Benedict XVI’s efforts to have dialogue with other religions and to reunite all Christians were among his priorities.

Nobody can deny that liturgy and ecumenism were two key aspects of Benedict XVI’s pontificate. In fact, they can be regarded as the two sides of the same coin, in the sense that a correct liturgical approach bolsters the religious faith and identity of Catholics, far from diluting them, thus making their outreach to non-Catholics more credible and convincing.

Pope Benedict.

Pope Benedict.


Liturgy and Ecumenism

Presiding over the ecumenical celebration of Vespers in the Basilica of St. Paul Outside-the-Walls on January 25 this year (Feast Day of the Conversion of St. Paul the Apostle), to wrap up the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity (18-25 January), the Holy Father in his homily referred to communion in the same faith as the basis for ecumenism.

In fact, as St. Paul himself said, unity is given by God as inseparable from faith: “There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all” (Eph. 4:4-6).

The baptismal profession of faith in God, the Father and Creator, who revealed himself in his Son Jesus Christ, pouring out the Spirit who gives life and holiness, already unites Christians, Benedict continued.

Without faith — which is primarily a gift of God, but also man’s response — the whole ecumenical movement would be reduced to a form of “contract” to enter into out of a common interest. The Second Vatican Council reminds Christians that “the closer their union with the Father, the Word, and the Spirit, the more deeply and easily will they be able to grow in mutual brotherly love” (Decree Unitatis redintegratio, 7).

Doctrinal issues that still divide us must not be overlooked or minimized, the Pope went on. They should rather be faced with courage, in a spirit of brotherhood and mutual respect. Dialogue, when it reflects the priority of faith, can open to the action of God with the firm conviction that we cannot build unity alone: it is the Holy Spirit who guides us toward full communion, who allows us to grasp the spiritual wealth present in the different Churches and ecclesial communities.

“Since the inception of his pontificate, Benedict XVI has placed ecumenical dialogue among the priorities of his ministry and in many cases his words have strongly expressed the hope that all who believe in Christ rediscover the unity of the first hour of the Church,” a Vatican Radio note said on the opening day of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. “Reflecting on the early years of Christianity, Pope Benedict XVI recalled on an occasion the intervention St. Paul had to resort to already at the time of the first Corinthian believers” when controversies and divisions emerged. “Is perhaps Christ divided?” St. Paul asked, with great firmness.

“The temptation of discord,” continued Vatican Radio, “is actually old even among those who have been created to be one. And the consequence of that ‘offense to Christ,’ as the Pope has highlighted several times, is that the division among Christians is often a black screen that does not reflect the full presence of God to the rest of humanity.” In this way, the Radio recalled Joseph Ratzinger’s complaint that “the world suffers from the absence of God, the inaccessibility of God, and desires to know the face of God. But how could and can today’s men know the face of God in the face of Jesus Christ if we Christians are divided, if one teaches against the other, if one is against the other? Only in unity can we really show this world, that needs it, the face of God, the face of Christ.”

It is therefore not surprising that four out of the “Ten Reasons for Catholics to Give Thanks for Pope Benedict,” as featured in the Cath­olic Herald (February 12, 2013), were precisely focused on the above two fundamental points of his legacy. Namely, almost 50%, with the reform of the liturgy ranking in third position. In particular, the Herald describes his decision to lift restrictions on the older or “extraordinary form” of the Mass as “historic.”

But the promulgation of the relevant motu proprio Summorum Pontificum cura in 2007 was only a part of the wider picture commonly known as “the reform of the reform” for the renewal of the Novus Ordo, or “ordinary form” of the Roman rite.

The essential aim was to favor its more reverent, abuse-free celebration, also through a new vernacular translation, one of whose main points was for the original Latin “pro multis” to be more correctly rendered with the formula “for many” and not “for all” in English and the other languages.

The creation of the ordinariate for Anglicans ranks in the eighth position in the Herald’s rundown.



Archbishop Vincent Nichols of Westminster ordains to the Catholic priesthood three former Anglican bishops at Westminster Cathedral in London Jan. 15, 2011 (CNS photo)

Archbishop Vincent Nichols of Westminster ordains to the Catholic priesthood three former Anglican bishops at Westminster Cathedral in London Jan. 15, 2011 (CNS photo)

The Ordinariate for Anglicans

“The ordinariate for groups of former Anglicans is one of Benedict XVI’s greatest legacies,” the paper contended. “It is remarkable that he was able to create this new structure, bringing thousands of souls into full communion, without irreparably harming relations between the Catholic Church and the Anglican Communion.”

Since the establishment of the first ordinariate of this kind, the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham created on January 15, 2011, and encompassing England, Wales and Scotland, others followed suit: the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of the Southern Cross in Australia on June 15, 2012, and the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter on January 1, 2012, which includes the United States and Canada.

