FaithWorld

Catholics and Orthodox report promising progress in latest round of unity talks

cathorth 1Roman Catholic and Orthodox theologians reported promising progress on Friday in talks on overcoming their Great Schism of 1054 and bringing the two largest denominations in Christianity back to full communion. Experts meeting in Vienna this week agreed the two could eventually become “sister churches” that recognize the Roman pope as their titular head but retain many church structures, liturgy and customs that developed over the past millennium. (Photo: Metropolitan John Zizioulas (L) and Cardinal Christoph Schönborn in Vienna, 24 Sept 2010/Leonhard Foeger)

The delegation heads for the international commission for Catholic-Orthodox dialogue stressed that unity was still far off, but their upbeat report reflected growing cooperation between Rome and the Orthodox churches traditionally centred in Russia, Greece, Eastern Europe and the Middle East.

“There are no clouds of mistrust between our two churches,” Orthodox Metropolitan John Zizioulas of Pergamon told a news conference. “If we continue like that, God will find a way to overcome all the difficulties that remain.” Archbishop Kurt Koch, the top Vatican official for Christian unity, said the joint dialogue must continue “intensively” so that “we see each other fully as sister churches.” cathorth 3(Photo: Pope Benedict XVI (L) with Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew in the Sistine Chapel, October 18, 2008/Osservatore Romano)

The rapprochement of the Catholic and Orthodox churches must be the slowest “big story” on the religion beat. About 30 theologians meet in a joint Catholic-Orthodox commission about once every year or so to see how far they have come in reassessing Christian history so that the Great Schism can be laid to rest and the two churches can move forward to full communion. These talks produced their first joint declaration back in 1982 and have had ups and downs since then. The push towards unity has clearly gained momentum since Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill took office on February, 2009.  The goal is still far off –  hey, they have 1,000 years of division to get over — but they’re getting close enough now that an agreement now looks increasingly possible.

Kirill and Pope Benedict are both conservative theologians keen to work together to have Christianity’s voice heard in Europe, a continent they both think should return to its Christian roots. They’ve met in the past, including when Kirill visited Benedict at the Vatican in his former role as “foreign minister” of the Russian church. They haven’t yet held a summit meeting, so to speak, but religion reporters in Europe keep waiting for signs they will finally set a date for their first top-level talks. The Russians aren’t the only Orthodox in the game, but their size gives them a kind of veto power that has to be considered in this equation. The Vatican has good relations with the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew in Istanbul and the new Serbian Orthodox Patriarch Irinej has invited the pope to Belgrade.

Pope, ending his British trip, recalls Nazi terror in WW2

london in blitzPope Benedict on Sunday expressed “shame and horror” over the wartime suffering caused by his German homeland and said he was moved to mark the 70th anniversary of a key air victory with Britons. (Photo: London during the Blitz/U.S. National Archives)

On the last day of a four-day visit to Britain that drew the biggest protest march of any of his foreign trips, the pope also beatified Cardinal John Henry Newman, one of the most prominent English converts from Anglicanism to Roman Catholicism.

The pope was seen off from the airport by Prime Minister David Cameron who said Benedict had challenged the “whole of the country to sit up and think” about issues such as social responsibility during his four-day state visit.

Does Pope Benedict sound different in a foreign language?

speeches 1Does Pope Benedict sound different when he speaks a foreign language? I’m not referring to his German accent — anyone following his visit to Britain these days can attest to the fact that he has one in English. But does he say the same thing when he speaks in his native German — or in Italian or French, two languages he also speaks fluently (and better than English). Does he present his ideas with the same words? Does the message come across in the same way? How does it “feel” to the listener? (Photo: Pope Benedict at Westminster Hall, 17 Sept 2010/Tim Ireland)

Benedict’s basic message is fundamentally the same, regardless of the language he speaks. But his speeches and sermons these past few days have sounded different from similar speeches delivered in other languages — and not just because they were in English. The speeches were shorter. The wording was at times more direct and the argument more succinct than in similar speeches on previous voyages to other countries. The speeches included several references to Britain and British history that his listeners would know and appreciate. He doesn’t usually nod that much in the direction of the local audience.

Having heard him speak in these different languages over the years, my first impression after listening to his speech to “representatives of British society” in Westminster Hall on Friday was how short it was. The main arguments in that speech — that religion has a role in public life and is not incompatible with reason — are central themes of Benedict’s papacy. He delivered a somewhat comparable showcase speech “to the world of culture” in Paris in September 2008. The Regensburg speech to “representatives from the field of the sciences” during his 2006 visit to Germany was also about faith and reason, although his use of a Byzantine emperor’s quote about Islam being an irrational and violent religion overshadowed the public perception of it.

