domenica 13 novembre 2016

Pontifical Oriental Institute
I am very pleased and honoured to be taking part in this centenary celebration of our dear Pontifical Oriental Institute and proud to have been a student of this prestigious institute. Its foundation by Pope Pius XI was a prophetic gesture, in line with Pope Leo XIII’s great encyclical Orientalium dignitas (1894) that heralded the ecumenical movement in the years before, during and after the Second Vatican Council, which saw the great figure of my predecessor Maximos IV, the council’s enfant terrible, and the prophetic figure of Archbishop Elias Zoghby, and Metropolitan Neophytos Edelby, to mention only the most well-known names of Vatican II.Only much later do we see new ecumenical glimmers of light from the East, with Pope Saint John Paul II’s Apostolic Letter Orientale Lumen (2 May 1995) recalling the well-known saying “ex Oriente lux.” Then there was the synod convened by His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI, on Communion and Witness in the Church in the Middle East, followed by the post-synodal Apostolic Exhortation Ecclesia in Medio Oriente (14 September 2012). Both documents illustrate well-known texts of the Second Vatican Council: the Decree on the Eastern Catholic Churches Orientalium Ecclesiarum, and the Decree on Ecumenism Unitatis redintegratio, sketching out the current shape of our dear Pontifical Oriental Institute’s mission, markedly influenced by the Eastern – especially Melkite  - Fathers of the Second Vatican Council.
This institute is the real laboratory of the Catholic Church’s ecumenical vision, the vigilant watchman on the Church’s towers, the repository of the great Eastern Church tradition and at the same time the transmitter of that tradition to new generations of the Church. As a result, this institute has won the trust of all Eastern Churches, especially Orthodox Churches of Byzantine and Slav tradition. Indeed, there has been a considerable number of scholars, theologians, bishops and patriarchs (including the Ecumenical Patriarch, His Holiness Bartholomew I), who have been students at this institute, because they had complete trust in the institute’s fidelity to authentic Eastern tradition.
The Eastern Churches in communion with Rome are given the name of bridge-Churches. It is quite true that our institute does build this sort of bridge! Through its century-old history, it has been able to educate generations capable of taking on this function of bridge, union, communion, friendship, respect and admiration between Orthodox and Catholic Churches.
It is here that we have strengthened and sometimes discovered our Eastern identity, and knowledge of our history, Fathers, spirituality, theology, canon law and liturgy...
That is why we are all gathered here today in our dear institute to commemorate, celebrate and give thanks for that.  
 The Pontifical Oriental Institute has been a school for the Melkite Greek Catholic Patriarchate. Our Melkite Greek Catholic Church has been able better to understand its identity, role and mission through the just-mentioned ecumenical movement.       This is how Metropolitan Neophytos Edelby came up with this splendid definition or description of our Church: “We are Arab, but not Muslim; Eastern, but not Orthodox, Catholic, but not Latin.”
These words are far more than a limiting, isolating and reductive definition. They explain our mission and role to, in and for this predominantly Muslim Arab world, allowing or rather encouraging us to be Church of the Arabs and even Church of Islam. They explain our unique, irreplaceable mission and role, with regard to Orthodoxy and the Church of Rome. The Church of Rome is truly catholic through us and the other Eastern Churches in communion with the one who “presides in charity.” Furthermore, it is through the friendship of many Orientalists and Pontifical Oriental Institute students with the Melkite Greek Catholic Church, its patriarchs, bishops and religious, that they were able to be introduced to the liturgy and spirituality of Orthodoxy.
My greeting to you comes from this Melkite Greek Catholic Church and from Damascus, Syria and the Middle East, which is living through its long, tragic way of the cross.   
I am honoured by the fact that this centenary celebration carries a very significant title in relation to Damascus, “Damasco prisma di speranze. Prospettive educative, attese e speranze del possibile ritorno alla città simbolo di un conflitto esteso a tutto il Medio Oriente.”
This title is particularly agreeable to me. In fact, my pastoral letter of Pascha 2016 is entitled, “Way of the Resurrection: road to Jerusalem, road to Damascus.” The three roads of the Resurrection, Jerusalem and Damascus are closely linked, spiritually, theologically and geographically.
Jews and Muslims give great importance to Jerusalem, religiously, nationally, politically and sentimentally (in popular piety). We Christians have a rather lower sense of Jerusalem, the Holy City as being important from a liturgical perspective and as a goal of pilgrimage.