The above judgement was fully shared also by its direct beneficiaries and goes a long way in showing how insightful, visionary and successful was the Pope’s initiative.

“We members of the Ordinariate are in a particular way the spiritual children of His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI,” the leader of the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter, Msgr. Jeffrey Steenson, said in sign of gratitude, suggesting that one of the key pieces of his legacy is the work to reconcile Anglicans with the Church, both as pontiff, and beforehand, as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. “There is a deeper joy knowing that we are the fruit of his vision for Catholic unity,” he went on, saying that, though saddened by the news of the resignation, “we will pray and work diligently so that his labors in the vineyard might continue to bring forth a fruitful harvest” (Zenit, February 12, 2013).

In a similar vein, Msgr. Keith Newton, ordinary of the England-based ordinariate, called Benedict XVI’s pontificate an “astonishing moment in the life of the Church.”

“He has exercised his pontificate with gentle wisdom and deep humility and will be especially remembered for his clear and profound teaching,” he said. “Those of us in the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham have particular reason to thank God for his pontificate, as he opened the way for Anglicans to enter into the full communion of the Catholic Church through his Apostolic Constitution Anglicanorum Coetibus. He will forever hold a place in the hearts of those of us to whom he has been, in a particular way, a shepherd and Father.”

Monsignor Steenson echoed those sentiments: “When Pope Benedict issued the apostolic constitution Anglicanorum coetibus in November 2009, he laid a permanent foundation for the Ordinariate, to be the means to reconcile Anglican groups to the Catholic Church and that this Anglican patrimony might be shared with the Catholic Church. While the Ordinariate has been a special intention of Pope Benedict, it is now firmly established in the Catholic Church and will continue to serve as an instrument for Christian unity.”

As reported in Catholic World News (December 19, 2012), Archbishop Gerhard Müller seemed to be prodding English Catholic leaders, who have been slow to embrace the Anglican ordinariate. “Many of those who have entered into full communion through the ordinariates have sacrificed a great deal in order to be true to their consciences,” he was quoted as saying in an interview with the Catholic Herald. “They should be welcomed wholeheartedly by the Catholic community — not as prodigals but as brothers and sisters in Christ who bring with them into the Church a worthy patrimony of worship and spirituality.” A reason possibly explaining this reluctance lies with the fact that an increasing number of former Anglican clergy now turned Catholic priests are attracted by and would like to start celebrating the extraordinary form of the Roman rite, also know as the Gregorian rite, a phenomenon thus showing once again the deep intertwining and interaction between liturgy and ecumenism.


The Lutheran Church

But of no less relevance to the eyes of the Pope, due to the obvious reason of his German roots, is the ecumenical dialogue with another major Protestant denomination, the Lutheran Church. A milestone in this regard was his first visit to the Christuskirche, the Lutheran Church of Rome, in 2010 (cf. Inside the Vatican, May 2010), where he had already spoken as cardinal in 1988. Before him, John Paul II himself in an unprecedented gesture had prayed in Christuskirche in 1983. Other milestones were the cancellation of the mutual excommunications between the Holy See and Lutheran churches and the 1999 Declaration of Augsburg known as the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification. This document was worked out and subscribed to by the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity and the Lutheran World Federation. It states that the churches now share “a common understanding of our justification by God’s grace through faith in Christ,” thus implying that the conflict over the nature of justification which was at the root of the Protestant Reformation was essentially resolved. In other words, a justification that takes place by “grace,” a term that under the Declaration now includes both faith (Lutheran theory) and also works (as upheld by Catholicism). If, on the one hand, there are Catholics who question the Joint Declaration as a non-magisterial document out of line with tradition, likewise there are other Lutheran denominations that reject it.

Usually Lutheranism, and especially Nordic Lutheranism, is particularly under the spotlight during the Week of Prayer. This was the case in January, due to various reasons. First of all, as is a consolidated tradition for a number of years now, a visiting ecumenical delegation from Finland was warmly received in a private audience by the Holy Father in the beginning of the Week of Prayer, a meeting which this year took place on Thursday, January 17, 2013. The adjective “visiting” indicates that this delegation comes to Rome due to what may be construed as a “providential” coincidence: in fact, in a sort of annual pilgrimage to honor Saint Henrik, the martyr patron saint of Finland, whose feast day is January 19, right during the Week of Prayer.

And as a matter of fact, “it is fitting that our meeting take place on the eve of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity,” the Pope told his most welcome guests, who included the head of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland, Archbishop of Turku Kari Mäkinen; the head of the Orthodox Church, Archbishop Leo of Karelia and All Finland; and the Catholic bishop of Helsinki, Msgr. Teemu Sippo.

