Mount St. Mary's is site of rare ecumenical talks

Roman Catholic-Orthodox session to be held in July

February 17, 2000|By John Rivera | John Rivera,SUN STAFF

The international Roman Catholic-Eastern Orthodox dialogue, an ecumenical meeting to forge closer relations between the churches, will hold its first session in the Western Hemisphere in July at Mount St. Mary's College and Seminary in Emmitsburg.

The gathering, which draws Roman Catholic and Orthodox leaders from around the world, was originally scheduled for last summer at the Western Maryland college but was postponed because of the Balkans conflict. The talks are scheduled for July 9-19.

Cardinal William H. Keeler, archbishop of Baltimore, who will be host for the meeting, said the site should provide a neutral and productive setting for dialogue.

"It's the first time they will meet in the Western Hemisphere, in a setting very different from that of Europe and the Middle East, where so many of the old memories and hatreds linger on in a vivid fashion," Keeler said. "In our continent, theological dialogue and daily association among our peoples have helped to advance the cause of understanding."

The gathering in July will mark the eighth official meeting between the two churches. They last met in June 1993 in Balamand, Lebanon, talks that were also postponed for a year because of civil strife.

The dialogue is coming here at the invitation of Keeler, who extended the offer more than a decade ago when he was bishop of Harrisburg, Pa., and sat on Mount St. Mary's board of directors.

The members of the Joint International Commission for Theological Dialogue between the Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic Church, as the talks are officially known, have met periodically since 1979 to establish closer ties. The commission has issued three joint statements, on the shared understanding of the Eucharist, on the sacraments, and on priestly ordination and apostolic succession, which is the tracing of bishops back to the early apostles.

The Balamand meeting resulted in a statement that eased tensions between the two churches that flared after the fall of the former Soviet Union.

As Eastern Rite Catholic Churches, which retain loyalty to the pope, began to re-emerge after suppression by communist authorities, Roman Catholic efforts to help them were interpreted by some Orthodox as proselytism. Disputes also arose over who should control disputed properties.

But six of the Orthodox churches, including the influential Church of Greece, did not attend the Balamand meeting. They are planning to come to Emmitsburg and are asking the commission to revisit the issues discussed in Balamand "so they are able to understand and they are able to make a contribution," Keeler said.

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