Friday, February 5, 2016

Pope Francis, Patriarch Kirill and the God of Surprises

By Bishop Mitchell T. Rozanski

Once again Pope Francis reminds us that we worship the God of surprises. The news today that he will meet with Patriarch Kirill of Moscow in Cuba, February 12—while the pope is en route to Mexico—is literally unprecedented. A pope has never met with the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, and not for lack of wanting.

Patriarch Kirill is head of a Church of some 150 million people out of the 250-300 million adherents of Eastern Orthodox Christianity worldwide. Relations with Orthodox Christians—from whom Catholics officially split in the year 1054—are a crucial part of the Catholic Church's efforts toward Christian unity. Their faith tradition is ancient, and the Catholic Church recognizes their apostolic succession and validity of their sacraments. In the United States, Catholics and Orthodox have dialogued for 50 years, with Archbishop Joseph W. Tobin of Indianapolis currently stewarding this important work as Catholic co-chair.

Pope Paul VI and Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras make history in Jerusalem, 1964.
In 1964, the same year the Second Vatican Council issued its Decree on Christian Unity, Pope Paul VI met with Patriarch Athenagoras of Constantinople in Jerusalem, a turning point that ushered in a new era of dialogue and friendship after nearly a millennium of hostility and estrangement. The Patriarch of Constantinople, or Ecumenical Patriarch, is a first among equals of the leaders of Orthodox Christianity, and Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI continued to build on this key relationship, meeting with subsequent Ecumenical Patriarchs. And Pope Francis has already met with Patriarch Bartholomew I (Ecumenical Patriarch since 1991) on several occasions.

Pope Francis walks with Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I at Jerusalem's Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the site of the crucifixion and Jesus' tomb, in May 2014.
Since Orthodox Christianity is more collegial, i.e. more horizontal than vertical in its leadership structure, it is especially important to foster relationships with its other leaders. And here the Russian Orthodox Church has posed a particular challenge. The Russian Orthodox Church existed with a minimal degree of government recognition under the Soviets, but other believers, Catholics included, saw their religion virtually suppressed. The fall of Communism gave rise to tensions between the leaders of Catholicism and Russian Orthodoxy as the Churches moved to pick up the pieces.

Pope Benedict XVI meets then-Metropolitan Kirill in December 2007.
In the quarter century since then, the Vatican has worked delicately to improve relations with the Russian Orthodox Church, with pope and the patriarch sending delegates to meet one another on various occasions. But John Paul II died without achieving his dearly held goal of visiting Russia and meeting the Patriarch of Moscow. Now, not only is this meeting occurring, but strangely enough, it is not the first time Kirill will have met a pope. Prior to becoming Patriarch of Moscow in 2009, then-Metropolitan Kirill headed the Russian Orthodox Church's office of external church relations and so was the Russian Orthodox delegate who met with Benedict XVI. It is a joyful sign that, as Patriarch, he has agreed to meet another pope.

It's fitting that this meeting takes place in Cuba, a country that, thanks to Pope Francis' efforts to build bridges of engagement, has seen a thaw after half a century of tensions with the United States. Now it will be the scene of improved relations between Christians. "Dialogue is our method," Pope Francis said to the bishops of the United States during his visit last September. "The path ahead, then, is dialogue among yourselves, dialogue in your presbyterates, dialogue with lay persons, dialogue with families, dialogue with society. I cannot ever tire of encouraging you to dialogue fearlessly." This meeting exemplifies why our pope has such faith in the power of dialogue.

Pope Francis meets Bishop Rozanski at St. Matthew's Cathedral in Washington.
This announcement comes on the heels of the observance of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity January 18-25. With the announcement of this meeting, we feel renewed hope that those prayers are already bearing fruit.

Bishop Mitchell T. Rozanski of Springfield, Massachusetts, is chairman of the U.S. bishops' Committee on Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs.

Photo of Bishop Rozanski and Pope Francis courtesy of Diocese of Springfield. All other photos from CNS.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Week of Christian Unity Day 8 Reflection


Luke 24: 13-36 The Disciples on the Road to Emmaus

Beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about Himself in all the scriptures.

