Benedict on the Role of the Pope
Peter’s responsibility thus consists of guaranteeing the communion with Christ. Let us pray so that the primacy of Peter, entrusted to poor human beings, may always be exercised in this original sense desired by the Lord, so that it will be increasingly recognized in its true meaning by brothers who are still not in communion with us.
—Pope Benedict XVI, speaking in St. Peter’s Square on June 7, 2006
Metropolitan Hilarion on the Origin of the Idea of a Strategic Alliance
The idea of a strategic alliance with the Catholics is an old idea of mine. It came to me when the Catholics were electing the new Pope.
—Russian Orthodox Metropolitan Hilarion Alfeyev, March 24, 2011
Out of a conviction that the “signs of the times” call for greater unity among Christians, and greater collaboration among all men and women of good will, to build a more free and just society than the one that seems to be emerging in the “post-Christian” West, we have decided to launch a new Foundation, called the Urbi et Orbi Foundation. We are seeking 100 founding members to join with us.
Urbi et Orbi Foundation
Realizing a Dream
An open letter with an invitation to be a founding member of our new Foundation
I am writing to invite you to become a founding member of a new Foundation dedicated to working to create a “strategic alliance” between Catholics and other Christians around the world, especially with the Orthodox, in an effort to “defend the West” by defending traditional Christian faith and values.
On Christmas Eve, we sent this same invitation by traditional mail to a select group of 1,000 prominent Catholics around the world, including a number of bishops and cardinals. We have received 30 responses and have raised nearly $50,000. But we are still far from our goal, and we need your help to reach it.
This invitation is the end result of years of work and reflection.
Sadly, our Western culture has, in so many ways, turned from the “path of life” indicated to us by the Hebrew prophets and by all the saints down through the ages, and above all by Christ himself. And where are we today?
Our Church seems often hesitant and sadly divided. And the greatest, oldest division is that between Catholics and Orthodox, West and East, Latin and Greek.
In the East, in the “heartland” of the Orthodox, in 1917, an atheist movement overthrew Orthodox Christian Russia, then spread until it conquered half of once-Christian Europe. For many of us, the images of Lenin gesticulating, Czar Nicholas and his five lovely children slumping under gunfire in a basement in Ekaterinburg, gaunt political prisoners freezing in the gulags of Siberia, are in our minds and memories… in our hearts.
And the ideas of that regime (among them, abortion, legalized in 1920 in Russia for the first time in the history of the world) have spread everywhere.
This spectacle, this suffering of so many in Russia and Eastern Europe and also in the West over the past century, has moved us to act… in this letter, through this invitation.
In Travels and Conversations…
In travels and conversations with many in Rome and Russia—including with Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict, on several occasions—the idea of this invitation was planted and is now germinating.
In order to build a movement, in order to help the Christians of the East and to strengthen them—and by strengthening them, to help ourselves—we need to have an agile structure, a small foundation which can act as a catalyst for progress between larger and less agile institutions.
In agreement with Dr. Daniel Schmidt, vice president of the Bradley Foundation of Milwaukee, Wisconsin (we have traveled together many times over the past 15 years to Russia and Eastern Europe, from Vienna to Budapest to St. Petersburg to Moscow to Kazan to Siberia, in snow and in heat), I am launching, in this letter, a new Foundation to be called the Urbi et Orbi Foundation (“To the City and to the World” Foundation).
We hope that, after reading this letter, you will choose to be a founding member, and perhaps a founding sponsor, of our new Foundation.
Our Mission: To Create a Strategic Alliance
The overarching mission of this new Urbi et Orbi Foundation will be to promote the “new evangelization” called for so urgently, first by Pope John Paul II and now by Pope Benedict XVI.
The specific mission, however, will be to fashion a “strategic alliance” among Christians, too often divided, and especially between Catholic and Orthodox Christians, in the face of increasing pressure on Christians in the West and around the world.
The Foundation aims to defend, though the hour is now late, the “Christian West.”
We believe that traditional Christian beliefs and practices built Western culture.
As these beliefs and practices are discarded in our “post-Christian” world, the life of all of us is impoverished. Those beliefs and practices were at the root of a culture which respected the dignity of human beings, of family life, of marriage, of the individual soul and conscience. We want to try to defend what we can of that culture before it vanishes.
How? By uniting the up-until-now divided forces of Catholicism and Orthodoxy, of the West and the East, of Rome and Byzantium. By creating a “strategic alliance.”
We Cannot Predict…
We cannot predict what results will come from this effort, but we would like to begin, and we hope much good will come from it. And we would like your help to do this.
The new Foundation will partner with other foundations and institutions, both Catholic and Orthodox, particularly in the area of the former Soviet Union, and especially in Russia, that country where thousands of churches were dynamited under the Communists.
In Russia, a Russian Orthodox charitable foundation based in Moscow, called the “St. Gregory the Theologian Foundation,” was launched two years ago by Russian Orthodox Metropolitan Archbishop Hilarion Alfeyev, head of the Department of External Relations of the Moscow Patriarchate (the “foreign minister,” as it were, of the Russian Orthodox Church) and directed by Leonid Sevastianov, a Russian Orthodox layman whose father was a leader of the “Old Believer” community in Russia. This foundation has collaborated on several projects with me, especially concerts of Russian music, and would like to continue to do even more.