Recalling the theme of this year’s Week of Prayer, “What the Lord Requires of Us,” from the words of the Prophet Micah, the Holy Father went on, “the Prophet makes clear, of course, what the Lord requires of us: it is ‘to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with our God’ (v. 8).” As the recent Christmas season reminds us, he pointed out, God “took flesh in order to save us from our sins and to guide our steps in the way of holiness, justice and peace. Walking humbly in the presence of the Lord, in obedience to his saving word and with trust in his gracious plan, serves as an eloquent image not only of the life of faith, but also of our ecumenical journey on the path towards the full and visible unity of all Christians.”

But for us to advance in the ways of ecumenical communion, he made it clear, it is of the essence “that we become ever more united in prayer, ever more committed to the pursuit of holiness, and ever more engaged in the areas of theological research and cooperation in the service of a just and fraternal society. Along this way of spiritual ecumenism, we truly walk with God and with one another in justice and love (cf. Mic 6:8), for, as the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification affirms: ‘We are accepted by God and receive the Holy Spirit, who renews our hearts while equipping and calling us to good works.’”

It was the Pope’s hope that “your visit to Rome will help to strengthen ecumenical relations among all Christians in Finland. Let us thank God for all that has been achieved so far and let us pray that the Spirit of truth will guide Christ’s followers in your country towards ever greater love and unity as they strive to live in the light of the Gospel and to bring that light to the great moral issues facing our societies today.”

By walking together in humility along the path of justice, mercy and righteousness according to God’s will, he concluded, “Christians will not only dwell in the truth, but also be beacons of joy and hope to all those who are looking for a sure point of reference in our rapidly changing world.”

In his address to the Holy Father, the Most Reverend Dr. Kari Mäkinen, the Archbishop of Turku and All Finland, dwelt upon the particular nature of Finnish ecumenism. After having recalled to have been brought here to the eternal city together with the Finnish Catholic bishop and the Finnish Orthodox archbishop by an ecumenical tradition that started in 1985, he said he was bringing the greetings of Finnish Christians representing the nation’s three Christian traditions. “That we stand here together and present our common greetings is a visible sign of the nature of Finnish ecumenism, a sign that we are on the same journey, syn odos, testifying to our Lord, who says, ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life’ (John 14:6),” he went on. “These visits are but part of a patient and persistent ecumenical endeavor on the road towards visible unity.” To facilitate this process, he pointed out, “a shared understanding of our history in the Nordic context” is of paramount importance, as already shown in the relevant chapter of the 2010 report by the Roman Catholic-Lutheran Dialogue Group for Sweden and Finland called “Justification in the Life of the Church.”

“If we can agree about our common history, it will be much easier for us to address the different realities of our Churches and to work for the unity of the one Church of Christ today,” the archbishop continued. “This is all the more important as the 500th commemoration of the Reformation in 2017 approaches. The commemoration is ecumenical, for it is ultimately about remembering our common history, and thus about strengthening our common journey.”

In fact, in the Finnish context, “ecumenism has always been marked by the convergence of the Western and Eastern Christian paths. It would, therefore, be unimaginable for us to plan the observance of the commemoration of the Reformation apart from the perspective stretching beyond the Reformation to the time of the early Church, to our common roots.”

Therefore, he recalled as a further example of Finnish ecumenism, “when our delegation of three Finnish Church leaders visited the Patriarch of Moscow, on behalf of us all, Bishop Teemu Sippo offered Finland as a place for you, Holy Father, and the Patriarch of Moscow to meet” (cf. Inside the Vatican, Nov. 2012, pg. 40). And in the wake of this offer, Archbishop Mäkinen concluded, “we want to bid you welcome to Finland and to assure you of our prayers that Almighty God would give you strength and wisdom in your work for the unity of the Church and peace in the world.”

The “ecumenical tradition” referred to by the head of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland started in 1985 with the first ecumenical celebration of St. Henry’s Mass in the Finnish National Chapel in the Church of Santa Maria Sopra Minerva in Rome and has continued to date with a special format: Catholic Mass and Lutheran homily one year, and the opposite the following year.

This year, it was a Lutheran religious service and homily delivered by Msgr. Sippo, who addressed the Week of Prayer’s topic prepared by an ecumenical Indian group that was aptly focused on what enslaves, oppresses and discriminates against people. If the caste system in India immediately comes to mind, nonetheless Msgr. Sippo noted that this scourge is to be found to a certain extent also in our supposedly more advanced and civilized Western societies at large.

