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To Rome and Back: The Pontifical Oriental Institute

by the Rev. Edward G. Farrugia, S.J.

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On 12 May, pope John Paul II beatified the last non-Jesuit president (1919-1922) of the Pontifical Oriental Institute. A papal graduate school entrusted to the Society of Jesus, the Oriental Institute, through research, publishing and teaching, reaches out to the Eastern churches, fostering dialogue and mutual understanding.

Had it not been that the newly beatified was Ildefonso Cardinal Schuster, O.S.B., the World War II era Archbishop of Milan, the ceremony would have occurred without much fanfare. This brings to mind the fate of the Eastern churches. The whole of Christendom is indebted to these communities, Catholic and Orthodox alike, for their spiritual and theological heritage. And yet they are often ignored.

What a feat it would have been had all the notable graduates of the Oriental Institute materialized in their liturgical splendor for this beatification. Imagine patriarchs Gregory Peter XV Agagianian (Armenian Catholic), Raphael I Bidawid and Paul II Cheikho (Chaldean) and Ignatius Anthony II Hayek (Syrian Catholic) – not to mention cardinals, bishops, abbots, superiors, priests and religious – standing side by side with the present Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, Bartholomew I, as the Patriarch of the Western church honored one of their spiritual brothers.

Indeed, an even greater feat would be a brief essay on the achievements of the Pontifical Oriental Institute.

There is hardly an area of interest to Eastern church life that has not been touched upon by the institute:

• the admired riches of Eastern spirituality, advanced here as an independent discipline by several Jesuits, including Irénée Hausherr, Ivan Kologrivov and Tomas Spidlik.

• the critical interpretation of the various Eastern liturgies, developed by Blessed Schuster and the Jesuits Alphonse Raes, Juan Mateos, Robert Taft and others.

• the nuances of ecclesiology (the theology of the church, its structures and practices) and its impact on church unity, translated into a learned theology by the Assumptionist Father Martin Jugie and into an ecumenical praxis by the Jesuit John Long.

These are just a random sampling of the many scholars who have rescued texts and manuscripts from obscurity, making them available to historians, liturgists and theologians, as well as to the general public.

The Pontifical Oriental Institute is open to Catholics and non-Catholics, men and women, clergy, religious and members of the laity. The institute was founded in 1917, when few people studied traditions other than one’s own. The Rev. Vincenzo Poggi, S.J., historian and former dean, points out that the institute’s founder, Pope Benedict XV, seems to have wavered between the institute as a place to train missionaries or as an academic institution.

At the time, the ecumenical movement was still in its infancy. In 1910, Anglican and Protestant missionaries, at odds with one another in the field, ignited the movement when they gathered to discuss their common creed in Edinburgh, Scotland.

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Tags: Education Ecumenism Eastern Christianity Pope