The St. Gregory Foundation has in the past two years received major funding support from leading Orthodox Russians, amounting to some $50 million. (The funds are being used primarily to rebuild Russian Orthodox theological academies, but a certain amount will be available for specific common projects with our new Foundation.)
We have been in correspondence with Hilarion, as well as with his superior, Patriarch Kirill, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, about this effort, and we have been assured of a desire on the Russian side to work together if we are able to launch the Foundation.
In America, in conversations with former U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See Frank Shakespeare and the late Paul Weyrich, the leading figure of the “New Right” 30 years ago and a co-founder of the Heritage Foundation, we have been told in no uncertain terms that this project is of vital, critical importance for our Church, for our country, for our culture. (Indeed, Weyrich, who became a deacon in the Greek Melkite rite of the Catholic Church toward the end of his life, told us there was no other foreign policy initiative more critical to the future of the United States than an effort to make contact and build friendships with the Orthodox of the East, and particularly with the Russian Orthodox.)
During the coming year, therefore, our first aim will be to co-sponsor with the Moscow-based St. Gregory Foundation projects in Russia and Eastern Europe. Our goal: to demonstrate that it is possible for Catholics and Orthodox to work together while not yet fully reconciled ecclesially.
Essentially, it will be an effort to build trust and friendship between the Catholic and Orthodox Churches.
Our Ultimate Goal: Reunion, and a Time of Peace
The ultimate goal of the Urbi et Orbi Foundation, however, is the complete reunion of the Orthodox Churches with the Roman Catholic Church, that is, an end to the greatest schism in Christianity, dating from 1054 A.D.
For nearly 1,000 years, Christianity has been divided into two halves, Eastern and Western, Greek and Latin, Orthodox and Catholic. My dissertation director in graduate school at Yale University, Prof. Jaroslav Pelikan, the brilliant historian of the development of Christian doctrine, now deceased, told me in 1982, 31 years ago, that if this millennium-old division were not healed, the West, which had been nourished by these two great traditions, would inevitably fall. He counseled me to work to end this division in order to try to preserve the Christian roots of our culture.
Russia and Eastern Europe were once considered an integral part of Western culture. That region of the world, largely Orthodox, suffered enormously under Communism from 1917 till 1991 when the Soviet Union fell. Communism devastated the Orthodox world. In country after country, a state atheism sought to stamp out religious faith as “the opium of the people.” Thousands — tens of thousands — were deported, imprisoned in gulags, and executed.
But it was not Orthodox who governed these regimes. The Orthodox in each country suffered enormously.
Since 1991, religious faith has re-emerged from the catacombs in much of the East. In formerly atheist countries, the Christian faith can once again be preached openly. And this perspective opens up another possibility: that in the East, religious faith can return.
“… For We Need the East”
This possibility is part of our Foundation’s vision. We wish to help the process in the East whereby religious faith can return. And in so doing, we hope to benefit in the West, for we need the East.
In this perspective, we wish to help bring about that mysterious “conversion of Russia” predicted by Our Lady of Fatima in 1917.
The Virgin of Fatima told the little girl, Lucia: “Russia will spread its errors throughout the world…. But in the end, My Immaculate Heart will triumph. The Holy Father will consecrate Russia to Me; it will be converted, and a certain period of peace will be granted to the world.”
We would like to do our part in helping with that process, hoping that a “certain period of peace” may be granted to our world. The goal of our Foundation, in this sense, is to help, if we can, to bring a time of world peace.
A New Russian Voice Emerges
Metropolitan Hilarion Alfeyev, 46, has emerged as one of the remarkable, charismatic leaders in the Orthodox world, and particularly in Russian Orthodoxy. The Orthodox world includes 16 different national Churches (Serbian Orthodox, Greek Orthodox, Russian Orthodox, and so forth). But the most numerous and powerful of these Churches is the Russian Orthodox. So, working with the Russian Orthodox is critical in any effort to build bridges between Rome and Eastern Europe.
And in Metropolitan Hilarion we have a willing partner. “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,” Hilarion 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 just a few days ago, on January 12, speaking at Villanova University in Philadelphia during a visit to the United States, Hilarion repeated these same thoughts.
“The Orthodox and Catholics encounter the same challenges which modern times lay down to the traditional way of life. In this instance we are dealing not with theological problems but with the present and future of humanity. It is in this sphere that Orthodox and Catholics can interact without compromising their ecclesiastical identity. In other words, while not yet being the one Church, being separated by various theological and ecclesiological problems, we can find ways of interacting which would allow us to respond jointly to the challenges of the modern world.
“Together we can help people realize what the traditional Christian values are — the family, the worth of human life from conception to death, the upbringing of children, the integrity and indissolubility of marriage. All of these concepts in the modern secular world are subjected to a radical re-evaluation.”
