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Byzantine Catholic Metropolitan Archdiocesan 75th Anniversary Dinner Address

Pittsburgh, PA

Twenty-five years ago a number of you assembled here for the Golden Jubilee of the establishment of the Eparchy under the spiritual guidance of the great and holy Bishop Basil Takach. At that event, when the clergy gathered around Archbishop Stephen J. Kocisko of happy memory, I remember a question posed by one of the guests, "Who here present was on hand 50 years ago when Bishop Takach was installed as ‘the first eparch’." There was silence, and then the questioner acknowledged that he had been here, representing the then Apostolic Delegate, Archbishop Pietro Fumasoni-Biondi.

He was Bishop George L. Leech, Bishop of Harrisburg from 1935 to 1971 and then Titular Bishop of Allegheny. Back in the 1920’s he served as Secretary to the Apostolic Delegate in Washington and in 1974 he was here, an eager witness to the historic establishment of this particular church and a convinced witness also to the holiness and great abilities of her first bishop. I accompanied Bishop Leech twenty-five years ago for your celebration and that was one reason why I immediately accepted the invitation extended by Archbishop Judson Procyk to be with you this evening.

Other memories of associations through the years remain with me in a most positive way: there was the ordination as bishop in 1968 of a dear friend, Bishop Michael Dudick, as Bishop of Passaic, and my subsequent collaboration with him through the years when I served as a Latin Rite Bishop here in Pennsylvania. In time, as Bishop of Harrisburg, I served as President of the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference and there, as also on the Pennsylvania Conference for Inter-Church Cooperation, I had the opportunity to work closely with the bishops of the Eastern Catholic Churches, including Bishop Pataki, and to esteem their judgment, commitment and deep faith.

This evening I wish to say a word about relationships between the Eastern Catholic and Latin Rite Churches, a word about the larger setting of ecumenical relationships on the eve of the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000, and a word about a challenge and a hope which links all these together.

The positive relationships between the Eastern Catholic Churches and the Western Church have grown exponentially in recent years. As many of you know, a century ago this was not true. It was a sad period of history. The Latin Catholics, coming to this country largely from Western and Central Europe (Ireland, Germany, Italy, the Austro-Hungarian Empire and then from Slovakia, Lithuania, and Poland) faced the resistance most immigrants have found. In the United States, from the 1840’s on, anti-Catholicism was an integral part of a nativist opposition to the strangers arriving in our land and it put the Church, her people and her leaders in a defensive mode.

When the first priests and people came from the Carpathian Mountain region of Central Europe, with their different liturgical language and way of worship, their canonical practices at variance with the Latin Church, many of the Latin Rite, clergy and laity both, were confused and also fearful. Among other things, they were afraid that the new ways - really very old ways sanctioned by Sts. Cyril and Methodius and the Apostolic See - would give the anti-Catholics more ammunition for the discrimination already practiced with such bitterness and abandon. The un-Christian reaction of the Latin leaders and people of a century ago must be on our minds today as, in the spirit of the Great Jubilee, Latin Catholics ask for pardon as we recall the suffering, pain and loss experienced by our brothers and sisters from Eastern Catholic Churches Catholics during those years.

With the Second Vatican Council came a fresh appreciation of the richness and depth of the faith preserved at great cost in the Eastern Catholic Churches. I can remember vividly an intervention of Bishop Elko during the Council. I mused at the time that perhaps he was practically unique in having no need of a loud-speaking system to carry his powerful and eloquent voice even to the side chapels of Saint Peter’s.

In our National Conference of Bishops, developed in new ways following on the Council, a Committee for Interritual Concerns was established. It was made up of Bishops from the various Catholic Eastern Churches and several representative Western Church bishops. For many years the beloved and very sensitive Bishop William Connare of Greensburg chaired this committee. When he retired as a bishop, I was called on by the President of the Bishops’ Conference to succeed him in this responsibility. From this perspective I had the great grace of learning at first hand of the challenges and the strengths of all our Eastern Churches in the United States. At a certain point I recommended that the committee be restructured with an Eastern Church bishop as its chair and that he be given a seat on the Administrative Committee of our national conference. This was done, and it has meant that the conference has the blessing of the insights and the perspective of Eastern Catholics as it approaches a variety of church and societal issues.

When, about two years ago, the Holy Father convened in Rome the Synod for America, the Eastern Catholic Churches had a strong and highly valued voice. Incidentally, Metropolitan Nicholas of Johnstown represented the Orthodox at the Synod by personal appointment of the Ecumenical Patriarch. In Pope John Paul’s exhortation summing up the Synod’s work, he devotes an entire section to the Eastern Catholic Churches, including recommendations reflecting our own practice in the United States regarding the participation of Eastern Catholic Churches in the Bishops’ Conferences. In addition, he asks that "catechesis and theological formation for lay people and seminarians of the Latin Church include knowledge of the living tradition of the Christian East." Here in the United States an awareness of the Eastern Church was part of my own seminary formation four decades ago. At least annually the Divine Liturgy was celebrated in the seminaries I attended.

