards unity, including theological dialogue, environmental defense, and a visit to the Fanar, after going through proper diplomatic channels.
Earlier, when the pontiff met Christian and other religious leaders, Patriarch Bartholomew was the only one who addressed Pope Francis. For the patriarch, Christians must bear witness in a credible way through “church unity” in order to cope with the world’s economic crisis and to counter “worldly trends” that limit life to its earthly horizons. The ecumenical patriarch’s words reflect the pontiff’s notion of stewardship, which he presented yesterday during his inaugural mass.
All this is evidence of the great unity between the two leaders. When Pope Francis introduced the patriarch, he called him, off the cuff, “my brother Andrew” underscoring the blood ties between the two apostles patrons of the two churches, Andrew of Constantinople and Peter of Rome, the “first one to be called” and the “first one among the apostles”.
Like Francis, Patriarch Bartholomew referred to Pope Benedict XVI “as a mild man who distinguished himself by his theological knowledge and charity.”
When he spoke about the “task and huge responsibilities” that await the pope, he said that “the unity of Christian churches” was “the first and most important of our concerns” in order to ensure that “our Christian witness is seen to be credible near and far.” Hence, it is necessary to continue “the theological dialogue” between Catholics and Orthodox, based on the experience and tradition of the first undivided thousand years.
The world’s economic crisis is another “imperative,” requiring that “those who have more give more” so that “justice can ensure peace”.
Read it all.
11 January 2013
Tags: Pope Francis Holy Land Ecumenism Christian Unity Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I
Pope Benedict XVI exchanges the sign of peace with Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I during a Mass in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican on 11 October to mark. the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council. The Mass also opened the Year of Faith. (photo: CNS/Paul Haring)
Pentarchy, after the Greek for “five leaders,” refers to the five patriarchates in the early church. Originally, these patriarchates were located in important Roman cities that were significant for Christians for several reasons. First, the Christian community in each city was founded by one of the Twelve Apostles. Second, the cities contained large Christian communities led by a prominent bishop. The five patriarchates and their founders are: Rome, founded by Peter; Constantinople, founded by Andrew; Alexandria, founded by Mark; Antioch, founded by Peter; and Jerusalem, founded by James.
Although all five patriarchates still exist, several factors contributed to their decreasing role in Christianity. The bishops of Rome had historical problems with the apostolic roots of Constantinople. Schisms divided the early church, especially Alexandria and Antioch. In the seventh century, Jerusalem, Antioch and Alexandria fell to Arab Muslim armies. After the Latin sack of Constantinople in 1204, the churches of East and West, which had drifted apart, definitively broke communion with one another. And in May 1453, Constantinople, which had assumed dominance over the remaining Eastern patriarchates, fell to the Ottoman Turks, leaving Rome as the only patriarchate in the hands of Christians. The ensuing vacuum opened the way for the creation of other patriarchates, such as Moscow, “the Third Rome,” to grow in influence. Nonetheless the five ancient patriarchates still exist and function in different ways in the Eastern and Western churches. Following is a brief history, listed in order of prominence according to the Council of Chalcedon in 451.
Rome. Christianity came to the capital of the Roman Empire within 25 years of the death and resurrection of Jesus. Two of the most important Christian leaders, Peter and Paul, worked in Rome. The presence of their tombs in Rome made the city a center for pilgrimage. The bishop of Rome was always given some type of primacy as the bishop not only of the city of the tombs of Peter and Paul, but as the bishop of the Imperial Capital. When the seat of the empire moved East to Constantinople in 330, the role of the bishop of Rome took on increasing importance, especially in the West.
Constantinople. In 330, the Emperor Constantine moved the Imperial Capital to the Greek city of Byzantion. He and his successors played a major and at times questionable role in the history of Christianity. It was unthinkable that the bishop of the new capital, the “New Rome,” should not enjoy privilege equal to that of the other patriarchates. Thus, the patriarchate of Constantinople was erected. Though created after Rome, Alexandria and Antioch, it played a huge role. Presently, the patriarch of Constantinople — modern Istanbul — is the “Ecumenical Patriarch,” and he is considered the first among equals in the Orthodox Church. Since the fall of Constantinople, the number of Christians in the patriarchate has decreased. Relations between Rome and Constantinople, once hostile, have improved greatly since Vatican II.