Excerpts from farewell comments by PM David Cameron and Pope Benedict

cameron pope (Photo: Pope Benedict and Prime Minister David Cameron before the pope’s departure, 19 Sept 2010/ Eddie Keogh)

Following are excerpts from comments by Prime Minister David Cameron and Pope Benedictbefore the pontiff left for Rome on Sunday after four days in Scotland and England.

Prime Minister David Cameron:

“Your Holiness, on this truly historic first State Visit to Britain,  you have spoken to a nation of 6 million Catholics but you have been heard by a nation of more than 60 million citizens  and by many millions more all around the world.  For you have offered a message not just to the Catholic Church but to each and every one of us,  of every faith and none.  A challenge to us all  to follow our conscience,  to ask not what are my entitlements, but what are my responsibilities? To ask not what we can do for ourselves, but what we can do for others?

“…this common bond has been an incredibly important part of your message to us.  And it’s at the heart of the new culture of social responsibility we want to build in Britain.  People of faith – including our 30,000 faith-based charities – are great architects of that new culture.  For many, faith is a spur to action. It shapes their beliefs and behaviour; and it gives them a sense of purpose. Crucially, it is their faith that inspires them to help others. And we should celebrate that. Faith is part of the fabric of our country. It always has been and it always will be. As you, your Holiness, have said, faith is not a problem for legislators to solve but rather a vital part of our national conversation. And we are proud of that.

Excerpts from Pope Benedict’s speech to bishops of England, Wales and Scotland

pope bishops (Photo: Pope Benedict surrounded by bishops in Birmingham, September 19, 2010/Simon Dawson)

Pope Benedict urged the Catholic bishops of England, Wales and Scotland on Sunday to confront the assumptions of modern culture, help the poor, protect children and work together with Anglicans.

Here are excerpts from his speech to them:

“… In the course of my visit it has become clear to me how deep a thirst there is among the British people for the Good News of Jesus Christ. You have been chosen by God to offer them the living water of the Gospel, encouraging them to place their hopes, not in the vain enticements of this world, but in the firm assurances of the next. As you proclaim the coming of the Kingdom, with its promise of hope for the poor and the needy, the sick and the elderly, the unborn and the neglected, be sure to present in its fullness the life-giving message of the Gospel, including those elements which call into question the widespread assumptions of today’s culture. As you know, a Pontifical Council has recently been established for the New Evangelization of countries of long-standing Christian tradition, and I would encourage you to avail yourselves of its services in addressing the task before you…

“… The spectre of unemployment is casting its shadow over many people’s lives, and the long-term cost of the ill-advised investment practices of recent times is becoming all too evident. In these circumstances, there will be additional calls on the characteristic generosity of British Catholics, and I know that you will take a lead in calling for solidarity with those in need. The prophetic voice of Christians has an important role in highlighting the needs of the poor and disadvantaged, who can so easily be overlooked in the allocation of limited resources. In their teaching document Choosing the Common Good, the Bishops of England and Wales underlined the importance of the practice of virtue in public life. Today’s circumstances provide a good opportunity to reinforce that message, and indeed to encourage people to aspire to higher moral values in every area of their lives, against a background of growing cynicism regarding even the possibility of virtuous living.

Excerpts from Pope Benedict’s sermon on Cardinal John Henry Newman

newman (Photo: Pope Benedict at a beatification Mass for Cardinal John Henry Newman in Birmingham, September 19, 2010/Darren Staples)

Pope Benedict declared the 19th century English Cardinal John Henry Newman blessed — the first step on the road to sainthood in the Roman Catholic Church — at a ceremony in Birmingham on Sunday.

Here are excerpts from his sermon:

“…This particular Sunday also marks a significant moment in the life of the British nation, as it is the day chosen to commemorate the seventieth anniversary of the Battle of Britain. For me as one who lived and suffered through the dark days of the Nazi regime in Germany, it is deeply moving to be here with you on this occasion, and to recall how many of your fellow citizens sacrificed their lives, courageously resisting the forces of that evil ideology. My thoughts go in particular to nearby Coventry, which suffered such heavy bombardment and massive loss of life in November 1940. Seventy years later, we recall with shame and horror the dreadful toll of death and destruction that war brings in its wake, and we renew our resolve to work for peace and reconciliation wherever the threat of conflict looms…”

“… In Blessed John Henry, that tradition of gentle scholarship, deep human wisdom and profound love for the Lord has borne rich fruit, as a sign of the abiding presence of the Holy Spirit deep within the heart of God’s people, bringing forth abundant gifts of holiness.