The Holy Father observes that fraternal cooperation with and practical assistance to the Eastern Churches in America "will certainly also enrich the particular Churches of the Latin rite with the spiritual heritage of the Eastern Christian tradition."

Ecumenical challenges and opportunity

There is another dimension of our lives as Churches that offers both challenge and opportunity at the threshold of the Third Christian Millennium. This is the ecumenical dimension, very especially our relationships with the Orthodox family of Churches in communion with the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople. Precisely because of your great Catholic faith, your church and your people have suffered much over a period of many centuries. The Western Church is deeply aware that yours has become a church of martyrs, and especially so in this past century.

Earlier this year, recognizing realities both old and new, Pope John Paul II wrote the following to Cardinal Edward Cassidy in a letter published in the Holy See’s daily newspaper and given wide publicity:

"At the threshold of the third millennium of the Christian era, the ecumenical commitment has to be enlivened by a renewed and ardent vigour. He who puts his hand to the work is called to aim with decision towards its fulfillment, and no difficulty should stop him.

"In the past few years, the dialogue among the Members of the Joint Commission has focused on a difficult problem, which has its origin in historical circumstances and in the divisions which came about during the second Christian millennium.

"I want to encourage You, venerable brother, and the Commission Members to reflect with deep sensitivity and understanding on the existing relationship between the Orthodox Churches and the Oriental Catholic Churches, with the awareness that before the Catholic Church the Oriental Catholic Churches have the same dignity as all other Churches that are in full communion with the Bishop of Rome. They enjoy the same rights and are bound by the same obligations (cf. Orientalium Ecclesiarum, 3)

"It will be necessary to reach the conclusion of this very delicate stage of the dialogue, by seeking through patient work carried out in a fraternal spirit and with love of truth, to arrive at a common understanding that would allow the Commission to resume its original theological programme. Not only must the dialogue not be interrupted, it must go forward with renewed intensity, so that the witness of Christ’s followers may shine more brightly in the contemporary world, at the threshold of the new millennium."

In the Holy Father’s Apostolic Exhortation following the Synod for America, he emphasized this dialogue and urged American cooperation in it for, he observed, with the Orthodox Church "we share many elements of faith, sacramental life and piety." The Joint International Commission for Theological Dialogue between our Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church, announced in 1979 on the occasion of the Holy Father’s visit to Istanbul, has already published agreed statements regarding our common faith in the Eucharist, Baptism, Confirmation or Chrismation, and Ordination and the Apostolic Succession. At its most recent meeting, held at Balamand in 1993, the commission addressed the vexing questions that arose following the collapse of communism in Central and Eastern Europe. I am sure you are aware that the role of your churches in the region figured prominently in those discussions. In the document that was completed at Balamand, Catholics and Orthodox affirmed together the principle of religious freedom, and thus the right of your churches to exist and act in response to the spiritual needs of your faithful. The text also invites your churches to participate fully in the Catholic-Orthodox dialogue at all levels.

Here in own United States, where some may take for granted the enormous blessing of religious liberty, the next meeting of the International Commission is scheduled to take place. Today I come to ask your prayers and, if possible, your participation in the historic meeting scheduled to take place next summer - the exact dates are expected in the near future -- at Mount St. Mary’s College and Seminary, Emmitsburg, Maryland. While the dialogue sessions, following precedent, will be private, the representatives of the Catholic and Orthodox Churches will also have their public moments.

Prior to those sessions, I hope to host in Baltimore a meeting of the Eastern and Orthodox Catholic priests of the region to prepare the way for the dialogue. During the meeting, at the shrine where St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, the first native-born American saint is buried and honored, there will be an ecumenical service open to the public. How wonderful it would be if many of you, both clergy and laity, could participate, praying that the Holy Spirit may heal old divisions and bring a new life to the 80% of Christendom represented in the discussions, what a grace it would be if you could bring your own witness of fidelity and faith to an event in which laity, priests, bishops, cardinals from throughout the Catholic world participate with metropolitans, bishops and theologians from the 16 Churches in communion with the Ecumenical Patriarch.

I am inviting also the Orthodox churches belonging to the Standing Conference of Canonical Orthodox Bishops in America to come with clergy and laity as well, to give witness to our visitors from overseas that here in the United States we have begun to learn to live with one another without bitterness and in mutual charity.

This evening at the Divine Liturgy and now at this dinner you of the Byzantine Metropolia have reflected God’s love to one another and to us, your guests, in a wonderful way.

May that love which is the Holy Spirit’s gift be with us now and in those days of ecumenical gathering next year. God grant that a good number of you be there to give witness to the presence of the Spirit of love in your own lives and congregations, moving us toward that marvelous and visible unity for which Jesus prayed the night before his death.

Metropolitan Judson, may the Lord continue to bless you, your work of shepherding, and your wonderful collaborators!

God bless and keep you all!