Church leaders from the different Eastern Catholic rites have been gathered in Rome this week to mark the centenary of the foundation of the Pontifical Oriental Institute and the Congregation for Eastern Churches. Pope Francis visited the Institute on Thursday and issued a mesage praising its “high achievements” and reminding it to be always attentive to the “enormous challenges facing Christians in the East”.
In 1917, in the middle of the First World War, Pope Benedict XV established the Institute to be a bridge between East and West and to make the rich traditions of the Oriental Churches available to the entire Catholic world. A century on, the Institute maintains a world class reputation for its research, teaching and publishing on all issues of Eastern theology, liturgies, patristics, history, canon law, literature, spirituality, archeology, as well as questions of ecumenical and geopolitical importance.
Jesuit Father David Nazar, is the current rector of the Pontifical Oriental Institute. Born in Canada to a family of Ukrainian origin, he’s a former superior of the Society of Jesus in Ukraine and former Provincial of the Jesuits in the English Canada Province.
He explains that the ‘Orientale’ as it’s known, is a papal institute, entrusted to the Society of Jesus, to focus on matters concerning all of the Catholic and Orthodox Eastern Churches.
Eastern treasures available to all
Since many of the Eastern Churches are smaller and lacking the resources of Christians in the West, he says, the popes were concerned to make sure that the wealth of research on liturgy, ancient traditions, and original manuscripts could be made available to Christians across the globe.
World class library
Fr Nazar says that over the past century, the Jesuits have worked hard to establish a world class library, which was funded for a number of years by friends of Pope Pius XI. It remains second to none in the world, he notes, in the study of the ancient traditions and languages of the Eastern world.
Ancient rites and traditions
Much of this work has been significant for the West as well, he adds, such as the Second Vatican Council’s document on the importance of the Eastern Churches “which would have been unimaginable without the fifty years of research that had been done at the Orientale”.