Addressing members of the Congregation for the Oriental Churches, Francis mentioned the many conflicts in the countries where Eastern Christians live, such as Eastern Europe, Tigray and Lebanon. He also warned of what the quarrel over the liturgy can do, as in the case of the Syro-Malabar Church: “If we give the scandal [. . .]we play the division master’s game,” he said.
Vatican City (AsiaNews) – Pope Francis today met in audience with members of the Congregation for the Oriental Churches, who are currently meeting in plenary assembly. In his address, the pontiff said that Benedict XV’s ignored warning about war as “useless slaughter” continues to resonate in today’s world.
The words of his predecessor, who created the dicastery and died exactly 100 years ago, gave the current pope the opportunity to re-emphasize the many steps backwards the world is taking in terms of peace.
“It seems that the highest honor for peace should be given to wars: it is such a contradiction. We have an attachment to war and that is tragic. Humanity is proud of its advancement in science and thought, in many beautiful things, but it recoils in the establishment of peace. It is the champion of waging war. This should put us all to shame. We must pray and ask forgiveness for this attitude.
“We had hoped that there would have been no need to repeat such statements in the third millennium, but humanity still seems to be groping in darkness. We have witnessed the carnage resulting from conflicts in the Middle East, Syria and Iraq, and those in Ethiopia’s Tigray region. Menacing winds continue to blow across the Eastern European steppes, lighting fuses and drawing weapons, and chill the hearts of the poor and innocent, no matter what. Meanwhile, the tragedy in Lebanon continues, leaving so many without their daily bread; young people and adults have lost hope and are leaving these lands. Yet these lands are the homeland of the Eastern Catholic Churches”.
Such tragedies touch the life of Eastern Christian communities. “Your daily existence is therefore like a mixture of the precious gold dust of your past and the testimony of the heroic faith of many in the present, with the quagmire of misery for which we too are responsible and the pain inflicted on you by the forces. Again, you are seeds on the stems and branches of age-old plants, carried by the wind to unimaginable places. Eastern Catholics have lived for decades on distant continents, having sailed the oceans and seas and crossed vast plains.
This diaspora, Francis added, is also an opportunity for the whole Church to “pay special attention to the richness of different traditions. I am thinking, for example, of the process of the adult catechumenate, which foresees the celebration of the sacraments of Christian initiation in a unitary form; a custom that the Eastern Churches have kept in practice also for children.
The long synodal tradition of the Eastern Churches is precious for the universal Church which must understand that the “synodal process is not a parliament” but a journey of “walking together under the guidance of the Holy Spirit”.
For François, “the beauty of oriental rites is much more than a simple oasis of escape or preservation”. In fact, “even the traditions which preserve the use of the iconostasis, with the royal door, or the veil which hides the sanctuary at certain moments of the rite, teach us that these are architectural or ritual elements which do not speak of estrangement from God, but rather accentuate the mystery of “condescension” – of synkatabase – by which the Word came and continues to come into the world.
Finally, addressing the question of the liturgies of the Eastern Churches, Pope Francis evoked the ongoing clash in India (without expressly mentioning it) within the Syro-Malabar Church on the “unified” liturgy.
With regard to “the form of the celebration, it is necessary that unity be lived in accordance with what has been fixed by the synods and approved by the Apostolic See, avoiding liturgical particularisms which in reality manifest divisions of another type within the respective Churches.
“Furthermore, let us not forget that our brothers and sisters of the Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox Churches are watching us: even if we cannot sit at the same Eucharistic table, we nevertheless celebrate and pray almost always the same liturgical texts.
“Let us therefore be attentive to the forms of experimentation which can harm the journey towards visible unity of all the disciples of Christ. The world needs the testimony of our communion. If we cause scandal by our liturgical disputes, and unfortunately there have been some recently, we play the game of the master of the division.