GATHERING CLERGY, SCHOLARS, MEMBERS OF the media and activists from 12 nations and more than 8 Christian churches of Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant communions, the Urbi et Orbi Foundation held its first annual Dinner and Retreat to celebrate two years of “building bridges” between the East and West, so that Christianity may “breathe,” as Pope St. John Paul II said, with its “two lungs.”
Graciously hosted by the papal nuncio to the US, Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, at the beautiful Papal Nunciature, a dinner for 100 featuring Greek and Russian cuisine was the centerpiece of the two-day event in Washington, D.C., December 10-11. The event included a Mass at Washington’s Cathedral of St. Matthew, with breakfast and spiritual reflection; and a roundtable discussion on current events threatening peace in the Eastern hemisphere and their interplay with the Eastern Churches, at the National Press Club.
Foundation members and distinguished guests lent their presence—and gave of their treasure—in support of the Foundation’s commitment to solidarity in the face of rising worldwide secularization.
Representatives of the Catholic Church in attendance included Archbishop Viganò; Msgr. Duarte da Cunha, General Secretary of the Council of the European Bishops’ Conferences; Bishop Brian Farrell, Secretary of the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of Christian Unity; his brother, Bishop Kevin Farrell, Ordinary of the Diocese of Dallas; and Fr. Ronald Roberson of the USCCB Secretariat for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs.
Msgr. da Cunha addressed the gathering with brief words of encouragement, and Bishop Brian Farrell spoke about the work of his Vatican department, a direct beneficiary of Urbi et Orbi Foundation support. Fr. Cassian Folsom, OSB, prior of the Benedictine Abbey in Norcia, Italy, gave an after-dinner reflection on “division and unity” as it relates to the Eastern and Western Churches, seen through the lens of monasticism.
The Byzantine tradition was represented by both Orthodox and Eastern-rite Catholics, including Alexey Komov of the Moscow Russian Orthodox Patriarch’s Commission on the Family; Archpriest Bohdan Ogulchanskyi of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church in Kyiv; Metropolitan Stefan Soroka, head of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church in the US; and Ambassador Patrick Nickolas Theros, Representative in the US of the Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem, with his wife Stacy Theros. Also present were Vicente Segu, General Director of Fundacion Incluyendo Mexico and an influential leader in the Mexican movement to promote Catholic values and respect for life; Larry Jacobs, Managing Director of the World Congress of Families; and Diego von Stauffenberg of the National Organization for Marriage, among many others who share the Foundation’s philosophy and goals.
Other guests represented a new generation of young intellectuals in the East, among them Igor Novokov of Belarus, Leonid Sevastianov of Russia, and Alex Sigov of Ukraine, who are each working to bring Christ, and His message of spiritual freedom and hope, into the cultural milieu of their countries, still struggling to rebuild the faith that decades of communism persecuted.
The following morning, these three were joined by Portuguese Msgr. Duarte da Cunha, Secretary of the European Council of Catholic Bishops’ Conferences, located in Switzerland, and Fr. Josiah Trenham, Greek Orthodox pastor from Northridge, California, USA, for a roundtable discussion moderated by Dr. Moynihan at the historic National Press Club.
Craig Richardson, President of the Foundation’s Board of Directors, introduced Dr. Moynihan and the seven panel members, who brought to the lively conversation different perspectives on current events in their different countries.
Copies of the video recording of the discussion and questions and answers that followed are available on DVD from the Urbi et Orbi Foundation, [email protected].
BISHOP BRIAN FARRELL, SECRETARY OF the Vatican council for the Promotion of Christian Unity, began his post-prandial remarks by thanking Archbishop Viganò for encouraging him to attend despite a long travel schedule the day before, and Robert Moynihan for his work “promoting reconciliation between the East and the West.” He also noted the presence of his brother and “brother bishop” – the Ordinary of the Diocese of Dallas, Texas, Bishop Kevin Farell – whom, he said, “I don’t get to see that often.”
Bishop Farrell underscored the Catholic Church’s reasons for seeking Christian unity, saying, “We are all convinced of the need for unity, and yet we are not united. We are all convinced that it’s a scandal… If the Church doesn’t fulfill its mission, it’s because we are divided. If the world does not believe, it’s because we speak different messages…and people are confused,” he said.
He then explained the evolution of the ecumenical movement within the Catholic Church since its substantial beginnings in the 1960s, and the thrust of his Vatican department’s efforts to promote unity today.
Ecumenical efforts began in earnest, Bishop Farrell said, with the papacy of John XXIII. Before that, he said, most Catholics, including the clergy, were of the attitude that all non-Catholics were simply “outside the Church.”
Then, in 1959, Pope John XXIII was moved by the Holy Spirit to convoke the Second Vatican Council. His announcement to Vatican prelates was met with “shocked silence.” Characteristic of Pope John’s indomitable conviction and good humor, he responded, “I take it your silence means you all approve.”
When Pope John additionally made known his intention to invite non-Catholic observers to the Council, he was met with further disbelief. “They said, ‘We don’t even talk to them,’” quipped Bishop Farrell. But, he said, a “great miracle” happened: within three years, the Second Vatican Council issued a document supporting ecumenism.
The document emphasized two points, he said, “the shared baptism of all Christians—baptism into Christ’s Body,” and the conviction, quoting the document itself, that “the Holy Spirit does not refrain from using these churches and communities for the salvation of their members.”
