In Antioch Catholics and Orthodox celebrate Easter together
Antakya (AsiaNews) The 75 Catholics of Antakya, the glorious Antioch-on-the-Orontes where the followers of Jesus were called Christians for the first time, did not celebrate Easter on March 27 as did their fellow Catholics around the world. Instead, they shall share in the celebrations with the larger Greek Orthodox community on May 1. Since 1988 Christians in this southern city of modern Turkey have in fact been celebrating Easter together according to the ancient Julian calendar.
This was the brainchild of Father Domenico Bertogli, an Italian capuchin and parish priest in Antioch for 17 years who successfully lobbied with Mgr Ruggero Franceschini, then Bishop of Anatolia, who in turn convinced Rome to have this most important of Christian feasts celebrated in the sign of inter-Church Communion in a land now Muslim.
The local Orthodox Church appreciated the gesture for it was a first step towards the reconciliation of local Churches.
In Antioch Christians participate in activities organised by the different Churches: Catholic weddings and funerals are celebrated in the Orthodox church; adult catechesis is conducted in the Catholic church and is attended by many Orthodox; the man in charge of catechism for Catholics is the sun of the Orthodox Abuna*; Lent is shared and the local Caritas office is managed by both Churches.
The local Church hierarchies also live in a brotherly fashion. Relations between Mgr Luigi Padovese, the current Catholic Bishop of the Vicariate of Anatolia, and Paulus Yazici, Greek Orthodox Metropolitan (Bishop) of Aleppo and Alexandretta (Halap in Syria and Iskenderun in Turkey) and responsible for Antioch, are cordial.
The Metropolitan sent "sincere Easter greetings" to the Bishop praying to the Risen Christ that the "Lord may generously bless you with decisiveness in ceaselessly proclaiming the Gospel in the strong and pained hope of Christian unity so that East and West may together announce to today's world the Good News of Christ's victory over death."
Five Orthodox priests from Antioch and Alexandretta also brought these greetings, along with their respective spouses and the lay officials of their communities, to the Catholic Bishop's residence to share in advance with Bishop Padovese the joy of the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
The shared moment on this warm spring day in Alexandretta was very intense and moving, which the light of the Risen made brighter and more meaningful. (MZ)
* Abuna is Arabic for Father, an affectionate and respectful term given to priests.