London marchers confront Pope Benedict in biggest protest of any of his trips

satprotest 1 (Photo: Protest against Pope Benedict in London, 18 Sept 2010/Stefan Wermuth)

Pope Benedict faced the biggest protest of his 17 trips abroad on Saturday when more than 10,000 people marched in London attacking his treatment of the abuse scandal in the Church, women priests and homosexuality. Some of the demonstrators were dressed in costumes, including black leather nuns’ habits and red cardinals’ robes. Posters bore the message: “Pope Go Home.”

The pope has faced protests throughout his four-day visit to England and Scotland, often competing for attention with the faithful who are solidly supportive of the trip, only the second by a pope in history.

The loudest and most colourful was on Saturday when secularists, atheists, pro-gay groups and human rights campaigners joined forces in a Protest the Pope march from Hyde Park Corner to Downing Street, the prime minister’s residence.

Excerpts from Pope Benedict’s comments on Newman and to the elderly

hyde park (Photo: Crowds gather at Hyde Park for prayer vigil with Pope Benedict, 18 Sept 2010/Chris Ison)

At a prayer vigil in London’s Hyde Park on Saturday evening, Pope Benedict said the life of Cardinal John Henry Newman, whom he will beatify on Sunday, showed the way for Christians to live at a time of intellectual and moral relativism.

Here are some excerpts from his sermon:

“…At the end of his life, Newman would describe his life’s work as a struggle against the growing tendency to view religion as a purely private and subjective matter, a question of personal opinion. Here is the first lesson we can learn from his life: in our day, when an intellectual and moral relativism threatens to sap the very foundations of our society, Newman reminds us that, as men and women made in the image and likeness of God, we were created to know the truth, to find in that truth our ultimate freedom and the fulfilment of our deepest human aspirations. In a word, we are meant to know Christ, who is himself “the way, and the truth, and the life.

“Newman’s life also teaches us that passion for the truth, intellectual honesty and genuine conversion are costly. The truth that sets us free cannot be kept to ourselves; it calls for testimony, it begs to be heard, and in the end its convincing power comes from itself and not from the human eloquence or arguments in which it may be couched. Not far from here, at Tyburn, great numbers of our brothers and sisters died for the faith; the witness of their fidelity to the end was ever more powerful than the inspired words that so many of them spoke before surrendering everything to the Lord. In our own time, the price to be paid for fidelity to the Gospel is no longer being hanged, drawn and quartered but it often involves being dismissed out of hand, ridiculed or parodied…

Pope apologizes for “unspeakable crimes” of sexual abuse

papal flag (Photo: Girl waves papal flag before a Mass with Pope Benedict in London September 18, 2010/Kevin Coombs)

Pope Benedict apologized to victims of sexual abuse on Saturday, saying pedophile priests had brought “shame and humiliation” on him and the entire Roman Catholic Church. It was the 83-year-old pontiff’s latest attempt to come to grips with the scandal that has rocked the 1.1 billion-member Church, particularly in Europe and the United States.

“I think of the immense suffering caused by the abuse of children, especially within the Church and by her ministers. Above all, I express my deep sorrow to the innocent victims of these unspeakable crimes …,” he said in his sermon in  Westminster Cathedral, the mother church for Roman Catholics in England and Wales and a symbol of the struggle of Catholics here in the late 19th century to assert their rights after the Reformation.

“I also acknowledge with you the shame and humiliation that all of us have suffered because of these sins,” he said, adding that he hoped “this chastisement” would contribute to the healing of the victims and the purification of the Church.

Pope supporters and detractors duel in liberal London

protest 9 (Photo: Supporters and protestors hold a signs while waiting for Pope Benedict to arrive at Westminster Abbey in London September 17, 2010./Suzanne Plunkett)

Pope Benedict is usually greeted by adulating crowds when he travels in Italy and other Catholic countries but he was treated to a mixed reception in London. Protesters, many angered by a sex abuse scandal that has rocked the Catholic Church worldwide, shouted “anti-Christ” and “Pope will go to hell” as the pope drove through the heart of London on Friday in a bullet-proof popemobile.

Hundreds booed aggressively as he arrived at Westminster Abbey in London’s historic core to celebrate Evening Prayer — one of the religious focal points of his four-day visit to Britain. Papal supporters at times tried to steal the momentum by chanting “We love you pope” but in most cases were quickly drowned out by boos and whistles.

protest 7 Photo: Protesters outside St Mary’s University College in London, September 17, 2010/Andrew Winning)

Waving banners reading “Betrayed”, protesters included activists rallying against child sex abuse allegations as well as Protestants, gays and women rights campaigners.