4:33 PM (28 minutes ago)
to me
     ”The Church must breathe with her two lungs! In the first millennium of the history of Christianity, this expression refers primarily to the relationship between Byzantium and Rome. From the time of the Baptism of Rus’ it comes to have an even wider application: evangelization spread to a much vaster area, so that it now includes the entire Church. If we then consider that the salvific event which took place on the banks of the Dnieper goes back to a time when the Church in the East and the Church in the West were not divided, we understand clearly that the vision of the full communion to be sought is that of unity in legitimate diversity.” —Pope John Paul II (1978-2005), in Paragraph 54 of his famous encyclical on ecumenism Ut Unum Sint (“That they may all be one” — the Latin Vulgate version of Jesus words at the Last Supper, so, His last prayer with his disciples, in the Gospel of John 17:21). The entire encyclical is worth reading again….    ”Reconciliation with the Orthodox is high up on Benedict’s priority list, as it was for John Paul II. Among the many stumbling-blocks in this area, the largest ones immediately at hand reside in the suspicion and hostility to Catholicism traditionally harbored by the Russian Orthodox and Greek Orthodox churches and the chaotic, contested state of Catholic-Orthodox relations in Ukraine. Benedict XVI will keep chipping away at these obstacles in his patient manner.” —Russell Shaw, “Our Quiet Pope,” April 1, 2006 (link), writing one year after Pope John Paul’s death in 2005    ”Go, whenever invited. See and talk to people. Try to build bridges. It will be difficult, of course, but don’t lose heart. You have my blessing.” —Pope Benedict XVI, when he was still Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, a few days before the death of Pope John Paul II on April 2, 2005, and a few weeks before his election as Pope on April 19, 2005, in a private meeting with Daniel Schmidt and myself in Rome in his offices after we had been in Russia and Ukraine on a private pilgrimage, and had come to meet with him to inform him about what we had seen and heard…    ”Our kinship has been transmitted from generation to generation. It is in the hearts and the memory of people living in modern Russia and Ukraine, in the blood ties that unite millions of our families. Together we have always been and will be many times stronger and more successful.” —Vladimir Putin, President of Russia, July 12, 2021, article “On the Historical Unity of Russians and Ukrainians” (here is a link to the Kremlin publication of this essay)    ”In the Orthodox Churches, they have retained that pristine liturgy, which is so beautiful. We have lost some of the sense of adoration. The Orthodox preserved it; they praise God, they adore God, they sing, time does not matter. God is at the centre, and I would like to say, as you ask me this question, that this is a richness. Once, speaking of the Western Church, of Western Europe, especially the older Church, they said this phrase to me: Lux ex oriente, ex occidente luxus. Consumerism, comfort, they have done such harm. Instead, you retain this beauty of God in the centre, the reference point. When reading Dostoevsky – I believe that for all of us he is an author that we must read and reread due to his wisdom – one senses what the Russian soul is, what the eastern soul is. It is something that does us much good. We need this renewal, this fresh air from the East, this light from the East. John Paul II wrote about this in his Letter. But many times the luxus of the West makes us lose this horizon.” —Pope Francis, July 28, on the airplane back from World Youth Day in Brazil, in answer to a question from Russian journalist Alexey Bukalov (link)            ”Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia Kirill and Pope Francis may meet in June or July, Russian Ambassador to Vatican City Alexander Avdeyev said on Friday [February 18]. Preparations for a second meeting between Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill are underway now for around June-July,’ he said at a Russian-Italian conference in Genoa. ‘The place hasn’t been chosen yet.'” —Russian News agency Tass, “Patriarch Kirill, Pope Francis may meet in June-July — Russian ambassador,” on February 18, three days ago, quoting the Russian ambassador to the Holy See, Alexander Avdeyev, confirming that a long-rumored second meeting between Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill will in fact occur in about four months’ time… (link)    Letter #38, 2022, Monday, February 21: Bridges    As the drums of war in Ukraine and Russia beat louder — following the news just three hours ago that Russian President Vladimir Putin has recognized the autonomy of the two break-away regions in east Ukraine which the Ukrainian government wishes to retain inside the country (“Putin Declares Formal Recognition Of Ukraine Separatist Regions As Sovereign States” (link), with the report also reprinted below) — my position has not changed: this looming war would be madness, as Pope Francis said 12 days ago (link).    Perhaps some are persuaded that the social-political-economic situation of the world after the two years of the Covid virus, and the crisis looming in front of the global financial system, and the complex problems associated with German and European dependence on Russian gas and oil which is about to be pumped through a new northern pipeline which has been laid across the floor of the Baltic Sea, require military confrontation now, even if it risks terrible suffering.    