by Deacon Keith Fournier –
‘Sacred Scripture and Holy Tradition emphasize the sacred dignity of the human person and God’s purpose in creating, to confer his blessings upon him. In today’s society, we have witnessed many attacks on human life, especially in its most vulnerable stages. As our heavenly patrons, Ss. Peter and Andrew were one as brothers and Apostles of the Lord, we too are united as brothers, as we affirm the sacred dignity and value of every human life.’ (From the Common Declaration) …
I am one of a growing number of people calling Pope Benedict XVI the “Pope of Christian Unity”. In his first Papal message he proclaimed, “Nourished and sustained by the Eucharist, Catholics cannot but feel encouraged to strive for the full unity for which Christ expressed so ardent a hope in the Upper Room. The Successor of Peter knows that he must make himself especially responsible for his Divine Master’s supreme aspiration.
“Indeed, he is entrusted with the task of strengthening his brethren (cf. Lk 22: 32). With full awareness, therefore, at the beginning of his ministry in the Church of Rome which Peter bathed in his blood, Peter’s current Successor takes on as his primary task the duty to work tirelessly to rebuild the full and visible unity of all Christ’s followers. This is his ambition, his impelling duty.”
He has placed the commitment to the full communion of the Church at the forefront of his Papacy. His overtures toward groups of Anglicans seeking full communion is both historic and prophetic. However, it concerns the healing of the wounds caused by divisions in Western Christianity.
I contend that his repeated overtures and obvious respect shown toward our Orthodox brethren – whom we recognize as a full Church and whose priesthood and Sacraments we recognize – is an even more profound sign of the significance of the age in which we live. I have written on the warming of relations between the Orthodox Church and the Catholic Church as a beginning. There are growing signs that the Holy Spirit is at work in pulling these Churches along the path toward a form of restored communion.
I believe that the efforts and prayers of the Blessed John Paul II and Pope Benedict, the Pope of Christian Unity, will result in the “two lungs” of the Church, East and West, breathing together again to animate the One New Man, Christ Jesus. I am convinced there is a way in which the two churches can enter into full communion while maintaining the unique patrimony and beauty found within each of them for the sake of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church.
This flows from my conviction that the Church is God’s plan, the only hope for a world teetering on collapse without the anchor of Jesus Christ. In fact I will go a step further; I believe it will happen in my lifetime. Finally, I know that prayer helps to move time toward the unfolding plan of the One is the Head of His Church and desires her unity so that the world may believe. (John 17:21) I believe that this form of restored communion between the Orthodox and Catholic Churches will be one of the most important developments of the Third Christian Millennium.
We are struggling under a new barbarism which purports to be “progressive” while it leads our culture into the barrenness of the old paganism pretending to be new. One of the promising signs is the mutual call – from both Orthodox and Catholic Church leaders- for collaboration in reaching into the current culture of death with a united prophetic voice in order to offer a different way, a culture of life and civilization of love. This joint cultural mission is already underway in Europe. It is beginning to find a footing in the United States. As the West staggers under what Pope Benedict XVI called a “Dictatorship of Relativism”, the world needs the Church breathing with both lungs to become its soul once again.
That is why I was thrilled to discover that one of my favorite authentically Catholic Colleges in the United States, Holy Spirit College in Atlanta, Georgia, is involved in this vital effort. I interviewed Fr Paul Burke, the Chair of the faculty of theology at Holy Spirit College and Parochial Vicar at Holy Spirit Catholic Church in May and wrote one of several articles I have written on Holy Spirit College. The theology faculty, under his leadership, offers coursework which promotes authentic dialogue between the Catholic and Orthodox Church and promotes the Holy Father’s vision for authentic cooperation. To be faithfully Catholic means to long for the unity of Christ’s Church.
