|Your Beatitudes, Your
Eminences, Venerable Brothers in the Episcopate and the Priesthood,
1. It is a great joy for me to meet you
during your Congregation's plenary assembly, while you are reflecting on
several lines of action for the dicastery over the next few years to serve
the Eastern Catholic churches.
In particular, I thank Cardinal Achille
Silvestrini, Prefect of the Congregation for the Oriental Churches, for
his courteous greeting on behalf of you all.
I would also like to express my gratitude
for the service of the Congregation, which assists the Bishop of Rome "in
the exercise of his supreme pastoral office for the welfare and service
of the universal Church and the particular Churches. This strengthens the
unity of faith and the communion of the People of God and promotes the
Church's mission in the world" (Apostolic Constitution Pastor Bonus,
2. Among the various dicasteries of the
Roman Curia, the Congregation for the Oriental Churches has a particularly
delicate task because of its institutional competence and the present moment
You express the universal Church's concern
for the East
Your Congregation "deals with matters,
whether regarding persons or things, concerning the Eastern Catholic Churches"
Bonus, Art. 56). Its competence "extends to all matters which are proper
to the Eastern Churches and which are to be referred to the Apostolic See,
whether concerning the structure and organization of the Churches, the
exercise of the functions of teaching, sanctifying and governing, or persons
and their status, rights and duties" (Art. 58, §l). Moreover, "in
regions where Eastern rites have been preponderant from ancient times,
apostolic and missionary activity depends solely on this Congregation,
even if it is carried out by missionaries of the Latin Church" (Art. 60).
The Congregation's work, made particularly
laborious by the difficult situations in which the Eastern Churches currently
find themselves, requires a multitude of skills. This is expressed in particular
through the work of the Special Commissions, such as those for the liturgy,
for studies on the Christian East and for the formation of clergy and religious,
which have been set up by the supreme Pontiffs.
3. The Second Vatican Council underscored
the riches that the Eastern Churches bring to the universal Church, displaying
their plurality in unity. In fact, the Decree Orientalium Ecclesiarum
with the solemn affirmation that "the Catholic Church values highly the
institutions of the Eastern Churches, their liturgical rites, ecclesiastical
traditions and their ordering of Christian life. For in those Churches,
which are distinguished by their venerable antiquity, there is clearly
evident the tradition which has come from the Apostles through the Fathers
and which is part of the divinely revealed, undivided heritage of the universal
Church" (n. 1). It is because of this vocation that the Council Fathers
expressed the desire that the Eastern Churches were to "flourish and to
fulfill with new apostolic strength the task entrusted to them" (n. 1).
The Congregation therefore has the task
of expressing the universal Church's concern for these Churches so that
everyone can "be fully acquainted with this treasure and thus feel, with
the Pope, a passionate longing that the full manifestation of the Church's
catholicity be restored to the Church and to the world, expressed not by
a single tradition, and still less by one community in opposition to the
other" (Apostolic Letter Orientale lumen, n. 1).
4. Historical circumstances put these Churches
in the position of having to rely on the support, affection and particular
care of the Holy See, as do the particular Churches of the Latin rite.
In fact, some of these Eastern-rite Churches have emerged from the persecution
of communist regimes and are experiencing the labor of rebirth. Others
instead operate in politically unstable areas, where inter religious coexistence
is not always inspired by brotherhood and mutual respect. Lastly, the growing
phenomenon of migration requires the Apostolic See to support and promote
the pastoral care of Eastern Catholics in the diaspora.
5. I can still vividly feel the joy and
excitement of the important meeting I had two days ago with the Patriarchs
of the Eastern Catholic Churches. On that occasion I had the opportunity
to stress that this event was an act of homage by the Apostolic See to
their own dignity.
Two aspects, already recalled at the meeting
I had with the Patriarchs, seem particularly significant to me: the synodal
authority that the Churches over which they preside exercise in a special
way and the ever greater contribution they are called to make to the restoration
of full communion with their Orthodox Sister Churches.
The synodal authority of the Bishops around
their Patriarch, which distinguishes the Eastern Churches, is a very ancient
way of living episcopal collegiality, recommended and described by the
Dogmatic Constitution Lumen gentium (cf. n. 22).
Pastoral care must be provided for Eastern-rite
In their ecumenical commitment, by virtue
of their theological and cultural closeness to the Orthodox Churches, they
are called to proceed with courage and determination, even if there is
still a memory of past wounds and it is at times difficult to fulfill this
mandate in the present circumstances.
6. The agenda for your plenary meeting
is a sign of the effort you are called to make in mapping out the dicasterys'
future activity. I would be grateful if you would pay special attention
to the pastoral care of the Eastern faithful in the diaspora. In this regard,
it is necessary for everyone, both Latin and Oriental, to grasp the sensitive
implications of the situation, which is a real challenge for the survival
of the Christian East and for a general reconsideration of its pastoral
Indeed, the Pastors of the Latin Church
are first of all invited to deepen their own knowledge of the existence
and heritage of the Eastern Catholic Churches and to encourage the faithful
entrusted to their care to do the same. Secondly, they are called to promote
and defend the right of the Eastern faithful to live and pray according
to the tradition received from the Fathers of their own Church. "Regarding
the pastoral care of the faithful of the Eastern rites who are living in
Latin-rite Dioceses, in accordance with the spirit and letter of the Conciliar
Decrees Christus Dominus, n. 23, 3 and Orientalium Ecclesiarum,
4, the Latin Ordinaries of such Dioceses are to provide as soon as possible
for an adequate pastoral care of the faithful of these Eastern rites, through
the ministry of priests, or through parishes of the rite, where this would
be indicated, or through an Episcopal Vicar endowed with the necessary
faculties, where circumstances would so indicate" (Letter to the Bishops
of India, 28 May 1987, n. 5c).