Meditation: Overcoming our Differences

On the cover of the preliminary printed version of the Lutheran-Catholic Declaration on the Way (October 2015) is a modern artist’s painting of the Disciples walking down the road to Emmaus with Jesus--unrecognized. I have been thinking a great deal about this painting. recall that the disciples realized in retrospect why their hearts were burning within them as they walked, and talked. Later they recognized Jesus in the breaking of bread. Soon, with their discouragement behind them, they returned to Jerusalem to share the news, and Jesus message to them, with others.

I am much slower than the disciples. In mid-November while I was ‘on the road’ I realized that the artist’s cover and the text were one—they should be seen together.

In the last two sections of the text we discuss (IV) 15 Remaining Differences and (V) Next Steps along the Way. How will we move forward? How will these obstacles be overcome?

We can see, hear and feel the answer. Are we seeing Jesus and not recognizing Him? Are we hearing His message? When is the Spirit of Jesus burning within us? Who do we tell?


Lord Jesus, you have made our hearts burn within us, and have sent us back upon the road towards our brothers and sisters, with the Gospel message on our lips. Help us to see that hope and obedience to your commands always lead to the greater unity of your people. Amen.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Week of Prayer for Christian Unity Day 6 Refletion


Romans 12: 9-13, Love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor…Be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord.

Meditation: What Does God Want Me to Do?—

Discerning God’s Will

“I can’t do everything. What does God want me to do?” Do we ever ask ourselves questions like this, especially when we realize that we are coming to a fork in the road of life?

In the ecumenical movement, we are continually asking ourselves what God wants us to do. How are we to proceed on the way toward unity?

In classic Christian terms we are talking about matters of personal and communal discernment.

When Christian communities engage in formal dialogues, we pray together, we learn from one another, we weigh arguments, and we look for the interior peace and joy that are signs of the Spirit. We may be tempted to take a vote, to engage in a political process or to save time. But instead we work patiently and humbly together in God’s time to follow the Spirit’s guidance in our judgments.

In personal discernment we do much the same. We look prayerfully at classic criteria for discernment, such as the external realities affecting the decision and the intern movements of the Spirit, often with the help of our spiritual friends. We are listening for God’s will for our lives. Our dream is ‘to give everything to God.’


Heavenly Father, grant us humility to hear your voice, to receive your call, and to share your dream for the unity of the Church. Help us to be awake to the pain of disunity. Where division has left us with hearts of stone, may the fire of your Holy Spirit inflame our hearts and inspire us with the vision of being one in Christ, as he is one with you, so that the world may believe that you have sent Him. This we ask in Jesus’ name. Amen



Week of Prayer for Christian Unity Day 7 Reflection

Day 7 (January 24), Hospitality for Prayer


  • 1 Peter 4:7b-10, Be serious and discipline yourselves for the sake of your prayers.

Meditation—Interchurch Couples          

Most of us today have a family member or two who is from another Christian tradition.  Most often this member is in an ‘Interchurch Marriage.’ 

When I read “discipline yourselves for the sake of your prayers,” I think of interchurch couples I know. Their ‘ecumenical marriages’ (over 20% of all Catholic marriages) are matters of practical ecumenism at the grassroots level.

Interchurch couples have certain challenges and opportunities in their relationship that call for regular prayer and discernment.  There is a strong tendency among such couples to ‘take the path of least resistance,’ to ignore their religious differences, and to lessen the daily practices of Christian faith. This can make for a shallow relationship.

The key here is the discipline of praying together. This is the positive foundation for discussing the differences that inevitably arise. Successful couples pray together, decide together, and work together for the good of others. 

They have the discipline to go deeper on the spiritual journey. Often they seek out the company of other interchurch couples. They are wise enough to know that they can learn from others. They realize too that all differences need not be resolved.

Interchurch couples often bring their wisdom to the church community. Those of us in the ecumenical movement can learn  much from listening to these practical ecumenists.


Lord Jesus, you asked your apostles to stay awake with you and to pray with you. May we offer the world protected times and spaces in which to find refreshment and peace, so that praying together with other Christians we may come to know you more deeply. Amen.