As for Damascus, this city is linked to Jerusalem, in Palestine, the Holy Land, in the Bible. Indeed, it is said that Jesus was born in Palestine, died and rose in Jerusalem, but Christianity was born in Syria. The Acts of the Apostles mentions the presence of Arabs on the day of Pentecost: I think this refers to Arabised Jews from Damascus and Nabateans from Arabia, of whom Saint Paul speaks in his Epistle to the Galatians, recalling memories of his conversion on the Damascus road, very probably in my native town of Daraya, nine kilometres south-west of Damascus. That shows us that Christianity had spread first to Damascus, in Syria, after Jerusalem and Palestine, which, historically and geographically, constituted part of Syria.
After this historical and geographical excursus, let me quote some passages of my Paschal Letter, which I have just mentioned:
“Road to Jerusalem: way to the resurrection
Jesus walked on the path of the people in his life on this earth. After the Resurrection he also walked along the paths of his apostles and disciples on the road to Emmaus, in Galilee, and on the shores of the Sea of Galilee, and on the streets of Jerusalem ... he also appeared to Saul on the road to Damascus.
“We all need to take the Jerusalem road, and to meet Christ along the Jerusalem road, as well as on the road to Damascus! The road to Damascus and Jerusalem are both the way to the resurrection. We all need this encounter with Christ, risen from the dead, whether on the road to Jerusalem, or on the road to Damascus, and all the other roads and paths of our lives.
“Today, in the face of the tragedies of the peoples of our Middle Eastern countries, especially in Syria and Iraq, we are all walking on the path of Golgotha. But as the way of the cross led to the glorious Resurrection, so we pray to get through the way of the cross in Syria, especially to the joys of the Resurrection.
“In this sense, Pope Francis said during his visit and his pilgrimage to Jordan (24 May 2014), `Lasting peace for the entire region…urgently requires that a peaceful solution be found to the crisis in Syria, as well as a just solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.(2) ´ So His Holiness linked the road to Jerusalem with the road to Damascus. Today the road to Damascus has become the road to world peace, peace for our country and the whole world!
“Jerusalem is considered, in the tradition of the Eastern Churches, to be the mother of all cities, for it is the place of the resurrection. Jerusalem is still the way to resurrection and peace in the whole world. The good news of the Holy Resurrection began from Jerusalem, Damascus and Antioch. It is precisely from Damascus that Christianity and the proclamation of the resurrection were launched to the world.
“The Road to Damascus: the road to peace
Today, we feel that the way of the Resurrection passes via Damascus, Syria, and from there to the East, and to the whole world. With regret after five years of violence, war, destruction and bloodshed, the world discovers the road to Damascus, the Jerusalem road, and the road to Palestine. These roads are interconnected! They are more important than the Silk Road, the roads of oil and gas and routes of interest. This is the way of faith, and the values of faith and cultural heritage. The road of Saul, the way of Paul, the spiritual son of Damascus! And the road of the resurrection!
“All countries of the world on the road together
Together on the way! This is the reality of our lives as human beings on this earth. In all walks of life we are walking together! The lesson is for us to walk with God, and with our fellow human beings and for our fellow human beings, that they might have life, and have it more abundantly.
“This is what Pope St. John Paul II wrote in his 2005 Message for the World Day of Peace, `Can an individual find complete fulfilment without taking account of his social nature, that is, his being “with” and “for” others?´ It is beautiful to walk together: God is with us and we are with God, we are with our fellow human beings.”
That explains the importance of the Christian presence in the Middle East, a presence threatened by creeping or galloping emigration, a real tsunami, caused by the wars of the so-called “Arab Spring.” This presence is necessary for Christians if they are to continue fulfilling their unique, historic role of being evidence of the Incarnation, the physical presence of Christ in this historic and geographic context. Their disappearance in the Middle East would mean the disappearance of the presence of Christ, who took human flesh, of Eastern stock. For through our body, land, tradition and geography, we are witnesses to and for Christ.
It is in light of this physical “kinship” with Jesus that our role as Christians is defined in the Arab world in general, and in each specific country of this society, especially in the countries which are the main bearers of this role and mission, that is, Lebanon, Syria and more especially, Palestine and Egypt.  That has been shown in the pastoral letters of the Council of Eastern Catholic Patriarchs.