“Pope Benedict XVI writes in one of his books on man’s creation as follows: man is not coming from some evil demon, but from the good God’s will and plan. God creates man from the dust of the earth,” he went on. “All men are created from the same material, the dust. Every human being is also created as an image of God. Despite differences created by culture and history, we are all made of the same matter. And without distinction, we will all come back to the same matter again, dust. This caste system, racism and racial discrimination, are in contradiction with the biblical history of Creation and the Christian conception of man. We belong to a single human race, consisting of the same material.”

In a way, also the separations among Christian may be seen as a reflection of these divisions, that still prevent us from receiving Holy Communion together. So, as Christ himself prayed fervently for all his disciples that they may be one, he pointed out, so we must also turn to our Lord in prayer to achieve unity. And when it is fully implemented, a common Eucharist would be opened up to us. In this sense, the senior prelate concluded, we can also ask St. Henry’s intercession. In an old prayer to Finland’s apostle it is said: “Herald of the word of salvation, Henrik, master of faith, behold us from heaven and protect the vineyards which you yourself have planted. Pray to God for us!”

Benedict XVI’s visit to the Christuskirche, the Lutheran Church of Rome on March 14, 2010 (Galazka photo)

Benedict XVI’s visit to the Christuskirche, the Lutheran Church of Rome on March 14, 2010 (Galazka photo)

Besides the papal audience and the religious service at St. Henrik’s Chapel, other major highlights marked the visit of the Finnish delegation, such as the ecumenical vespers on Friday evening, January 18, 2013, at the Church of St. Bridget in Piazza Farnese, followed by a communitarian agape, viz., refreshments served as a communal meal which were generously made available in the refectory of Casa di Santa Brigida, the Bridgettine headquarter adjacent to the church, under the masterful supervision of the Bridgettine Order’s abbess, Mother Tekla Famiglietti. The vespers were presided over by the president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, Cardinal Kurt Koch, who also joined the subsequent convivial function, sitting in a warmly fraternal conversation with the other three senior prelates from Finland.

For the ecumenical agenda to advance in the right direction, personal human relations are of no less importance and can be aptly fostered also around a table with food and beverages. The fact that Cardinal Koch pre­sided over also the ecumenical celebrations on the occasion of the 40th anniversary of St. Katherine of Sweden’s chapel for the Lutheran community in Rome, underneath Casa di Santa Brigida (the mother of Katherine), goes a long way in showing how the senior cardinal and the Bridgettine Order are committed to the cause of ecumenism (cf. Inside the Vatican, Jan. 2013, pg. 55).


An Ordinariate for Lutherans?

Interestingly, the possibility of an ordinariate for Lutherans was hinted at for the first time by Cardinal Koch himself in an interview in late October 2012 (cf. Zenit, October 29th, 2012). Asked whether a solution similar to the Anglicanorum coetibus for Anglicans might have been possible for Evangelical Christians, he pointed out the ordinariate for Anglicans “was not an initiative of Rome, but came from the Anglican Church. The Holy Father then sought a solution and, in my opinion, found a very broad solution, in which the Anglicans’ ecclesial and liturgical traditions were taken into ample consideration. If similar desires are expressed by the Lutherans, then we will have to reflect on them. However, the initiative is up to the Lutherans.”

Archbishop Gerhard Ludwig Müller

Archbishop Gerhard Ludwig Müller

Interviewed on the sidelines of the presentation of his own new book on the thought of Pope Benedict XVI, Friday, January 11, 2013, the prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Archbishop Gerhard Ludwig Müller, took up the issue and did not rule out the possibility of an Ordinariate for those Lutheran faithful wishing to be in full communion with the Catholic Church (Catholic World News, 14 January 2013). Asked whether the Church, after the good results of the Ordinariate for the Anglicans, was mulling over the possibility of a similar solution for the Lutherans, the senior prelate immediately noted that “the Lutheran world is a bit different from the Anglican one, because among Anglicans there has always been a sector closer to Catholicism.” But many of these faithful, he went on, are close to the Catholic Church, unhappy as they are with some of the developments of the Anglican community, for example, the ordination of women as deacons, priests or bishops. “For Lutherans it is a bit different, but even here there are some movements that want to have full communion with the Catholic Church because they say that Luther, for example, did not want separation and division among Christians, but intended only to reform the Church.” But today, he pointed out, they also say that “after the Second Vatican Council, all these demands of the Protestant Reformation, for example, the participation of the laity in the life of the Church and the liturgy, were fulfilled and accomplished in the Catholic Church.” For this reason, “they want to become Catholic in full communion with the Church and we must be prepared to accept [them], when they want to be members of the Catholic Church, so that they can enter it, even preserving the legitimate traditions they have developed.” For example, “in Germany, the country where I am from, Protestants are not simply opposed to Catholicism, because they have retained many Catholic traditions.”