Alexandria. Founded by Alexander the Great, Alexandria was the literary and cultural center of the Greco-Roman world. Christianity came very early to Egypt. It was among Egyptian Christians, known as Copts (from the Greek word aigyptos, meaning “Egypt”), that Christian monasticism first developed. In contrast with Antioch, Alexandria had its own school of theological thought. Copts today make up an important community in Egypt.
Antioch. The capital of the Roman province of Syria, Antioch was the place where the followers of Jesus were first called “Christians” (Acts 11:26). The New Testament several times mentions Peter being in Antioch, which eventually produced many important theologians who contributed to a distinct theological school. Conquered by the Muslims, sacked by the Crusaders and subject to large earthquakes, the city lost its importance both in the political and ecclesiastical worlds. Its ruins are near present day Antakya in Turkey.
Jerusalem. Considered the “Mother Church,” Jerusalem was never very influential. Its destruction by the Romans in the year 70, and the expulsion of the Jews as the Romans transformed the city into a Roman center in 136, contributed to Jerusalem’s lesser role in the pentarchy. In April 637, Patriarch Sophronius surrendered the city to the Muslim Khalif, Umar ibn Khattab.
CNEWA is an institution of the church of Rome, yet it works with Christians who make up all of the ancient patriarchates.
27 November 2012
Tags: Pope Patriarchs Church Antiochene church Orthodox Patriarchal Church of Alexandria
Catholic News Service has been charting the 50th anniversary of Vatican II on a special website, and yesterday noted the following event from 1962:
The 27th general meeting of the ecumenical council saw the end of discussion on communications media and the start of debate on proposals for achieving a reconciliation between the Church and separated Eastern Christians.
The unity proposal noted that the Church does not want to leave “anything untried for achieving unity,” but said that it does not wish to gain unity “to the detriment of any truth.”
A lot has happened since then. CNS interviewed two key figures, who described the efforts at reconciliation over the last half century as “remarkable.” You can watch the video below:
11 October 2012
Tags: Vatican Unity Ecumenism Christian Unity
As mentioned in today’s Page One post, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople addressed Pope Benedict XVI and the bishops and faithful gathered in St. Peter’s Square today. Above is a video report by Rome Reports.
The patriarch praised Vatican II and the efforts that followed:
Fifty years ago in this very square, a powerful and pivotal celebration captured the heart and mind of the Roman Catholic Church, transporting it across the centuries into the contemporary world. This transforming milestone, the opening of the Second Vatican Council, was inspired by the fundamental reality that the Son and incarnate Logos of God is “where two or three are gathered in his name," (Matt. 18.20) and that the Spirit, who proceeds from the Father, “will guide us into the whole truth." (John 16.13). ...
Over the last five decades, the achievements of this assembly have been diverse as evidenced through the series of important and influential constitutions, declarations and decrees. We have contemplated the renewal of the spirit and “return to the sources” through liturgical study, biblical research and patristic scholarship. We have appreciated the struggle toward gradual liberation from the limitation of rigid scholasticism to the openness of ecumenical encounter, which has led to the mutual rescinding of the excommunications of the year 1054, the exchange of greetings, returning of relics, entering into important dialogues and visiting each other in our respective Sees. ...
As we move forward together, we offer thanks and glory to the living God — Father, Son and Holy Spirit — that the same assembly of bishops has recognised the importance of reflection and sincere dialogue between our “sister churches”. We join in the “hope that the barrier dividing the Eastern Church and the Western Church will be removed, and that — at last — there may be but the one dwelling, firmly established on Christ Jesus, the cornerstone, who will make both one” (“Unitatis Redintegratio” §18).
The full text of his address is available through the Vatican's news site.
