Byzantine Catholic Church in America: News of the East

21-Oct-99 -- Vatican Information Service


VATICAN CITY, OCT 21, 1999 (VIS) - A document from the Congregation for the Oriental Churches, entitled "The Great Jubilee of the Year 2000 and the Eastern Catholic Churches," was presented this morning in the Holy See Press Office.

Cardinal Achille Silvestrini and Msgr. Claudio Gugerotti, respectively prefect and under-secretary of the congregation, participated in the press conference, as did Msgr. Michel Berger, bureau chief of the Pontifical Commission for the Cultural Patrimony of the Church.

Cardinal Silvestrini recalled that "the Eastern Catholic Churches - that is, those Churches that belong to the Christian east and have their spiritual treasures in common with their brothers of the Orthodox Churches, but at the same time live full communion with the Pope - do not have an easy life. Recovering from severe persecution by the atheist regime of central and eastern Europe or weakened by social and political instability in the Middle East, they also find themselves the subject of a heated debate within the Orthodox Churches."

In reference to the document being presented today, he affirmed that its aim is to "make it known that the (Christian) east has something to say on the values of the upcoming Holy Year and on the way it should be lived. This will also help the Latin Church to integrate the general considerations and the sensibility that the (Christian) east helps to illuminate, into its own way of celebrating the Jubilee."

Msgr. Gugerotti spoke of the first part of the document, "The Jubilee in the Eastern Catholic Churches," whose central point, he said, is constituted by the affirmation that the "fundamental way for a Church to celebrate the Jubilee is through the liturgy."

The under-secretary said that the document highlights the necessity of living the Jubilee as "an occasion for ecumenical encounter, ever more urgent in order to recreate a fraternal atmosphere within the Christian east, both Catholic and Orthodox."

"For Eastern Catholics, who have spilt their blood in order to preserve union with the Bishop of Rome, coming to Rome means demonstrating and celebrating this bond of full communion with the Successor of Peter."

On the subject of spiritual guidelines, he highlighted "the eastern manner of living penitence and reconciliation, that gives particular emphasis to fasting and asceticism."

In closing, Msgr. Gugerotti mentioned some pastoral suggestions, such as the summons to "renovate Churches, abandoning pure nostalgia and making their structures more transparent, up-to-date and efficient," and the call to "take special care with liturgical homilies."

"These are merely suggestions, it is up to the synods and the individual eastern bishops to adopt them and enrich them with other specific contributions."

Msgr. Michel Berger spoke about the Oriental Church's splendid spiritual, artistic and cultural legacy in Rome. He said that "the Eastern Christian heritage which enriches the patrimony of Rome is so immense as to make one think that there is a fragment of the East on the banks of the Tiber."

He then gave an historical overview of the contributions to Roman civilization by the Eastern Churches, highlighting "the saints and men of Eastern culture who came to Rome," and naming in particular the Slav brothers and saints, Cyril and Methodius.

He also underscored the presence of monks and the spread of monasticism in the West, recalling that "one of the most famous monasteries in Rome, St. Saba, was founded on the Aventine Hill, towards the end of the sixth or beginning of the seventh century, by Eastern monks who came from the monastery of the same name in Palestine." In particular he pointed to the contributions of the first generations of Eastern monks in Rome in the fields of hagiography, hymnography and Byzantine music.

Msgr. Berger remarked that other Oriental treasures, such as Byzantine art, frescoes, mosaics and icons, can be found today in countless churches and monasteries of Rome. And, he said, if the Oriental influence in art and culture was notable in the early centuries, it became even more so between the end of the sixth and eighth centuries when there were a number of Greek Popes. This was a time when the Greek population in Rome grew, as did monasteries and artwork in churches such as Santa Maria in Cosmedin.


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