Monday, March 18, 2013

Pope Francis, Healer of Schisms

 Pope Francis (then Cardinal Bergoglio) with Catholicos Karekin II of the Armenian Apostolic Church

This title is merely a hunch I have, a hunch drawn from some bits of evidence.  Day by day I seem to be growing in the conviction that our newly-elected Holy Father Francis will be the one to begin healing, permanently, the schisms of the Church. 

It is clear to see that Pope Francis has an ecumenical heart, from his encounters with the Jews (including his recent book of interreligious dialogue, Sobre el cielo y la tierra) and his warm relationship with many Argentine Protestant leaders.  Not only that, but he has experience of the Eastern Church, being ordinary of the Eastern Catholic Churches in Argentina while he was archbishop of Buenos Aires.

His inaugural Mass will prove a stupendous ecumenical event, I am certain.  It began with Patriarch Bartholomew I's declaration of his intention to attend this inaugural Mass, the first time this has occurred since 1054, the year of the Great Schism.  News on the details of the inaugural Mass, as reported by Elizabeth Scalia, confirms it more.  First is the fact that the Gospel will be chanted, not in Latin, but in Greek.  Although it seems that chanting the Gospel in Greek at a Papal Mass is a tradition (though not always followed recently), the fact that this is the only language of the Gospel strikes me as ecumenical.  It reminds me of the joint reading of the Nicene Creed in Greek (without the Filioque) by Pope Bl. John Paul II and Patriarch Demetrius I, as well as by Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI and Patriarch Bartholomew I.  This in turn harks back to an old practice I read about in The Mystagogy of the Holy Spirit by Patriarch Photios I (known by the Orthodox as St. Photios the Great), an ardent opponent of the Filioque).  In this work (§§87-88), Patriarch Photios reports how Pope St. Leo the Great had the people of Rome begin the tradition of reciting the Creed (in its original form) in Greek, rather than Latin, and (if I remember correctly) this tradition was continued, for example, by Pope St. Zachary.  The reading of the Gospel in Greek in Pope Francis' inaugural Mass reminds me of these events, both old traditions and new ecumenical efforts.

The second detail that I find fascinating is that the Patriarchs and major Archbishops of the Eastern Churches (I assume Eastern Catholic Churches, not all Eastern Churches) will join the Holy Father in venerating the tomb of the Holy Prime Apostle St. Peter.  As an Eastern Catholic in utero, I find this a tremendous gesture.  One of the big problems among Eastern Catholics is the feeling of being treated as second-class citizens.  (Incorrect use of terminology, a.k.a. applying specifically Latin Rite language to an Eastern Rite, affects this, I think, which I will cover in a soon-to-come post.)  Eastern Catholics can have the feeling of being treated as "the Catholics who talk funny," that is, just Roman Catholics with a different language.  The Latinization of Eastern Churches (a.k.a. forcing them to replace or augment Eastern traditions with Latin ones) was a big source of contention, and, though it is much better due to efforts in the past century, especially following Vatican II, the Eastern traditions are still not in their full flourish (such as the tradition of married priests, which is still heavily restricted among many Eastern Catholics).  Besides this, there is the general lack of knowledge about the Eastern Church, and especially the Eastern Catholic Churches, among Latin Rite Catholics.  In short, the Eastern Catholics can feel short-changed and treated as second-class Catholics, and I think this is something else Pope Francis can help heal.  Treating Eastern Catholics as true Catholics can, I think, give a huge boost to ecumenical efforts, because Eastern Orthodox will see that their traditions will not just be denigrated and treated as worthless compared to Latin traditions.  Honoring the heads of the Eastern Catholic Churches, as Pope Francis is doing at his inaugural Mass, will be a great first step, I think.

In conclusion, I have a hunch, based on bits of evidence, that Pope Francis will begin to permanently heal the schisms of the Church, and his past work, along with just the details of his inaugural Mass, seem to support this.  May my hunch be a truthful prediction.

St. Bonaventure, the Franciscan who worked for unity at the Second Council of Lyons, pray for us!

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