The Roman Catholic World
By MARIELENA MONTESINO de STUART
(This article also appeared in the May 21st, 2009 edition of The Wanderer).
Today, amidst incense and haunting Maronite chants and laments, Benedict XVI was welcomed at a Vespers prayer service, in the Melkite Greek Catholic Cathedral of St. George, in Amman, Jordan. The rituals that took place were the embodiment of the venerable traditions of the Eastern Churches. The French, Arabic, Greek and Latin languages were spoken, all representing the universal culture of the region.
Benedict XVI’s historic visit to the Melkite Greek Catholic Cathedral of Amman took place in the presence of His Beatitude Gregorios III Laham, the Greek Melkite Patriarch, who came from Damascus, Emeritus Archbishop Georges El-Murr and His Excellency Yaser Ayyach, Archbishop of
Petra and Philadelphia. Also present were the leaders of the other Catholic Churches in the East – Maronite, Syrian, Armenian, Chaldean and Latin – as well as Archbishop Benediktos Tsikoras, of the Greek Orthodox Church. Unfolding before our very eyes, was the divine Providence in the diffusion of the Faith, as these religious leaders sat under one roof– bringing together two thousand years of Christian traditions.
Having personally witnessed the beauty of the Greek Orthodox liturgy during my stays in Greece, I was reminded of the richness of the Eastern traditions. Today, included in the rituals that took place, we were taken back in time to the first three centuries of the Roman Catholic Church. In the words of His Beatitude Patriarch Gregorios III during his address to the pope: “Our Churches, in their pluralism, preserve the one, holy faith. In our diversity, we are the proof of what the Blessed Pope John XXIII said, “What unites us is so much more than what separates us.”
During his homily, Benedict XVI stated that “ The ancient living treasure of the traditions of the Eastern Churches enriches the universal Church and could never be understood simply as objects to be passively preserved.” He added, “Your liturgies, ecclesiastical discipline and spiritual heritage are a living witness to your unfolding tradition. You amplify the echo of the first Gospel proclamation, you render fresh the ancient memories of the works of the Lord, you make present his saving graces and you diffuse anew the first glimmers of the Easter light and the flickering flames of Pentecost.” Benedict XVI’s words clearly depicted the importance of these traditions, as part of our religious heritage.
Of particular significance to the political and religious history and current events of the region, Benedict XVI said: “The public face of your Christian faith is certainly not restricted to the spiritual solicitude you bear for one another and your people, essential though that is. Rather, your many works of universal charity extend to all Jordanians – Muslims and those of other religions – and also to the large numbers of refugees whom this Kingdom so generously welcomes.”
As we watch the exodus of Christians from the Middle East increasing day by day, Middle Eastern Christians need now, more than ever, to look to Rome for guidance. During the address by His Beatitude Patriarch Gregorios III, he said: “We are the Church of martyrs and witnesses, of witness, Church of the Cross and Resurrection, suffering and hope, Church of history, today and tomorrow. We shall not emigrate! We shall remain here, to affirm, as did Peter, whose successor you are, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the Living God.”
In Lebanon, the Middle Eastern nation with the highest population of Christians, many have allied themselves with Hezbollah, as a way of securing a strong Christian political presence in the region. This reminds us of what Pope St. Leo I (The Great) experienced, as he watched half-committed Catholics in the 5th Century entering St. Peter’s, after saluting the sun. If Pope Leo I became The Great, it was in part for his political achievements, and for guiding Christians in turbulent times. Let’s hope that Benedict XVI will do the same.
In his historic address to the pope, His Beatitude Patriarch Gregorius III added: “With the Church, we pray for you, remembering this text from the antiphon of the Hypakoe of the Feast of Saints Peter and Paul, on 29 June, “O Peter, rock of faith and thou, Paul, glory of the whole world, come forth together from Rome and strengthen us.”
There are those who claim that the pope’s visit to the Middle East is a futile effort. But far more important than the difficulties that we have experienced, and are experiencing, is the wisdom of God’s time. The message of Christ is eternal, and to claim that it cannot withstand the political challenges of a region, is to deny our own existence as a people of faith. To deny the pope’s authority to lead and guide in the Middle East, would be a repudiation of the papacy– by diminishing it to a simple historical development. This would also amount to a rejection of the pope as Christ‘s representative on earth.
If Rome is to reach across the distance to the East, then it must do so while protecting our Eastern brethren. Like Pope Leo I, Benedict XVI must guide the destiny of the Roman and Universal Church. The Church has always triumphed, in spite of the many difficulties it has endured through the ages.
The pope arrived in Jordan yesterday, and will remain there until Sunday. He will arrive in Jerusalem on Monday. His Holiness will spend the next week between Israel and the Palestinian Territories, and will include visits to Bethlehem and Nazareth.
Today, as the Eastern liturgical traditions were displayed in all their glory, one could see our Roman and Eastern hearts so intertwined, that it made the melancholy between Rome and the Byzantium even greater.
Christ’s divine mission is at work. This time He has chosen His servant, Benedict XVI.
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Marielena Montesino de Stuart is an observer of the Roman Catholic world. She expresses her views as a journalist for The Wanderer and for
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