Pope: humanity’s retreat from peace is shameful
Speaking to members of the Congregation for Eastern Churches, Francis mentioned the many conflicts in the lands where Eastern Christians live, like Eastern Europe, the Tigray, and Lebanon. He also warned what the row over the liturgy can do, as in the case of the Syro-Malabar Church: “If we give scandal [. . .], we play the game of the master of division,” he said.
Vatican City (AsiaNews) – Pope Francis today met in audience with members of the Congregation for the Oriental Churches, who are currently meeting in plenary assembly. In his address, the pontiff said that Benedict XV's unheeded warning about war as a “useless slaughter” continues to resonate in today's world.
The words of his predecessor, who set up the dicastery and died exactly 100 years ago, gave the current pope an opportunity to again point to the many backward steps the world is taking in relation to peace.
“It seems that the highest award for peace should be given to the wars: it is such a contradiction. We have an attachment to war and this is tragic. Humanity is proud of its advancement in science and thought, in many beautiful things, but it is going backward in bringing about peace. It is the champion in making war. This should make us all feel shameful. We need to pray and ask pardon for this attitude.”
“We had hoped that there would have been no need to repeat such statements in the third millennium, yet humanity seems still to be groping in the darkness. We have witnessed the slaughter resulting from conflicts in the Middle East, in Syria and Iraq, and those in the Ethiopian region of the Tigray. Threatening winds continue to blow in the steppes of Eastern Europe, lighting fuses and firing weapons, and turning to ice the hearts of the poor and the innocent, they do not matter. Meanwhile, the tragedy of Lebanon continues, leaving so many people without their daily bread; young people and adults have lost hope and are leaving those lands. Yet those lands are the motherland of the Eastern Catholic Churches”.
Such tragedies touch the life of Eastern Christian communities. “Your daily existence is thus like a blend of the precious gold dust of your past and the witness of heroic faith of many in the present, together with the mire of the misery for which we too are responsible and the pain visited upon you by external forces. Again, you are seeds on the stalks and the branches of age-old plants, transported by the wind to unimaginably distant places. Eastern Catholics have lived for decades now on distant continents, having sailed oceans and seas, and crossed vast plains.”
This diaspora, Francis added, also provides an opportunity for the whole Church to “pay close heed to the richness of the different traditions. I think, for example, of the process of the adult catechumenate, which provides for the celebration of the sacraments of Christian initiation in a unitary form; a custom that the Eastern Churches have preserved in practice also for children.”
The long-established synodal tradition of the Eastern Churches is precious for the universal Church which needs to understand that the “synodal process is not a parliament” but a journey of “walking together under the guidance of the Holy Spirit”
For Francis, “the beauty of the Eastern rites is much more that simply an oasis of escape or of conservation.” Indeed, “Even those traditions that preserve the use of the iconostasis, with the royal door, or the veil that conceals the sanctuary at some moments in the rite, teach us that these are architectural or ritual elements that speak not of distance from God, but rather heighten the mystery of the ‘condescension’ – of the synkatabasis – by which the Word came and continues to come to the world.”
Lastly, addressing the issue of the liturgies of the Eastern Churches, Pope Francis referred to the ongoing clash in India (without expressly mentioning it) within the Syro-Malabar Church over the “unified” liturgy.
With respect to “the form of the celebration is concerned, it is necessary that unity be experienced in accordance with what has been laid down by the Synods and approved by the Apostolic See, avoiding liturgical particularisms that in reality manifest divisions of another kind within the respective Churches.
“Furthermore, let us not forget that our brothers and sisters of the Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox Churches are watching us: even if we cannot sit at the same Eucharistic table, nonetheless we almost always celebrate and pray the same liturgical texts.
“Let us be attentive therefore to forms of experimentation that can harm the journey towards visible unity of all Christ’s disciples. The world needs the witness of our communion. If we give scandal by our liturgical disputes, and unfortunately there have been some recently, we play the game of the master of division.”