29 May 2012
Tags: Vatican Ecumenism Christian Unity Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I Dialogue
Mar Dinkha IV, patriarch of the Assyrian Church of the East, meets Pope Benedict XVI at the Vatican on 21 June 2007. (photo: CNS/L'Osservatore Romano via Reuters)
The pope sent a message today to a leading religious figure in the Middle East, and made special note of the struggles still unfolding in the region:
Pope Benedict XVI has sent a message celebrating the Golden Jubilee of Mar Dinkha IV, catholicos patriarch of the Assyrian Church of the East.
The Assyrian Church’s historical homeland is in Iraq and other areas of the Middle East, but in recent years has spread across the world due to emigration. In his message, Pope Benedict recalled several ecumenical highlights between the two Churches, including the 1994 Common Declaration on Christology and the establishment of a Joint Commission for Theological Dialogue between the Catholic Church and the Assyrian Church of the East.
Pope Benedict took the occasion to also express his “solidarity with the Christian communities in Iraq and throughout the Middle East, praying that effective forms of common witness to the Gospel and pastoral collaboration in the service of peace, reconciliation and unity may be deepened between the Catholic and Assyrian faithful.”
You can read the pope’s complete message here.
And for more on the Assyrian Church of the East, check out Against All Odds: the Assyrian Church.
19 December 2011
Tags: Iraq Iraqi Christians Ecumenism Patriarchs Assyrian Church
On this stone altar overlooking the Sea of Galilee, Msgr. Kozar celebrated Mass. (photo: CNEWA)
How do you best begin your first full day in the native land of the Lord? How about a beautiful and tranquil early morning liturgy on a stone altar along the shore of the Sea of Galilee? That is how the four of us — Father Guido; Sami El-Yousef, our regional director for Palestine and Israel; his colleague, Tony Za’rour; and I — began our Saturday. Just a few hundred yards from the Church of the Multiplication of the Loaves, we walked past some olive groves and some ancient olive presses and arrived at a quaint little chapel looking out over the sea. What a blessing to celebrate Mass on this holy ground.
I offered up my Mass for all of you and for all your intentions, including those of you who are sick, those who have lost loved ones, for our dear departed Cardinal John Patrick Foley and for our entire CNEWA family.
Following Mass we headed for Haifa, a seaport city that appeared more modern, despite having suffered damage from the 2006 Israel-Hezbollah war. Our first stop was the office of Archbishop Elias Chacour, the Melkite Greek Catholic Archbishop of Akko, Haifa, Nazareth and Galilee. I had met Archbishop Chacour in Canada in October, so I was coming to meet a friend – and he certainly welcomed us as such. Twice nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, he is a man who speaks openly and honestly and has written a number of books. Many consider him prophetic.
He charmed us with many stories, some sad and others amusing. He told us of how he had hosted a group of 1,900 pilgrims from Paris and made provisions for all of them (48 busloads) to be welcomed into the homes of his parishes. He told the cardinal archbishop who arranged the pilgrimage that if they really wanted the experience of a pilgrim in the land of Jesus, then they should live where he lived and walked.
He also spoke warmly of the visit of our own Michael La Civita, who last year brought a group of Catholic journalists to this region and met with Archbishop Chacour. I’m sure these journalists enjoyed their visit as much as I. He really wanted to accompany us to see some of his projects — especially in education — but we had to decline, as our day was full of other scheduled visits. We asked for his blessing and I promised to come back so that he might show me more of his diocese (or eparchy, as it is called in the Eastern churches).
Msgr. Kozar meets Archbishop Elias Chacour in Haifa, Israel. (photo: CNEWA)
From his office we drove to the Maison du Sacre Coeur. This is a cherished Catholic institution that serves the needs of specially challenged children of all ages — even up to their early 20’s. Sister Katherina Fuchs, the Austrian-born Daughter of Charity who directs the facility, welcomed us and introduced us to three other sisters, who came from Lebanon and Spain. This dedicated group of sisters, followers of St. Vincent de Paul, offer tender, loving care to these very special children. I was particularly moved while watching the level of care with which some physical therapists worked, massaging the muscles of these special needs kids. Through a delicate series of respiratory heaves and hos, they were able to extract from them the desired cough that would help to clear their lungs.
