By Fr. George Welzbacher
Apri 15, 2007
As the second anniversary, April 19th, of Pope Benedict's election to the papacy comes round it is clear that Benedict has set himself three principal goals (and three very challenging tasks): 1) to inspire a mass movement of fervent prayer (with corresponding repudiation of all that contradicts Christ's teachings, most particularly the pornographic filth that has engulfed so much of Europe), in order to bring Europeans back to the practice of the Christian faith; 2) to reinvigorate the Church internally by restoring to the liturgy and to Catholic devotional life many of the ancient practices and symbols that were heavily laden with mystical power and that imparted a sense of corporate identity; and 3) intensively to promote reconciliation with the Orthodox Christian East. Though much ground remains to be covered on all three fronts, visible progress towards each of these goals is being made.
With respect to his appeal to Europe to return to the Faith, it is encouraging to note that Pope Benedict's public addresses each Wednesday consistently draw crowds to St. Peter's Square that on average surpass those attracted even by Pope John Paul; on Easter Sunday this year the crowd in St. Peter's Square was one of the biggest in papal history. Adding momentum to the movement to recognize and honor Europe's Christian foundations is the clearly perceived threat to Europe that is now being mounted by Extremist Islam. Even some well-known non-believers such as the German philosopher Juergen Habermas, who, shaken by 9/11, shared a platform in 2004 with (then) Cardinal Ratzinger to emphasize society's moral foundations, or social commentators such as Italy's Oriana Fallaci, (deceased of late, an atheist no more) who for the Europe of the future coined the term "Eurarabia", have come to regard the Church and its teachings as a fundamental force in helping Europe to remain Europe. Before she died Ms. Fallaci famously exclaimed that, it was "only the writings of Ratzinger" that provided her with a modicum of hope.
With respect to the energizing of the liturgy Pope Benedict has stressed what he had stressed before as Cardinal Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, namely, that the de facto widespread expunging of Latin from the liturgv of the Catholic Church--a cultural lobotomy in NO way authorized by the Second Vatican Council--has deprived vast multitudes of Catholics of a potent symbol that reaffirmed their unity with Catholics around the globe countless generations of the Catholic past. He recently reminded the committees of bishops currently engaged in revising the translations of the Latin texts for the canon of the Mass that these translations should actually convey what the Latin text says, most notably with respect to the words of consecration of the Precious Blood, namely, that the Latin words "pro mullis' shall be rendered henceforth as "for many" and NOT (as currently is the practice) as "for all." Other mistranslations or tendentious omissions in the vernacular rendering of the Latin texts are to be corrected as well.
But the most encouraging progress can be seen on the frontier of relations with the Orthodox Churches of the Christian East. Here Pope Benedict is walking with remarkable success in the footsteps of Pope Paul VI and Pope John Paul the Great. Pope Benedict's high evaluation of the psychological impact of symbols is vindicated (to cite but one example) by the positive reaction of Orthodox Christian churchmen to Benedict's choosing to wear a form of the pallium-the strip of lamb's wool draped over his shoulders and hanging down upon his chest and back, a sign of archiepiscopal authority-that was prevalent in the early Church, when Greek East and Latin West were still in concord. In a pages-long cover story on Pope Benedict in the New York Sunday Times Magazine for this Easter Sunday 2007 reporter Russell Shorto made the following comment: "Father [Keith] Pecklers [a professor of liturgical history at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome] told me, 'I met in the past six months with Orthodox leaders in Europe .... And they all commented on that [the pope's wearing an early form of the pallium]. They said, 'You have no idea what that meant for us, that symbolic desire to reconcile with us.'"
In the same tone an extremely encouraging testimonial to Pope Benedict's effectiveness in encouraging rapprochement with the Eastern Orthodox Churches graced the Op-Ed page of Easter Sunday's New York Times. Archbishop Demetrios, Primate of the Greek Orthodox Church in the United States, had this to say.
More than an Easter in Common
Today, Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic and Protestant Christians have the wonderful opportunity to celebrate Easter together on the same date. To many, that idea might sound natural, since the celebration of Easter speaks to the most central aspect of the Christian faith: the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.
Regrettably, though, the phenomenon happens only every few years. Most years the date of Easter observed by Eastern and Western Christians varies from one to four weeks. The explanation is complex-a matter of calendrical calculations and astronomical applications based upon the lunar cycle. So whenever a common celebration of Easter does occur, it constitutes a true blessing.
With that in mind, I would like to point out a remarkable occurrence in the history of the long walk toward Christian unity: the visit last November of Pope
benedict XVI, the 264th successor of St. Peter the Apostle, to the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople, in Istanbul, at the invitation of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew 1, the 270th successor of St. Andrew the Apostle and spiritual leader of the world's Orthodox Christians.
While historic, this was not the first visit of a pope to the Ecumenical Patriarchate: Pope Paul VI and Pope John Paul II had visited in 1967 and 1979, respectively. (Patriarch Athenagoras, Patriarch Dimitrios and the present Patriarch Bartholomew in turn visited the Vatican several times.) These meetings are important because they offer hope in view of the long and painful history of separation between the Christian Churches, which officially occurred in 1054, the result of historical circumstances, theological differences and misunderstandings.
The exchange of visits has contributed to a rapprochement of the two churches and to more examination of those things that unite--as well as separate--Roman Catholicism and Orthodoxy. In fact, just two months before the visit of Pope Benedict to Istanbul, the official international dialogue between the Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church had resumed for the first time since 2000.
That is too long a period of inactivity. But, happily, the dialogue is scheduled to continue with a meeting tentatively planned for Ravenna, Italy, in May. There is a strong possibility that both Pope Benedict and Patriarch Bartholomew will be present.
Their meeting last November was therefore of much more than symbolic importance. I had the honor to be with the patriarch and the pope throughout the visit, and I witnessed firsthand a genuine atmosphere of mutual understanding and respect. The patriarch and the pope clarified, in a common declaration, that our churches share much in terms of our commitment to safeguard human rights and religious freedom, to protect our natural environment from human harrn and to advocate for justice and peace---especiafly as we are mindful of those who live with poverty, threats of terrorism, war and disease. Because the world's Christian population stands at nearly 33 percent, or 2.1 billion people, our work to alleviate dire conditions is of global significance.
Our common celebration of Easter this year raises two hopeful perspectivesfor us to consider: first, the steps that we are taking toward the reconciliation of the churches; and second, the rediscovery of the holy and the sacred in human life and, ultimately, the discovery of the transcendent. Here are two things worth not only considering, but seriously pursuing.