Cardinal Kurt Koch

Cardinal Kurt Koch

In an interview with Vatican Radio (January 18, 2013), Cardinal Koch said he is convinced the future of ecumenical relations, far from ecumenical talks, will be set by communion in life. Yet, despite what has been done in the last decades, unity has not been achieved yet and there is still much work to be done. In a subsequent interview with the Agence France-Presse (see also Vatican Radio, February 8th, 3013), he also announced that in the following months the Catholic-Lutheran bilateral Commission for Dialogue is due to publish a 30-page joint document taking stock of the progress made thus far, especially after the 1999 Augsburg declaration, and the hurdles still to be overcome. This document is entitled “From Conflict to Communion” and is the result of the Commission’s four years of work. Briefly bringing forward its content, the senior prelate revealed that it will feature the mutual theological comprehension on which consensus has been reached “after 40 years,” together with those issues which still remain divergent and mainly concern “fundamental life issues,” viz., bioethics.


For a Successful Ecumenical Dialogue

On a more personal level, the legacy of Benedict XVI could not have been more effective, if one looks for example at the article written for the L’Osservatore Romano (cf. English edition, February 22, 2013) by Jens-Martin Kruse, pastor of the Evangelical Lutheran Community of Rome at the time of the Pope’s above-mentioned visit to their Christuskirche, significantly entitled “Benedict XVI, An Example of Faith Also for the Lutherans.” Assuming the primary duty “to work tirelessly to rebuild the full and visible unity of all Christ’s followers,” the pastor wrote, “he was aware that, in order to do this, good intentions do not suffice.” Thus, “concrete gestures that enter hearts and stir consciences are essential, inspiring in everyone that inner conversion that is the prerequisite for all ecumenical progress.” And the actions and gestures made by the Pope, including the visit to his church, in his opinion, “have a lasting ecumenical importance, capable of showing the way.”

Msgr. Camille Perl

Msgr. Camille Perl

Back to the relevance of the traditional, pre-Vatican II liturgy for ecumenism, the author of this article remembers very clearly when he heard former deputy president of the Commission Ecclesia Dei, Msgr. Camille Perl, stress the importance of recovering the traditional vetus ordo as a valuable and almost indispensable factor of credibility for a successful ecumenical dialogue with the Orthodox, given the fact that they never experienced a liturgical reform as we did in the Catholic Church. This happened during a conference on the traditional liturgy in Rome years before the election of Benedict XVI and his subsequent promulgation of the motu proprio Summorum Pontificum in 2007, thus in a way proving Msgr. Perl right.

In fact, commentators generally agree that the relations between the Catholic Church and the Orthodox, and most notably its main component which is the Russian Orthodox Church, have improved significantly since the election of Cardinal Joseph Ratz­inger as Pope Benedict XVI, and especially in the wake of his motu proprio Summorum Pontificum for more general use of the old Latin rite, as shown for example by the late Russian Orthodox Patriarch Alexei II, who was quoted by Catholic World News (August 31st, 2007) as having said that the revival of the traditional Mass will have a positive effect on relations between the Catholic and Orthodox Churches. “The recovery and promotion of the ancient liturgical tradition is a fact that we hail in a positive way,” he was again quoted as saying in a report on his funeral in Il Giornale (December 6, 2008).


The Russian Orthodox Church

As already said, the Russian Orthodox Church is the main and most influential component of a wider Orthodox communion consisting of 14 national and administratively independent Churches (from Serbian to Greek Orthodox, from Russian to Finnish Orthodox, and so forth), which are therefore taking the Catholic ecumenical drives more seriously now that Catholics are also praying according to their revived traditions.

Thus, probably, one of the most unexpected developments in the Catholic-Orthodox ecumenical relations is that now it is not only Rome to seek to reach out to Orthodox, but also the other way around, vindicating Cardinal Koch’s vision that the future of ecumenical relations will mostly depend on a “communion in life” rather than ecumenical papers.

Metropolitan Hilarion Alfeyev

Metropolitan Hilarion Alfeyev

“The Russian Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic Church should accept each other not as rivals, but first and foremost as allies, working to protect the rights of Christians,” Metropolitan Hilarion Alfeyev of Volokolamsk, chairman of the Department of the Moscow Patriarchate’s External Church Relations, said last year, speaking at the International Christian Congress in Wurzburg, Germany. “I am asking to act as allies, without being a single Church, without having a single administrative system or common liturgy, and while maintaining the differences on the points in which we differ. This is especially important in light of the common challenges that face both Orthodox and Catholic Christians,” he continued.

“They are first and foremost the challenges of a godless world, which is equally hostile today to Orthodox believers and Catholics, the challenge of moral corruption, family decay, the abandonment by many people in traditionally Christian countries of the traditional family structure, liberalism in theology and morals, which is eroding the Christian community from within. We can respond to these, and a number of other challenges, together.

