Sacred Oriental Congregation

The Holy Father’s Emissaries who look ahead to the future of the Eastern Catholic Church, ever mindful of the religious past.

prepared by Catholic Near East staff
photos: Sacred Oriental Congregation

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If we somehow caught a glimpse of all the people whose lives are touched by the Sacred Congregation for the Oriental Churches, we’d see quite a colorful and mixed group: men sporting fezzes, keffiehs, turbans and fedoras; women wearing veils, saris and delicately embroidered gowns, as well as the very latest Western styles; rich and poor of all the rites of the Catholic Church; and most certainly, the unwanted of many countries – orphans, lepers, the aged, blind and deaf, to name just a few.

In short, we’d see a cross section of human life and of the globe.

The Sacred Congregation for the Eastern Churches quietly works in a world filled with needs of all kinds. In addition to its spiritual ministry, the Sacred Congregation, with the assistance of the Catholic Near East Welfare Association, prepares boys for the priesthood, trains Sisters, supports orphans, and builds, maintains and supports chapels, churches, clinics and convents in the countries of the Near East.

The Sacred Congregation is an executive branch of the Holy See. Just as our Government has certain departments, there are certain divisions within the Vatican known as Congregations. The Oriental Congregation deals with all matters pertaining to the Eastern Catholic Church, carrying on its varied activities in many regions, especially those areas traditionally associated with the Oriental rites: Afghanistan, Albania, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Dodecanese Islands, Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Greece, India, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine, Syria and Turkey.

While these regions are the special sphere of activity of the Congregation, they are not the only areas in which it operates. Its authority extends to all the faithful of Eastern rites throughout the world. There are sizable groups of Eastern rite immigrants in various lands of the West – especially in North and South America. In the U.S. alone there are approximately 800,000 Catholics belonging to the Oriental rites.

The Authority of the Sacred Oriental Congregation also extends to Latin rite Catholics who are living in those lands in the East where the Eastern rites flourish. In the Holy Land, for example, many of the faithful are Latin rite Catholics whose only dealings with the Holy See are conducted through the Sacred Congregation for the Eastern Churches.

There are five basic rites in the Eastern Church – Alexandrian, Antiochian, Armenian, Byzantine and Chaldean – and within these rites are subdivisions. Thus, for example, within the Antiochian rite we have the Maronites, who number 35,000 (active members) in the United States alone, and the Malankarese, found mostly in Kerala, India. As another example, the Melkite and Ukrainian Churches, both having large numbers of faithful in this country, belong to the Byzantine rite.

Although the Sacred Congregation for the Eastern Churches was established as a separate and complete bureau of the Holy See only in 1917, it had its roots in the 16th century. Having a long and complicated history, the Congregation was at one time a division within the Sacred Congregation of the Propagation of the Faith.

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Tags: CNEWA Eastern Christianity Eastern Churches Holy See