I asked one what this hard work meant to him, and his reply was: “I know each one of these children and their needs. I know when they are sick and when they are happy. I love them as I love my family.” I know where they get that loving family feeling — from the sisters.
The sisters have also opened a kindergarten for almost 200 children. This has endeared the sisters ever more to the community, as they welcome children from Christian, Jewish and Muslim homes. Love is the common bond here and these youngsters have a real head start in learning how love can conquer many ills — even war and social injustices.
The sisters shared with us how their main mission was to help the Christians to feel secure in troubled times. Father Guido and I were honored to give them a blessing and to assure them of our continuing prayers.
From the facility for specials needs children we went to a nearby facility called the House of Grace, originally founded by Mr. Kamil Shehadeh and his wife, Agnes, as a “home” to welcome prisoners who had recently finished serving their time. At first, the idea did not go over well with authorities and neighbors, but the determination of this grace-filled couple and eventually all five of their children has proven to be a jewel in the eyes of the entire country.
Today the house is truly a home, as those participating in the myriad of programs are all welcomed as family. There are currently 15 prisoners going through the program. There are also hundreds of families who participate in programs to improve their quality of life, programs for youth and social skills and educational programs that enhance the lives of many people.
While there, we visited with some of the successful beneficiaries – former prisoners who not only have gone on to renew their lives in a responsible and productive way, but continue to come back to their “family” and offer their help to new “family members.” Mrs. Shehadeh and her son, Jamal, have kept the flame of faith and love alive, as they received it from husband and father.
The couple single-handedly restored an ancient church — a forlorn building that once served as the Melkite Greek Catholic cathedral, located on their property — and have made it into effectively their “family” parish chapel. It is beautiful beyond words. Mrs. Shehadeh confided in us that in this church, especially in the celebration of the Divine Liturgy, she receives all her strength.
We had a terrific lunch with our newest family members in Haifa and thanked them for the great example of living the Gospel to the fullest. With difficulty, we stood up from the table and continued on our way.
Next stop was another chapter of my pilgrimage as Father Guido led us to the House of Peter, where legend tells us that Jesus spent time growing up. There is considerable excavation still going on, as more and more articles of antiquity are being found year after year.
One of the highlights was to walk through the synagogue where Jesus taught the elders. Looking at the stone seating along the sides of the ancient structure I could feel how dramatic it was for this young Jesus to be addressing these men learned in the law and steeped in tradition.
From this venue we circled up a steep series of curves to the top of the Mount of the Beatitudes. Arriving on the mountaintop, there was a heavenly view of Galilee down below. This holy site is now blessed with a beautiful church, a guest house, retreat center and a convent. Standing there, I experienced such a feeling of tranquility. Just imagine looking down below and seeing the multitudes listening to Jesus.
Pope John Paul II visited the Mount of Beatitudes and celebrated Mass just under a mile from here, on top of another hill below the property of the Domus Galilee, which is a guest house, retreat center and seminary of the Neo-Catechumenate. Can you imagine the excitement of attending that Mass at that venue?
Light was giving way to darkness, so we made a final push to see the ruins of Chorazin, an ancient city castigated by our Lord for not repenting that has recently been excavated and shows the evidence of destruction.
Well, that’s my tale of a power-packed first full day in Galilee.
On Sunday, after a hardy breakfast at the German Pilgerhaus, we departed for Jerusalem, with some special stops and visits in between. On the road to Nazareth, over some pretty high hills — almost mountains — I found it rather unusual to see a sign posted on an overlook that stated that we were presently exactly at sea level. I have heard how low the elevations are in the Jordan Valley and how the Dead Sea is the lowest dry point on Earth, but it all sunk in when I saw that sign. How strange to be on a “mountaintop” and to know I was actually at sea level. Just another fascinating part of the pilgrimage for me.
Father Guido, left, and Msgr. Kozar, right, receive a tour of the Basilica of the Annunciation in Nazareth. (photo: CNEWA)
On to Nazareth. Our first stop was a tour of the Basilica of the Annunciation. The main church is built over the actual site of the Annunciation, where we would later celebrate Mass with the pastor and his flock. The church is very modern and has some dazzling mosaics of Mary, as depicted in the styles of the local cultures of many countries. The Japanese and Mexican mosaics were particularly impressive.