But war is hell, and should be avoided, if at all possible.    Once the “dogs of war” are released, they may run rabid, and devour many precious things in unexpected and tragic ways.    So even now, the path of negotiation, and the making of agreements that can provide an architecture for peace and the common good, despite passionate cries for military action, is the right path.     And this is, I believe, the position that Pope John Paul IIPope Benedict XVI, and Pope Francis would all urge in this terrible moment of crisis.    John Paul, Benedict, and Francis have all shared one dream: that the Church might “breathe with two lungs,” that is, West and East, Roman and Byzantine, Catholic and Orthodox.    For almost 30 years, following conversations with all three men, I have been attempting to assist the process of “building bridges” so that the Great Schism might not much longer impede that spiritual, ecclesial and cultural unity which all these Popes have longed for.         John Paul wished to go personally to Russia, to meet the Russian people and to preach to them, but he could not go.     An invitation came from the Russian government but was vetoed by the Russian Orthodox Church.     John Paul wished to carry the icon of our Lady of Kazan back to Russia personally, but could not do so. He sent to icon with Cardinal Walter Kasper in August 2004, showing his esteem and love for the Russian people.    Europe should breathe with two lungs — that was John Paul’s dream…    Archbishop Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz, the man Pope John Paul sent to Moscow in 1992, after the Soviet Union fell, to rebuild the tiny, much persecuted Catholic Church in Russia, reaffirmed to me many times that Ukraine would play a critical role in the long-hoped for fulfillment of John Paul’s vision, that East and West should “breathe with two lungs” — something that would allow shared prayers, shared faith, shared work, shared visions for a common and prosperous future.    He was right, as the events of today show.    Ukraine is the precious cornerstone, or pivot point, where these historic divisions could be healed in order that the lungs function together…    For this reason, we have sought to “build bridges” at every opportunity, so that the dream may be realized, a dream of peace and collaboration, not of fear and bombs and war.    Pope Benedict focused, laser-like, on the secularization and relativism of the West, on the loss of the West’s Christian identity. We are now, arguably, a “post-Christian” culture.    So it was natural for him to continue pursuing contacts with the East, with the Orthodox, who are still numerous in the Eastern European countries, in an attempt to once more “give a soul to Europe” (link), a Catholic-Orthodox conference which was a fruit of John Paul’s 2004 decision to freely give back to Russia the precious icon of Our Lady of Kazan.    Benedict’s difficult and contested pontificate ended with his resignation in 2013, but he left the way open for Pope Francis in 2016, on February 12, to have the first meeting, face-to-face, of a Pope of Rome with the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Kirill, in Havana, Cuba.    And in the midst of these latest tensions, it was just announced that Francis and Kirill will meet again in June or July.    So there seem to be reasons for hope even as the darkness seems to deepen, even as the tensions and the rhetoric ratchets up to new levels of anger and distrust.    And now there comes news that the “foreign minister” of the Russian Orthodox Church, Metropolitan Hilarion Alfeyev, just two days ago on February 19 visited the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, where the body of Jesus was laid after His crucifixion — the place where the Orthodox for centuries have gathered on each Easter Sunday morning to be present when the Holy Fire, a kind of blue flame which has no heat in it, emerges from the stone on which Christ lay, as if a sign of the healing of the world by a fire that burns but does not consume.     John Paul’s vision was that the Church, and Europe and the West as a whole, should work its way back from the 20th century horrors.    Benedict shared that vision, as he sought to overcome a terrible “dictatorship of relativism” and draw people back to the goodness of God.     And, Francis, too, in his meeting with Kirill, and in his second meeting upcoming with Kirill this summer, seeks to create a “bridge” between East and West.    So, despite all the sound and fury of the media and the leaders of various countries, there remains hope.    ”Be not afraid!” John Paul II told us.     John Paul counseled us to go on, even in the dark times, to make a pilgrimage toward the light, toward Christ.    Benedict also counseled us to travel with this same goal.    Francis also has counseled us to pursue this same end.    Whether people agree or not, this in fact is the underlying, fundamental, key dynamic of our time: the restoration of the unity of the Christian world. 

About abyssum

I am a retired Roman Catholic Bishop, Bishop Emeritus of Corpus Christi, Texas
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