“I would like to stress, once more, that there are well-known doctrinal differences between the Orthodox and Catholic faiths, but there are also common positions in regard to morality and social issues which, today, are not shared by many of the representatives of liberal Protestantism,” Hilarion concluded. “Therefore, cooperation is first and foremost necessary between the Orthodox and Catholic Christians — and that is what I call a strategic alliance.”

And, as recently as January 12, 2013, he repeated these same thoughts speaking at Villanova University in Philadelphia during a visit to the United States (cf. Inside the Vatican, February 2013).

As a result of these improved relations, even Russia’s political authorities have paid a tribute to the outgoing Pope. On February 12, 2013, the Kremlin was quoted as having expressed its “appreciation for the personal contribution made by Pope Benedict XVI to interreligious dialogue’’ in its first official reaction to the pontiff’s abdication. “Relations between Russia and the Vatican have developed very positively since he became Pope Benedict XVI in 2005,” President Vladimir Putin’s diplomatic spokes­man Iuri Ushakov said, highlighting the establishment of full diplomatic relations between the two states in 2009.

He also acknowledged Ben­edict’s participation in the “active promotion of Christian values throughout the world’’ and said he hoped the Vatican might continue to pursue this line in the future (Ansa, February 13, 2013).

Archbishop of  Constantinople Bartholomew

Archbishop of
Constantinople Bartholomew

Deep regret for the Pope’s decision was also conveyed by other prominent Orthodox leaders, such as, for example, the Ecumenical Patriarch and Archbishop of Constantinople Bartholomew. “With his wisdom and experience he has more to offer the Church and the world,” wrote the patriarch, who leads the Greek Orthodox Church. “We Orthodox Christians will always honor him as a friend to our Church and a faithful servant to the sacred cause of everyone’s unity’’ (Ansa, Feb. 12th, 2013).

Besides the well-known main issues regarding the Petrine primacy and the Filioque controversy, one of the major hurdles hindering ecumenical relations is the fact that there are indeed divisions also in the very Orthodox community, as shown for example by the fact that the Joint International Commission for Theological Dialogue between the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church does not comprise all the national Orthodox Churches, since the Orthodox Church of Bulgaria is not part thereof. However, with the plenary session of Ravenna in 2007, the Joint Commission has ushered in a new phase in this dialogue, focusing on the role of the bishop of Rome in the communion of the Church in the first millennium, a theme which was further fathomed in the following sessions in Cyprus in 2009 and in Vienna 2010.

In conclusion, to sum it all up, with the 14 Orthodox Churches “dialogue is not easy,” Cardinal Koch was also quoted as saying in the above Agence France-Presse interview, and “the issue of the primacy remains the fundamental question.”


Judaism and Islam

Patriarch Alexei II

Patriarch Alexei II

Appreciation for the Pope’s work, and surprise and shock at his initiative, were also expressed by prominent leaders of two other important religions, Judaism and Islam.

The leader of Rome’s Jewish community paid tribute to Pope Benedict XVI following news of his resignation amid his ailing health, news portal Jewish News One reported (February 13, 2013).

“The Pope has shown a huge desire, a huge will, to emphasize the Jewish roots of Christian faith,” Chief Rabbi Riccardio Di Segni said, praising the pontiff for having written that the Jewish and Catholic faiths share a common basis. “For him to say this shows that our Jewish faith is important and positive for the Christian tradition, and demonstrates the substantial common basis between these two worlds.”

These sentiments were echoed by Israel’s Chief Rabbi, Yona Metzger, who went on to say how welcome the Pope had been in Israel, “with a lot of honor and a lot of respect.” The news of the Pope’s departure had come as a shock to him. “We were very surprised by this resignation of Pope Benedict XVI,” he was quoted as saying. “I have to say that we had a wonderful relationship. During his time, the relations with the Vatican and between the chief rabbinate in Israel were among the best in history. We signed agreements, we had dialogue between rabbis and cardinals.

“We must recognize that he did much for interreligious ties among the worlds of Christianity, Judaism and Islam,” the chief rabbi continued. “We thank him for what he did during the years of his pontificate, a mission during which he operated to bring religions closer and promote the cause of peace in the world.”

Moreover, “I had the privilege of signing with him a pact on religious ‘conversions’ on the activities of missions,” he went on. “I was greatly struck by his personality and I want to think that the tradition started by him will be continued. We are grateful to him for having remained faithful to the strategy of his predecessor (John Paul II) to strengthen relations with the Jewish people and with the rabbinate of Jerusalem. Pope Benedict XVI did much to prevent and reduce anti-Semitism. Moreover the issue of Israeli-Palestinian peace was particularly dear to him” (cf. Ansamed, February 11, 2013).