The Vision of Pope Benedict
In Rome, the successor of St. Peter, Pope Benedict XVI, is now 85 years old (he will turn 86 in April). He is daily speaking beautiful, eloquent, powerful words of faith, of self-sacrifice, and of holiness at a time when many do not want to hear those words. Our magazine, Inside the Vatican, founded in 1993 (we are celebrating our 20th anniversary in 2013) is one of the strongest supporters of this Pope.
But Pope Benedict XVI is really a lonely voice in our world right now. The vast cultural transformation which has occurred in the West since the 1960s has seen a dramatic decline in the public expression of the Christian faith throughout the West. Many of the traditions, values, beliefs, which once seemed sacred and invulnerable to attack or change are now under direct challenge.
One of the great themes of Pope Benedict’s pontificate has been the theme of Christian unity, especially unity between Catholics and Orthodox. Benedict has emphasized his pledge to ecumenism on many occasions in his almost 8-year papacy.
In his first homily as Pope, on April 20, 2005, he said his “primary” task would be to work tirelessly to unify all followers of Christ. He repeated that pledge May 29, 2005, on his first journey as Pope, to Italy’s Adriatic seaport of Bari—a pilgrimage site for many Russian Orthodox because it was the see of their beloved St. Nicholas—and called on ordinary Catholics to also take up the ecumenical cause.
We wish to be among those “ordinary Catholics” who take up that cause.
Our Vision and Plans
The vision of our new Foundation may be summarized as: “Let us work together to defend our common beliefs.”
And so we are sending this letter, and asking for a few of you, or many of you, to step forward with us.
For those of you who wish to be members of this Foundation, all that is needed is to say simply, “Yes, we would like to be members,” and we will enroll you. You will receive regular reports on what we are doing.
But we also need some financial support, some initial “seed money” to launch this initiative.
We are therefore seeking an initial amount of $250,000 to enable us to function for the next 12 months.
To do this, we are hoping to find 100 “founding sponsors” of this new Foundation, each of whom will pledge $2,500 for a total initial amount of $250,000. With these funds, we will be able to launch our work to build an alliance with the Orthodox. The initial 100 donors will be enrolled as “Founding Sponsors” and invited to meetings with Catholic and Orthodox leaders ranging from Cardinal Peter Erdo of Budapest, Hungary, to Metropolitan Hilarion himself, in venues ranging from Rome to Washington to Budapest to Moscow.
Our first year’s budget includes the following items:
• Administration: $20,000 (travel, visas, general operations)
• “Family and Society” events: $50,000 (a conference or several workshops on family life and traditional family values, with media coverage, a documentary film and other forms of social media communication)
• Education: $50,000 (joint projects between Orthodox and Catholics on the formation of young people, high school through college — academic programs, after school or Saturday social service projects, religiously-inspired leadership training, summer camp programs, summer seminar series involving Orthodox and Catholic young people doing a session with leading Catholic and Orthodox thinkers, including Vatican officials, or some European or American lay Catholic intellectual)
• Religious Formation: $20,000 (a common pilgrimage to one Orthodox and one Catholic site)
• Children’s Programs: $15,000 (a common effort to work with children in Russia, Ukraine, or Eastern Europe, perhaps with the L’Arche Community, which is well known for its work with the disabled and orphans)
• Elderly Programs: $15,000 (retirement homes, meal programs, social and spiritual activities)
• A Catholic/Orthodox Forum: $25,000 (modeled on the 2006 Catholic-Orthodox conference in Vienna, Austria, at which Catholic and Orthodox leaders began to talk openly with one another about how to “give a soul to Europe”)
• Joint Cultural Programs, Concerts: $50,000 (modeled on concerts in 2007 in Rome, Moscow, New York, Washington and Boston, and in 2010 at the Vatican, which led to deeper appreciation of the common elements of our cultural tradition)
Our Hope: Your Participation and Support
Each of you reading this letter has important obligations.
But perhaps you could consider for a moment whether an initiative like this, so in keeping with Pope Benedict’s vision of greater Church unity, may not be something you would like to support.
An alliance with the Orthodox, and especially with the Russian Orthodox, would not be something small; it could in fact be of profound importance, in the history of our Church, and of our world. Please consider that.
Please consider whether it might not be something so dramatic, so important in potential, that you might wish to support it.
So I am asking whether you might not consider joining with us in this effort to create a pragmatic alliance with the Orthodox to preserve and strengthen our common Christian faith and culture.
Please support this new Foundation, which seeks the conversion of Russia, the renewal of Christianity in the former Soviet Union, and a renewal of the Christian faith in the West. All contributions are tax-deductible under US law; we will send a receipt from our 501(c)3 non-profit to be used for your tax filing purposes. I would be grateful if you would join with me in this initiative.
May God bless and protect you and your loved ones, and may you have a happy and holy New Year.
Dr. Robert Moynihan
Editor, Inside the Vatican magazine
P.S. To become a member of this new Foundation, it is sufficient to send an email saying, “Yes, I would like to become a member,” and you will be enrolled. To become a Founding Member, we are asking for donations of $2,500. (We are seeking 100 Founding Members; we already have 20.)