At the direction of His Excellency, the Most Reverend Wilton D Gregory of Atlanta, Fr. Burke spent nearly a year, along with the Very Rev. Fr. George Tsahakis, the Chancellor of the Greek orthodox Metropolis of Atlanta, working on a “Common Declaration on the Sanctity of Life”. Holy Spirit College enthusiastically supports this effort. It is institutionally committed to an authentic vision of ecumenism which recognizes that its goal is full communion.
The Declaration was then reviewed and approved by the Pro-Life and Ecumenism secretariats of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. Fr Burke told me that “the declaration is an expression of common witness of the right to life and a concern for the many attacks that continue to take place against life from the moment of conception to natural death.”
He explained that the collaboration emerged out of an ecumenical gathering to commemorate the “Year of St. Paul” held in 2009 when Archbishop Gregory and Metropolitan Alexios met at the Cathedral of Christ the King. “Together with clergy and faithful from their respective Churches, the hierarchs led an ecumenical gathering of prayer and hymnody reflecting the traditions of both East and West. Since then, there have been many such encounters rotating between our sister Churches. These encounters have been opportunities not only to pray together but also to strengthen the bonds of friendship and peace.”
This wonderful declaration was signed on April 3, 2011 when Archbishop Gregory participated in an ecumenical service at the Greek Orthodox Cathedral of the Annunciation with Metropolitan Alexios and Metropolitan Kallistos Ware of the Diocese of Diokleia. Metropolitan Kallistos gave an address extolling the progress being made in the dialogue between the two churches. He also underscored the importance of dialogue at the local level and pointed to this joint declaration as a sign it is hhappening.
The declaration ends with these words: “Inspired and encouraged by the common witness of our venerable hierarchs, we, Alexios of the Greek Orthodox Metropolis of Atlanta and Wilton of the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta, commit ourselves anew to prayer, dialogue and mutual collaboration especially in areas of common concern. Given that the right to life is the foundation and most fundamental of all human rights, we voice our concern over the many attacks that continue to take place against human life from the moment of conception to natural death.”
“Sacred Scripture and Holy Tradition emphasize the sacred dignity of the human person and God’s purpose in creating, to confer his blessings upon him. In today’s society, we have witnessed many attacks on human life, especially in its most vulnerable stages. As our heavenly patrons, Ss. Peter and Andrew were one as brothers and Apostles of the Lord, we too are united as brothers, as we affirm the sacred dignity and value of every human life.
“We urge all those in public office to stand firm in their commitment to life. We exhort our people to pray and sacrifice for life. We cannot be indifferent to the cries of those whose voices have been silenced. Life is God’s to give and it is only He who can take it away. We entrust our efforts to the intercession of the Most Blessed Theotokos, the Mother of God. In the Magnificat, her song of praise, she marveled at the great things that God has done in the lives of His people. May she intercede for us with the Creator and Author of Life so that a culture of death will be replaced by a civilization of life and love in which human life is accepted and protected as God’s greatest and most precious gift.”
We encourage our readers and viewers around the world to pray for these important efforts underway in the Archdiocese of Atlanta. It is one more sign that the Holy Spirit is at work, drawing the two lungs of the Church, East and West, to breathe together again. We commend Fr Paul Burke and Holy Spirit College for their involvement in this important missionary effort. To be authentically and faithfully Catholic includes supporting authentic ecumenical efforts such as this Common Declaration.
In his address to the members of the Pontifical Council on the new Evangelization this past week, Pope Benedict XVI told them: “To proclaim Jesus Christ the only Savior of the world seems more complex today than in the past; but our task remains the same as at the dawn of our history. The mission has not changed, just as the enthusiasm and the courage that moved the Apostles and the first disciples must not change. The Holy Spirit who pushed them to open the doors of the Cenacle, making them into evangelizers (cf. Acts 2:1-4), is the same Spirit that moves the Church today in a renewed proclamation of hope to the men of our time.”
As we approach the celebration of the Feast of Pentecost, the signing of the “Common Declaration on the Sanctity of Life” is one more sign that the Holy Spirit is at work in the Church in a new missionary age.
HT: Catholic Online