Two churches to hold historic meeting in Md. Catholic, Orthodox leaders to gather in Emmitsburg in June

July 01, 1998|By John Rivera | John Rivera,SUN STAFF

International Roman Catholic and Orthodox Christian leaders, who have met periodically since 1979 to establish closer ties, will gather in June in Emmitsburg for their first meeting in the Western Hemisphere.

Cardinal William H. Keeler said members of the Joint International Commission for Theological Dialogue between the Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches recently accepted his invitation to meet at Mount Saint Mary's College and Seminary. The meeting is scheduled for June 7 to 15.

"Nine years ago, as the only American Catholic bishop participating in the dialogue, I extended an invitation to meet for the first time in the Western Hemisphere, and specifically at Emmitsburg," Keeler said.

He repeated the invitation when the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, spiritual leader of the world's 300 million Orthodox Christians, visited Baltimore in October.

Keeler said the commission will meet in Emmitsburg instead of Baltimore because of its sylvan setting. "They like to meet away from a big city so there's some tranquillity for the discussion," he said.

The discussions in Emmitsburg will focus on how each church exercises authority through meetings of their respective hierarchies, like the Pan-Orthodox Synods in Orthodoxy or the Second Vatican Council in Catholicism. If the discussions are fruitful and the churches recognize the legitimacy of the meetings of the other, the agreement will be known as the Emmitsburg Statement, Keeler said.

The Catholic-Orthodox dialogue has produced three joint statements on theological issues in its nearly 20 years. The first, on their shared understanding of the Eucharist, was issued in 1982 after a meeting in Munich, Germany. A second statement on sacraments came out of a 1987 meeting in Bari, Italy. The third statement, on the sacrament of priestly ordination and apostolic succession, or the tracing of bishops back to the original apostles, was produced at a 1988 meeting in Valamo, Finland.

The theological discussions got sidetracked when a conflict emerged between Catholics and the Orthodox after the fall of Communism in Eastern Europe. As Eastern Rite Catholic Churches that had been suppressed began to re-emerge, Roman Catholic efforts to aid them were interpreted as proselytism by some Orthodox. Also, disputes arose over who should control some church properties.

Back to theology

The tensions have dominated the dialogue for most of the past decade, and resulted in the Balamand Statement, adopted in June 1993 after the commission's meeting in Lebanon. That statement said, "Pastoral activity in the Catholic Church, Latin as well as Eastern, no longer aims at having the faithful of one Church pass over to the other; that is to say, it no longer aims at proselytizing among the Orthodox. It aims at answering the spiritual needs of its own faithful and it has no desire for expansion at the expense of the Orthodox Church."

At the Emmitsburg meeting, "we'll be getting back to theological discussions," said Keeler.

The Most Rev. Constantine Monios, dean of the Greek Orthodox Cathedral of the Annunciation and the senior Orthodox clergyman in Maryland, said the meeting will be "overwhelmingly important.

"This is of great historical importance, that a consistory of this size is going to be held in our state," he said. "I believe a lot of what has been happening was influenced by the Oct. 23 visit of the Patriarch to Baltimore and the hospitality of the Cardinal."

Monios said it will be valuable for the international leaders to see the ecumenical harmony commonplace in the United States.

"In Europe, people look at interfaith relations in a different way," he said. "I think people are more resistant to dialogue whenever everyone around them is the same. But when you live in a community like America, the need for dialogue becomes more evident. We have all sorts of religious communities here, and the need to work together is evident."

Officials at Mount St. Mary's have begun preparations to house the 80 or so delegates.

"We're looking at probably having to do translation with simultaneous translation in four languages: English, French, Russian and Greek," said Martin Schlipp, assistant to the college president. In addition, translators fluent in German, Italian and Polish will be available.

School officials also will have to do research on the etiquette of the various cultures that will be represented.

"We're going to have to do some homework with Orthodox and Catholic experts to learn the do's and don't's," Schlipp said. "We certainly wouldn't want to do anything to offend anybody."

Pub Date: 7/01/98

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