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The Eastern Catholic Churches — A Perspective of a Papal Agency for Eastern Churches CNEWA in Pre and Post Orientalium Ecclesiarum Periods

27 Oct 2014 – By Elias D. Mallon, S.A., Ph.D.

The following paper was delivered at a conference sponsored by The Metropolitan Andrey Sheptytsky Institute in Toronto, Canada, on 17 October 2014.

It is a great pleasure and honor for me to speak at this conference organized by the Metropolitan Andrey Sheptytsky Institute. If you will indulge me in a brief autobiographical moment, I would like to highlight how important it is personally for me to be here. It is clear from the program that I work at the Catholic Near East Welfare Association in its New York office. What might be less clear are the letters after my name: SA. That abbreviation indicates that I am a member of the Franciscan Friars of the Atonement. Our Founder, Fr. Paul Wattson, was one of the co-founders of CNEWA. Fr. Wattson began his career as an Episcopalian priest. His spiritual journey led him and Sr. Laurana White to found the Society of the Atonement in the Episcopal Church. That journey further led him and the early community to seek communion with the Roman Catholic Church in 1908. The work of the community was from the beginning Christian Unity or Church Unity as it was called then. Unlike what has recently happened, Fr. Wattson’s move to the Roman Catholic Church was not accompanied by any bitterness or anger towards the Episcopal Church. For most, if not all, of his life Fr Wattson envisioned Church Unity as a corporate return of, at first, the Anglican Church and then the Orthodox Churches to communion — submission as he would term it — to the Roman Catholic Church.

From the outset Fr. Wattson showed considerable interest in the Eastern Catholic Churches. For him they provided the concrete model of the “return” he was seeking for the Anglican Church. This resulted in him having a great deal of contact with different Eastern Catholic Churches as far flung as southern India, Constantinople and the Ukraine. The Friars of the Atonement had acquired a substantial piece of property near the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., and built a seminary there. On Aril 21, 1943 Bishop Bohachevky purchased land and St. Josaphat’s Seminary was open a few yards from our Atonement Seminary. I studied in Washington from 1967-1974 and many of my classmates in theology were seminarians from St. Josaphat’s. So in a real sense, I theologically “grew up” with Ukrainian Catholics.

In many ways the history of my community and the history of CNEWA are interlocked. Less than seventy-five years after the found of the Society of the Atonement, Pope John XIII convoked the Second Vatican Council. I was a novice when the Council opened on 11 October 1963. Within a short time we were faced with a series of documents whose impact we could never have guessed at the time: Dogmatic Constitution on the Church (Lumen Gentium) 21 November 1964; the Decree on the Relation of the Church to Non-Christian Religions )Nostra Ætate) 28 October 1965; the Decree on Ecumenism (Unitatis Redintegratio) 21 November 1964; the Pastoral Constitution of the Church in the Modern World (Gaudium et Spes) 7 December 1965; and last but certainly not least the Decree on the Catholic Churches of the Eastern Rite (Ecclesiarum Orientalium) 21 November 1964.

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