JERUSALEM – Orientalium Ecclesiarum, the Decree of the Second Vatican Council on the Catholic Churches of the Eastern Rites was promulgated by Pope Paul VI on 21 November 1964. His Beatitude Cardinal George Allencherry, Major Archbishop of the Syro-Malabar Church celebrated the 50th anniversary of this event in Jerusalem on 20th November with a lecture: THE IMPORTANCE OF THE UNITY OF THE CHRISTIAN CHURCHES AND THE ROLE OF INDIVIDUAL (SUI IURIS) CHURCHES WITHIN THE CATHOLIC CHURCH. This celebration took place in the context of the Dies Academicus of the Salesian Pontifical University’s English Campus in Jerusalem.
The Guests of honor present at the lecture included His Excellency Most Rev. Giuseppe Lazzarotto, Apostolic Delegate in Jerusalem and Palestine; His Lordship Most Rev. William H. Shomali, Latin Patriarchal Vicar for Jerusalem and Palestine; His Lordship Most Rev. Joseph Jules Zerey, Greek Melkite Catholic Patriarchal Vicar; His Lordship Most Rev. Grégoire Boutros Melki, Syro-Catholic Patriarchal Exarch of Jerusalem and representatives of Institutes of Theology and Religious houses in Jerusalem. The representative of the Greek Orthodox Patriarch in Jerusalem also participated.
In his introductory remarks, the Cardinal congratulated the Salesian Pontifical University for the appropriate timing of the day’s lecture, “… today’s lecture is quite well timed particularly because this year marks the 50th anniversary of the promulgation of the Dogmatic Constitution Lumen Gentium of Vatican II and the Decrees Orientalium Ecclesiarum and Unitatis Redintegratio. These three documents were promulgated on November 21, 1964 and this conference takes place here today on the 20th of November 2014, just one day before the semi centennial jubilee of that historic event.” He began by quoting Pope Francis while speaking on the unity and holiness of the Church and stressed the need to live as a community centered on Christ; he proposed a theoretical as well as practical ecumenism based on the above three documents.
Later in his lecture, the Cardinal stated that the unity of Christians would only be possible if there is a change of heart (an interior conversion) enlightened by faith, guided by prayer and an openness to live in fraternal harmony. Unity though, he said, is not uniformity, giving the example of his own Church. “The Syro-Malabar Church or the Church of St. Thomas Christians of India is as old as Christianity itself in the Indian soil.”
The Cardinal acknowledged that there are slight differences in liturgical practices between the Syro-Malabar Church and the Latin Church yet, he said, the two have never broken communion. Then, referring to the unity between the 23 Catholic Churches of the East and West that have kept intact the faith received from the Apostles, His Beatitude quoted Pope St. John Paul II to stress the need for unity, “The Church must learn to breathe again with its two lungs: its Eastern one and its Western one.”
He then highlighted the most important aspects of the following themes, which are indisputably crucial for dialogue between Christian churches: the Church is a Communion of Churches; Individual (sui iuris) Churches and Rites; Canonical Definition of Church sui iuris and Rite; the Prayer of Jesus-the Heart of Our Unity; Gift of God – Not the fruit of a Treaty; the Eucharist and Unity; the Role of Eastern Catholic Churches (sui iuris) in the Path towards Church Unity, and Collaboration in the Field of Evangelization and Pastoral Care.
In his concluding remarks, His Beatitude made a call to unity, one that encompasses all the Christian Churches: “We all irrespective of easterners or westerners, Catholics or non-Catholics should be seriously concerned about the current cultural and social trends that are leading to a progressive de-Christianization and secularization everywhere, particularly of Europe. If we do not stand together and act accordingly, the evangelization process will deteriorate and the primary mission, which Christ entrusted us will not bear fruit. We always and everywhere have to affirm our commitment to work for Christian unity, as desired by Christ.” Then he called the keen attention of the audience “to the plight of Christians living here in the Middle East, especially in Iraq and Syria and other religious and ethnic minorities who are suffering because of the violence raging across the region, which must certainly be an important subject of our reflection and prayer.” In the context of this humanitarian catastrophe, the Cardinal added, “I feel that the world conscience is not fully awake to the gravity of the situation. Therefore it is high time that the international community intervene with concrete and effective plans to establish peace, promote freedom of religion and consciousness and eradicate religious fundamentalism, which has gone to the extreme level of violating human rights.”
The lectio magistralis was followed by a time of dialogue on the topic with his Beatitude. Some pertinent questions were raised to which Cardinal George responded in a very friendly and realistic manner.
The president of the the Salesian Pontifical University’s campus in Jerusalem, Rev. Dr Biju Michael informed that the institute is dedicating the whole academic year 2014-2015 to a deeper study of the Oriental/Eastern Churches though seminars and conferences.