Bishop Farrell then went on to explain the activities of the Catholic Committee for Cultural Collaboration, originally formed under his Vatican department in 1964 by Pope Paul VI for “reestablishing fraternal ties between the Catholic Church and the venerable Eastern Churches.” During the Cold War period, “it was a different world,” he said, and relations with the Eastern Orthodox Churches, many of them behind the Iron Curtain, had to be handled delicately and discreetly.
Today, a main activity of the Committee is to provide scholarships to Orthodox students so they can study at Catholic universities in Rome or other European cities. “These students are able to understand the Catholic Church more deeply,” says Bishop Farrell. “Most graduates become partners in dialog” between the Orthodox and Catholic churches.
He confirmed this observation with an anecdote: Bishop Farrell related that, at the conclusion of one of the visits of the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew to Rome, he himself had arrived to ferry Bartholomew to the airport, only to discover that he was nowhere to be found. Bartholomew, it turned out, had left the Vatican to have a cup of coffee…at a special café he remembered fondly from his days as a student in Rome in the 1960s.
Bishop Farrell’s other main focus is a series of social initiatives that involve Catholics as well, in cities like Moscow, Minsk, and Lebanon. His remarks concluded with an appeal to all those present to exercise their generosity in supporting the Urbi et Orbi Foundation, which plans to support Bishop Farrell’s office in the coming year as it fosters East-West cooperation through scholarships, ecumenical events and charitable outreach.
Experiences of Division and Unity
American Fr. Cassian Folsom, OSB, is famous for single-handedly refounding the Benedictine monastery located at the birthplace of St. Benedict in Norcia, Italy. In Rome, it is viewed with admiration as a center of spiritual and intellectual energy. The search for Christ is attracting countless pilgrims to Norcia—they come for a day and stay for a month, participating with the monks in their daily round of prayer and praise of God, and eating the lentils and spelt that flourish in the great plains of the Sibillini Mountains above the walled city of Norcia.
Fr. Cassian will be the first to say that his own spiritual journey and his own Benedictine Order draw deeply from the fountains of the Eastern tradition.
This is why, as the Holy Spirit has moved many in the past two generations to long for, and work toward, closer union between the divided branches of Christendom—East and West—the experience and mission of Father Cassian has come to symbolize an entire movement for the unity of the Church. His spiritual—and also practical — reflection after the dinner is summarized here.
Fr. Cassian offered his reflections on division and unity in light of a pilgrimage he made to the “Holy Mountain” —Mt. Athos, the center of Greek Orthodox monasticism—near Thessaloniki in Greece. Traveling on foot in his Roman Catholic Benedictine habit, he said, he visited an Orthodox monastery where he was greeted by a monk who suggested he be baptized. “That,” he commented dryly, “was as an experience of division.”
Later he encountered “division” when he was segregated, as one outside the Orthodox communion, from the main body of monks both in the church during the Liturgy of the Hours, and in the refectory at meals. “This was a tangible experience of separation, in church and at table, the two main places of monastic life,” he said.
But, he continued, he also experienced unity, in the kindness of the abbots of the monasteries he visited. “I was walking with Abbot Petronius of the Romanian monastery, and as we passed a fig tree he offered one to me as a gesture of hospitality. I was very touched by that,” he said, adding that he remained in contact with the abbot for years afterward.
Regarding unity springing from the liturgy, Fr. Cassian outlined three insights he gained during his time at Thessaloniki.
THE FIRST, he said, was made manifest on the patronal feast day of the monastery, when the monks celebrated with a special meal that ran longer than usual, past the time for afternoon prayer in the church. Rather than shortening or amending prayer, the abbot assigned three or four monks to go pray at the church and then return. The lesson: “It’s best not to tamper with the liturgy. If you can’t do it all, do what you can, and let God take care of the rest.”
THE SECOND INSIGHT was what Fr. Cassian called “an intuitive understanding of the liturgy” which was demonstrated by an old monk who saw him struggling to follow the prayers chanted by the monks one morning. Gesturing more than speaking because of the language barrier, the monk communicated to him something along the lines of, “Just put the book aside, say the ‘Jesus’ prayer, and you’ll be all right.” He observed, “Our understanding of the liturgy is with both the mind and the heart, but perhaps the heart is more important.”
FR. CASSIAN’S THIRD INSIGHT came when he attended a liturgy in which the priest “rattled things off and rushed through it” out of duty, in a hurried and distracted manner. He concluded that “abuses are possible in any ritual form; the issue is not the form, but the spirit behind the form.”
Despite our division, unity is something every Christian must not only desire, but work toward, he said. “We can’t wait for others to renew the Church; the responsibility is ours,” he said. “It takes just one man… not structures, not planning—those are useful but secondary,” he continued. “But we can foster greater understanding as individuals.”
To that end, Fr. Cassian counseled that individuals 1) learn how to pray, as prayer itself will bear its own fruit; 2) read Church history for deeper understanding of the present; 3) attend Oriental-rite liturgies; 4) go on pilgrimage to the Orthodox holy places, where, he said, “spiritual depth is quite tangible;” and 5) study languages, to be able to communicate.
Finally, he suggested that Roman Catholic and Eastern communities practice exchange at a liturgical and social level. Attend patronal feast day celebrations at each other’s parishes, do pro-life work together, practice works of charity, he said. Fr. Cassian concluded by inviting his audience to consider the spokes of a wheel: “At the rim, you don’t want the spokes too close… There, diversity is good.”
“But,” he continued, “unity is found at the hub—at the heart and hub, and that is Christ.”