We proceeded to visit the ancient crypt church, which sits immediately over the excavated remains of the spot where the Angel Gabriel appeared to Mary. It was a wonderful moment of meditation for me, to be at this venue and to see the significance of Mary’s acceptance of her role rendered in such beautiful artwork.
From the crypt church, we walked only about 50 yards to the Church of St. Joseph, where, legend has it, St. Joseph lived. Again the main church is built over the excavated ruins of this dwelling. Here, you can really get close to the remnant of the house and even get a feel of life in that time.
I have to mention, I really admire the Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land, which is charged with caring for many of these important treasures. Until this pastoral visit, I did not appreciate the importance or the vastness of this responsibility. The Franciscans do a tremendous job, as only they can, in welcoming pilgrims and serving their every need. Please remember them in your prayers, as their work is filled with many delicate challenges. They are on the front lines in preserving the Christian heritage of the holy places and the dignity and identity of Christians in this part of the world.
The high point of the morning visit was an invitation to concelebrate the parish Sunday Mass in the basilica. And how satisfying it was to have the Gospel story about the Annunciation read over the very spot where it happened. And, of course, even though the Mass was in Arabic, I remembered all of you in my Mass intentions and all your loved ones.
During the liturgy, there were nine servers, boys and girls, between the ages of 6 and 13. The two 6-year-olds did not really know how to kneel, but there were in awe to be on the altar, with their eyes wide open and fixed on the “older servers.” How this brought back memories of my earliest days as a server.
After Mass we walked about one block to the humble abode of the patriarchal vicar of Israel, Bishop Boulos Marcuzzo. We were warmly welcomed by the vicar and he invited us to join him for some coffee and homemade cookies, baked by his staff of Polish Sisters of the Holy Family of Nazareth. By the way, the sisters were pleasantly surprised to learn that I am a good friend of their recent mother general, who is a Pittsburgher like myself.
The bishop was an erudite delight, sharing his great knowledge and wisdom about his challenges as vicar in supporting the needs of the Christians in Israel. His own background is very interesting — he was born in Italy and as a child moved to the Holy Land and has been there ever since. He was ordained for the Latin Patriarchate in Jerusalem, which extends through Israel, Palestine, Jordan and Cyprus. He has invited me to return another time to visit with him some of the Latin parishes. I accepted his kind offer and look forward to that opportunity.
After this visit, we proceeded to Jerusalem and arrived there in the mid-afternoon. Father Guido kindly routed us to some beautiful overlooks, including both sides of the Mount of Olives to garner some initial looks at this historical gem called Jerusalem. He pointed out so many sites and biblical references that, I must confess, there was too much to assimilate. Of course, during the next six days, there will be quality time, between pastoral visits, to see these venues firsthand. Father Guido and I have allotted one full day to visit prayerfully the 10 holy sites on his list. I’m looking forward to that.
We arrived at the Notre Dame of Jerusalem Center, which is a pilgrim hotel, beautiful and comfortable. Sami will continue to be our host, as he was for the entire visit in Israel. Sami really knows the ins and outs of Israel and Palestine. He is well known, especially in circles of higher learning, having worked at Bethlehem University for many years before joining CNEWA and the Pontifical Mission as our regional director.
To close, I share with you a private moment I had with someone special at the Basilica of the Annunciation in Nazareth. I left a special intention with Mary, the mother of our Lord, asking her to remember all of you to her Son.
15 December 2011
Tags: Israel Jerusalem Msgr. John E. Kozar Father Guido Gockel
Tourists visit St. George’s Orthodox Church with its mosaic map of Palestine.
(photo: Youssef Alan)
Today marks the last full day of our pastoral visit to Jordan, as tomorrow in the mid-morning we will conclude with a final visit with the Franciscan Sisters of Mary, who work with Iraqi refugee families, some of whom we will meet.
We arrived in Amman last night, exhausted from our travels through Petra. This morning, after a good night’s rest, we departed for Our Lady of Peace Center, which is located about 30 minutes outside the city of Amman in an agricultural area that shows signs of some development in the future, according to Ra’ed Bahou, our regional director for Jordan and Iraq.