Moreover, the Pastors of the Eastern Churches
must continue to care for their own faithful who have left their country
of origin by diligently discerning the forms in which to express their
tradition, in a way that responds to the contemporary expectations of those
faithful, in the particular circumstances of the society where they live.
7. I believe it is important at this point
to offer some guidelines for the tasks that the Congregation for the Oriental
Churches must carry out in the years to come.
The Congregation is called to help and
to support Eastern Catholic communities, thus expressing the "anxiety for
all the Churches" (cf. 2 Cor 11:28) which is proper to every local Church,
but in a particular way is the specific vocation of the Church of Rome,
which "presides in charity", according to the happy expression of Ignatius
There are two practical ways to fulfill
this task. First, the Congregation is called to formulate general guidelines,
the fruit of its richly varied experience, which the individual Churches
will then develop and adapt to their own specific situation. This is what
the Congregation did, for example, with the Instruction for Applying
the Liturgical Prescriptions of the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches.
In this regard, I am sure that the Pastors of every Eastern Church will
soon proceed to draft the liturgical directories requested by this Instruction,
since they are an indispensable means for fully expressing their own liturgical
Guidelines such as those already offered
on the liturgy must now be developed as well in the areas of formation,
catechesis and religious life.
The Congregation will prepare some general
directives, which will then help the individual Churches to formulate their
own Ratio studiorum (cf. CCEO, can. 330).
Catechesis must be imbued with Eastern
It would likewise be helpful to prepare
a Catechetical Directory that would "take into account the special character
of the Eastern Churches, so that the biblical and liturgical emphasis as
well as the traditions of each Church sui iuris in patrology, hagiography
and even iconography are highlighted in conveying the catechesis" (CCEO,
can. 621, §2). In this regard, the catechetical method of the Fathers
of the Church, which was expressed in "catechesis" for catechumens and
in "mystagogy" or "mystagogical catechesis" for those already initiated
into the divine mysteries, is enlightening.
In the Eastern Churches, special attention
should be paid to encouraging the revival of the traditional forms of religious
life, especially monasticism, which "has always been the very soul of the
Eastern Churches" (Orientale lumen, n. 9).
8. Along with preparing general guidelines,
it is the Congregation's duty to help the Eastern Catholic Churches in
the process of implementing these guidelines. It will therefore be concerned
to create opportunities for meeting and working together at various levels,
such as the meeting of the Eastern Catholic Bishops and Major Superiors
of Europe with the Congregation, held in July 1997 in the Eparchy of Hajdudorog,
Hungary. I hope that the meeting of the Patriarchs and Bishops of the Middle
East planned for next year will have an equally positive result, and that
a similar initiative can be considered and organized for the so-called
9. Lastly, in the spirit of the Apostolic
Letter Orientale lumen, the Congregation must be involved in bringing
to the attention of the entire Church the existence and specific character
of the Eastern Catholic Churches. To this end, particularly significant
historical and theological studies must be encouraged and supported. This
attention must also extend to the pastoral dimension, so that the Latin
Bishops will know in a practical way how to make the most of the presence
of Eastern Catholics in their own Dioceses; it will be the dicastery's
duty to give them appropriate guidance in this regard.
10. We are on the eve of the Great Jubilee
of the Year 2000. The contemporary world needs courageous evangelization.
"The cry of men and women today seeking meaning for their lives reaches
all the Churches of the East and the West. In this cry, we perceive the
invocation of those who seek the Father whom they have forgotten and lost
(cf. Lk 15:18-20; Jn 14:8). The women and men of today are asking us to
show them Christ, who knows the Father and who has revealed him (cf. Jn
8:55; 14:8-11)" (Orientale lumen, n. 4). The Eastern Churches have
had an extraordinary evangelizing impact, knowing how to adapt themselves
often to the cultural needs of the new peoples they have encountered. It
is indispensable that they value this spirit and these methods and revive
this experience in the present circumstances.
The children of the Eastern Churches, who
did not hesitate to shed their blood to remain faithful to Christ and the
Church, will also know how to bring about in their Churches that change
of hearts and structures which will make their Christian witness shine
in its fullness.
The Church looks with deep gratitude and
admiration at the missionary efforts of the Eastern Churches in India.
She hopes that they can be extended to other Churches and that everyone
will be able to accept gratefully this wonderful collaboration for the
growth of the kingdom, according to the various forms and traditions. As
the Decree on the Eastern Catholic Churches indicates, all the Churches
under the pastoral governance of the Roman Pontiff "have the same rights
and obligations, even with regard to the preaching of the Gospel in the
whole world, 'under the direction of the Roman Pontiff' (Orientalium
Ecclesiarum, n. 3)" (Letter to the Bishops of India, 28 May
1987, n. 5b).
11. This commitment to evangelization also
spurs us vigorously to seek full communion with other Christian confessions.
Today's world awaits this unity. And we have deprived it of "a joint witness
that could, perhaps, have avoided so many tragedies and even changed the
course of history.... The echo of the Gospel — the words that do not disappoint
— continues to resound with force, weakened only by our separation: Christ
cries out, but man finds it hard to hear his voice, because we fail to
speak with one accord" (Orientale lumen, n. 28).
In again expressing the hope that your
work will be fruitful, I invoke upon you and your efforts an abundance
of heavenly favours, as a pledge of which I affectionately impart my Apostolic
Blessing to all.
Romano, Editorial and Management Offices, Via del Pellegrino, 00120,
Vatican City, Europe, Telephone ++39/6/698.99.390.