As was the case with Russia, Israel’s secular authorities also paid tribute to the outgoing Pope.

“His commitment to peace and humankind is authentic,” wrote Simon Peres in the Vatican daily L’Osservatore Romano (February 15, 2013). “He has the sincerity of a true believer, the wisdom of those who understand historical changes, and the recognition that despite our differences we must not become estranged or enemies…

“He said that the Jewish people are not responsible for the death of Jesus; he reiterated that Jews are ‘our elder brothers’ and that God has never abandoned the Jewish people. He visited Israel and the Great Synagogue of Rome to express his friendship and solidarity.”

In Jerusalem, he concluded, “we will remember him with respect and esteem for what he has done.”

The Grand Imam of Al Azhar, the main Sunni Muslim theological institution, Ahmad al Tayyed, said in his initial reaction that he had been “shaken” by the Pope’s decision. In a subsequent statement published by the Mena news agency (February 13, 2013), the Sunni institution was quoted as calling for “relations based on respect and reciprocal appreciation after the recent changes at the Vatican.”

The statement came in response to Benedict’s resignation. The Pope had been accused of meddling when he called for the protection of Christians in the region after a suicide bombing on December 31, 2010, at a church in Alexandria.

After the attack in which 21 Christians were killed, Benedict, the first pontiff to talk about “Christianophobia” in a public speech, renewed a “pressing call” to fight against “oppressions, discriminations and religious intolerance targeting Christians in particular.” He called on the “leaders of nations” to go beyond “words” to “a concrete and constant engagement.”

His statements were considered an “inappropriate interference” by the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar, Sheik Ahmed El Tayeb who described them as “an unacceptable intervention in Egypt’s affairs.”

The Pope had also sparked protest in 2006 when he quoted a Byzantine emperor who saw Islam as inhumane. The Pope later apologized to Muslims for the perceived offense caused by his speech in Regensburg, Germany. The Vatican began regular inter-faith meetings with Muslim scholars after 138 Muslim scholars wrote a letter in 2007 advocating dialogue with Christians.

Al Azhar theologians, and the students of the university bearing the same name, with its 300,000 youths from across the world, want respect for Islam.

Benedict XVI, right, stands with Rabbi Riccardo Di Segni during a visit to Rome's main synagogue Jan. 17, 2010 (CNS photo)

Benedict XVI, right, stands with Rabbi Riccardo Di Segni during a visit to Rome’s main synagogue Jan. 17, 2010 (CNS photo)

“There has been no contact yet and everything will depend on the new Pope,’’ a close collaborator of Grand Imam Ahmed El Tayyeb said, while one of his former advisors, currently theologian of the Academy of Islamic Sciences, said that the new Pope will have to show respect for Islam.

“Benedict XVI had opinions on Islam that were shocking not only to Al Azhar, but to all Muslims,”

Abdallah Al Nagar was quoted as saying. He noted, however, that there is no hostility towards the Pope, a “respectable” person in his eyes.

“But dialogue must be based on mutual respect for the other’s religion. The West’s problem is that it recognizes Muslims but not Islam,” he said.

A quick stroll around the huge university, rigorously divided between the sexes, is enough to understand that this view of Benedict XVI is widely shared.

All say that Benedict’s successor will have to show greater respect for Islam as a religion (cf. Ansamed, February 13, 2013).

In particular, Benedict’s successor will be expected to reach out to the Muslim faith.

“Al-Azhar is sensitive to changes in the Vatican,” al-Azhar’s interfaith dialogue councillor Mahmoud Azab told Adnkronos International (February 12, 2013), “and we expect the Vatican to take initiatives to improve its relations with Islam, with Muslims and with the al-Azhar itself.”


Old Rite for New Evangelization

Among the countless crosses Benedict had to carry during his pontificate, he had to endure also criticism from certain self-styled tradition-minded sectors and emissaries for some of his ecumenical initiatives, such as Assisi III and the Courtyard of the Gentiles gatherings. But the Pope has always made it clear that these initiatives were to be seen, not as a sort of end in themselves, but against the background of the New Evangelization drive, and therefore absolutely not merely cultural and philosophical forums.

And here is where the traditional Latin liturgy comes again into the picture.

Pope Benedict decided to reinstate the old liturgy with the motu proprio Summorum Pontificum as part of an effort to restore the sacred, first and foremost in the liturgical realm, and this restoration was and actually is a prerequisite for an effective and definitive solution of the crisis of the Church.