I have also shown in most of my pastoral letters, especially those of this year, and in the message that I addressed, as an Arab Christian patriarch, to my Muslim brothers and sisters on the fiftieth anniversary of the Second Vatican Council’s Declaration “Nostra Ætate.” (2)
Educating students at the Pontifical Oriental Institute can and should assist them to arrive at a better understanding of their very special mission in their Churches and societies.     
On that basis, let me put forward some wishes or proposals.     
The present centenary celebration gives me the opportunity to bring to your attention, dear friends, certain proposals:
       1 – Create closer links, academically, with the Synods of the Eastern Churches.
       2 – Create an academic commission to review certain points and articles of the Code of Canons of Eastern Churches (CCEO).
       3 – Help in drawing up the programmes of Catholic universities in order to introduce topics that allow students to become better acquainted with Eastern tradition.
       4 – Organise a colloquium for Greek Catholic Churches aimed at forging academic collaboration between them. That can also be done for other traditions.
       5 – Encourage our Churches to send more students to the institute.
       6 – Restart and help to resume the “Dies Orientalis” tradition.
In conclusion, I should like to recall some passages from the Apostolic Letter Orientale Lumen, issued by Saint John Paul II on 2 May 1995 to mark the centenary of Pope Leo XIII’s Apostolic Letter Orientalium Dignitas:
“On the centenary of that event and of the initiatives the Pontiff intended at that time as an aid to restoring unity with all the Christians of the East, I wish to send to the Catholic Church a similar appeal, which has been enriched by the knowledge and interchange which has taken place over the past century.
“Since, in fact, we believe that the venerable and ancient tradition of the Eastern Churches is an integral part of the heritage of Christ's Church, the first need for Catholics is to be familiar with that tradition, so as to be nourished by it and to encourage the process of unity in the best way possible for each.
“Our Eastern Catholic brothers and sisters are very conscious of being the living bearers of this tradition, together with our Orthodox brothers and sisters. The members of the Catholic Church of the Latin tradition must also 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; and that we too may be granted a full taste of the divinely revealed and undivided heritage of the universal Church which is preserved and grows in the life of the Churches of the East as in those of the West.” (no. 1)
“From the beginning, the Christian East has proved to contain a wealth of forms capable of assuming the characteristic features of each individual culture, with supreme respect for each particular community. We can only thank God with deep emotion for the wonderful variety with which he has allowed such a rich and composite mosaic of different tesserae to be formed.” (no. 5)
“I believe that one important way to grow in mutual understanding and unity consists precisely in improving our knowledge of one another. The children of the Catholic Church already know the ways indicated by the Holy See for achieving this: to know the liturgy of the Eastern Churches;(3)  to deepen their knowledge of the spiritual traditions of the Fathers and Doctors of the Christian East,(4)  to follow the example of the Eastern Churches for the enculturation of the Gospel message; to combat tensions between Latins and Orientals and to encourage dialogue between Catholics and the Orthodox; to train in specialized institutions theologians, liturgists, historians and canonists for the Christian East, who in turn can spread knowledge of the Eastern Churches; to offer appropriate teaching on these subjects in seminaries and theological faculties, especially to future priests.(5)  These remain very sound recommendations on which I intend to insist with particular force.” (no. 24)
“The words of the West need the words of the East, so that God's word may ever more clearly reveal its unfathomable riches. Our words will meet for ever in the heavenly Jerusalem, but we ask and wish that this meeting be anticipated in the holy Church which is still on her way towards the fullness of the Kingdom.” (no. 28)
+Gregorios III, Patriarch
(2) Cf. Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Decree on the Eastern Catholic Churches Orientialium Ecclesiarum, 1; Decree on Ecumenism Unitatis Redintegratio, 17.
(3) Cf. Congregation for Catholic Education, Instruction In Ecclesiasticam Futurorum, (June 3, 1979), 48: Enchiridion Vaticanum 6, p. 1080.
(4) Cf. Congregation for Catholic Education, Instruction Inspectis Dierum (November 10, 1989): AAS 82 (1990), 607 - 636.
(5) Congregation for Catholic Education, Circular Letter En égard au développement (January 6, 1987), 9 - 14: L'Osservatore Romano, April 16, 1987, p. 6