We were warmly greeted by the founder of this facility, Bishop Selim Sayegh, Latin Patriarchal Vicar in Jordan and the spiritual and moral personality associated with this facility. Our Lady of Peace offers many programs for mentally and physically handicapped youths. Since the center opened in 2004, it has become the anchor facility for a host of satellite programs and other mini-institutions.
The bishop escorted us inside to meet Sister Adriana Biollo, the director of the center and the obvious driving force that makes everything happen. Of course, we had the usual Arabic coffee ritual, as every Jordanian would typically offer to visitors.
Then it was on to the hall for a special Christmas show performed by a group of very special children. They presented a number of musical songs sung with great enthusiasm and some delightful dances, complete with big smiles and even a few winks for yours truly. I was able to get some wonderful candid photos of the kids, just enjoying themselves as they entertained.
And a big highlight for them and for us was a visit from Santa Claus. The kids went wild when he came into the room, especially when the sisters approached with some big boxes of gifts. Each child came forward and received a gift. The children loved the attention, gifts and Santa, but they really loved Bishop Selim. In fact, the love that Bishop Selim Sayegh has for these special children cannot be contained. He smiles from ear to ear in their presence and many freely run to him to receive a big hug from him. This center has been a dream of his and now, as he approaches retirement after having served more than 30 years as vicar, he can enjoy the fruits of his labors, as reflected in the smiles of these precious little ones.
Next stop was a special visit to Mt. Nebo. I have to tell you, this was an emotional experience, not just because of the panoramic view of the Jordan Valley below, but just the overwhelming reality that I was for the first time sharing a glimpse of the Promised Land as shown to Moses. This is the real deal, this is my faith being excited, live and in person. Welcome to the Promised Land!
I spent some precious moments just taking it all in and trying to capture the fullness of this mini-recollection. The church on the mountaintop is being renovated, so we viewed some archeological remnants of the original discoveries of this Byzantine treasure. I was delighted to see a plaque in front of an olive tree planted by Pope John Paul. Here again, it reminded me of how holy is this ground. Wow.
On to Madaba, a charming city that has a very dynamic yet ancient feel to it: Byzantine mosaics and ruins surround you, including the famous church of St. George, which houses the oldest map of the Holy Land and the Holy City of Jerusalem. Refounded by a priest in the 19th century, Madaba has a large Christian community, which is rare in the Hashemite Kingdom, with a vibrant spirit of brotherhood amongst all the churches and Muslims.
A leading figure in much was our host Archimandrite Innokentios, a priest of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem who heads the school system in Jordan for the Orthodox Church. His affable personality has obviously motivated many people to support his numerous efforts to educate the young. As he says eloquently, the future of the Christians in Jordan — and in the Middle East — is through good education.
The archimandrite also showed us a lovely center that can house about 100 pilgrims, many of whom come to the area to see Mt. Nebo and to study the mosaics that lie throughout modern Madaba, including that famous map.
The pastor of the parish of St. George and his wife invited us for a wonderful lunch in their home. Bountiful does not quite describe the display of food on the table. They were the most attentive hosts and as I was tutored by Ra’ed, a host will not take “no” for an answer very easily. In this part of the world, you must decline requests for more food about three times to stop the flow of food.
Both Father Guido and I learned so much from the archimandrite, who is very learned in church and civil law, in the culture of Jordan and the political and religious realities of life in this country.
We closed the day by visiting our staff in New York (about 55 employees) through the wonder of Internet and video conferencing. For Father Guido, Ra’ed and me, we were excited to share with our family in New York some of the joys and uplifting experiences of our time with our family in Jordan.
So tomorrow we will move on the third and final part of our pastoral visit, as we enter into Palestine and Israel, where we will meet our host and regional director, Sami El-Yousef.
By the way, please know that as I had my best private moment on top of Mt. Nebo, I remembered all the CNEWA family in a brief prayer. You were with me when I saw the Promised Land.
Tags: Middle East Jordan Msgr. John E. Kozar Amman