Evidently, it cannot but be also a prerequisite of the New Evangelization, and in light of this the title of a recent interview with the secretary of Foederatio Internationalis Una Voce (FIUV, the International Una Voce Federation) Thomas Murphy in Catholic World Report (August 30, 2012), “Traditional Latin liturgy, a perfect instrument of the New Evangelization,” appears to be far less provocative than one might have assumed at first sight.

FIUV is probably the oldest and most influential organization for the safeguarding and promotion of the old Latin liturgy, and unsurprisingly they were saddened by the news that Benedict XVI would leave the Chair of Peter on the last day of February 2013.

“Our founder president, Dr. Eric de Saventhem, and his successor, Michael Davies, were always welcomed in Rome by Cardinal Ratzinger who was very supportive of the aims of the Federation in promoting the traditional liturgy and restoring the traditional Mass once more to the altar,” FIUV president Leo Darroch said on its website in a tribute to Benedict XVI dated February 22, Feast of the Chair of St. Peter. “The unwavering trust of our former presidents was vindicated soon after the election of Cardinal Ratzinger to the papacy in April 2005. The promulgation of the motu proprio Summorum Pontificum, in July 2007, just over two years into his pontificate, was the act of a Pope who displayed courage in the face of great opposition.”

Mass in the extraordinary form at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington April 24, 2010. (CNS photo)

Mass in the extraordinary form at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington April 24, 2010. (CNS photo)

Darroch is of the opinion that “the immense courage of Pope Benedict XVI in declaring publicly what so many knew, but were either reluctant, or fearful of expressing, that the Roman Missal promulgated by Blessed Pope John XXIII in 1962 had never been abrogated and that this form of Mass was permissible, has brought, and will continue to bring, abundant graces to Holy Mother Church and future generations.

“With the wealth of teaching bequeathed to us, this clarification of the position of the traditional liturgy within the Church by Pope Benedict was a most historic contribution to the Magisterium of the Church in reaffirming the link in worship of generations past to generations of the future.

“The usus antiquior of yesterday is now of today, and will be of tomorrow.

What he terms the second flowering of the usus antiquior, “does indeed bring joy to our youth. Its miraculous spread and increase, of which Pope Benedict has been the providential instrument, is manifest in the growing numbers of young people who are contacting the Una Voce Federation.

“Accordingly, the International Federation Una Voce gives thanks to Almighty God for the papacy of Pope Benedict XVI, to whom we convey our filial gratitude, and to whom we give, and will continue to give, our prayers and thanksgiving.”

To those who may think that Darroch’s optimism is an exaggeration, one could respond quoting from a source that nobody could ever suspect of any biased traditionalist sentiment, the liberal secularist weekly the Economist.

“The Latin Mass Society of England and Wales, started in 1965, now has over 5,000 members,” the weekly reported in its December 15, 2012 issue. “The weekly number of Latin Masses is up from 26 in 2007 to 157 now. In America it is up from 60 in 1991 to 420. At Brompton Oratory, a hotspot of London traditionalism, 440 flock to the main Sunday Latin Mass. That is twice the figure for the main English one. Women sport mantillas (lace headscarves). Men wear tweeds.”

And there is more: “Traditional Catholicism is attracting people who were not even born when the Second Vatican Council tried to rejuvenate the Church,” the Economist went on. “Traditionalist groups have members in 34 countries, including Hong Kong, South Africa and Belarus. Juventutem, a movement for young Catholics who like the old ways, boasts scores of activists in a dozen countries. Traditionalists use blogs, websites and social media to spread the word—and to highlight recalcitrant liberal dioceses and Church administrators, who have long seen the Latinists as a self-indulgent, anachronistic and affected minority. In Colombia, 500 people wanting a traditional Mass had to use a community hall (they later found a church).”

According to the weekly, “a big shift came in 2007 when Pope Benedict XVI formally endorsed the use of the old-rite Latin Mass. Until that point, fondness for the traditional liturgy could blight a priest’s career.

“The cause has also received new vim from the Ordinariate, a Vatican-sponsored grouping for ex-Anglicans. Dozens of Anglican priests have ‘crossed the Tiber’ from the heavily ritualistic ‘smells and bells’ high-Church wing; they find a ready welcome among traditionalist Roman Catholics.”

No surprise, the Economist resorts to the word “consternation” to describe the prevalent reaction among the more modernist Catholics.

Timothy Radcliffe, once head of Britain’s Dominicans, is quoted as seeing in it “a sort of Brideshead Revisited nostalgia.”

The traditionalist revival, he thinks, is a reaction against the “trendy liberalism” of his generation. “Some swings of pendulums may be inevitable,” the weekly concludes. “But for a Church hierarchy in Western countries beset by scandal and decline, the rise of a traditionalist avant-garde is unsettling. Is it merely an outcrop of eccentricity, or a sign that the Church took a wrong turn 50 years ago?”

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