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International Joint Commission Mass

Basilica of the National Shrine of the Assumption

With great joy I extend a welcome to this Basilica, the first cathedral of our land and the mother church of Catholicism in the United States. To those of the International Joint Commission for Theological Dialogue Between the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church I extend a warm and prayerful welcome.

On October 8, 1995, Pope John Paul II visited Baltimore. He prayed before this altar and, at Oriole Park at Camden Yards, celebrated the Eucharist. The chalice he used then we shall use this evening. It was a gift of his predecessor, Pope Pius VII to Archbishop Ambrose Marechal in 1822.

On October 23, 1997, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew visited this church, where he presided at and preached during a Service of the Word in this sanctuary, speaking from the venerable archbishops’ chair. On that occasion, I told him that, please God, some day this International Dialogue would come to Maryland and here there would be a very special welcome. And this has been the case.

This afternoon the members of the Dialogue began their visit to Baltimore at the Greek Orthodox Cathedral which honors the Mother of God, Theotokos, under the title of her Annunciation, recalling when, 2000 years ago, the Word became flesh in the Incarnation. This is the great mystery we celebrate during this Jubilee Year. Now in this historic church we recall the Dormition of Mary, her entering into a full share of her Risen Son’s victory over death. We are delighted that so many of God’s people join us for this time of prayer.

(Amos 7:12-15) The first reading is from the Prophet Amos. It tells us of a prophet’s vocation. This is not a call to predict the future but rather to proclaim the Lord’s word, to lift up the promise of divine pardon and grace, the call to change one’s ways, to be converted in one’s heart to a simplicity of walking before the Lord. This vocation was not one that Amos welcomed. And in our day of complexity and confusion, the prophet’s vocation is not an easy one.

(Ephesians 1:3-14) To give us fresh encouragement, the Church offers us an uplifting, inspiring message from the Apostle Paul in the second reading. His is a sweeping vision of God’s mercy in choosing and calling us "to be holy and without blemish before him." Clearly this is already God’s doing in our lives. It is a reality we come to when we pierce through the static which surrounds us. St. Paul put it this way, "In him we have redemption by his blood, the forgiveness of transgression, in accord with the riches of grace he has lavished on us."

(Mark 6:7-13) In the gospel passage, the Twelve were charged to go forth on a mission Jesus gave them. They went forth also endowed with power. We hear how they "drove out many demons, and they anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them." Jesus sent the Twelve to bring peace and to preach repentance. Their task has its parallels today.

We come together seeking in the Lord’s presence to be touched by divine power and to pray for unity and peace. Around the world people are praying for peace in the Holy Land, for the guidance of the Holy Spirit on those leaders of nations who have been meeting in our state this past week to work for the peace of Jerusalem and that whole region. At the same time, many have been supporting with prayer the International Commission and our work for peace and more visible unity in the Christian family of faith. We are much encouraged by the personal messages of prayer and support from Pope John Paul II and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew.

Cardinal Lawrence Shehan, who shepherded the Archdiocese of Baltimore during the years of the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965), was sent by Pope Paul VI to Istanbul in December 1965, as president of a pontifical delegation. Another member of that delegation is present with us today—Father John Long of the Society of Jesus, a Catholic participant in the International Joint Commission.

In Istanbul Cardinal Shehan took part in the ceremony at the patriarchal Cathedral of St. George during which the excommunications pronounced over nine centuries earlier, in 1054, were, and I quote, "erased from the memory and the midst of the Church" and "consigned to oblivion." A similar ceremony at which I had the privilege to assist took place at the same time in Rome at St. Peter’s Basilica in the presence of Pope Paul VI.

Cardinal Shehan was the first to chair our own United States Bishops’ Committee for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs and, in this capacity, he helped initiate the dialogue between Orthodox and Catholics in the United States.

The dialogue of love began in 1964 on the Mount of Olives with the fraternal embrace of Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras and Pope Paul VI, and advanced by Cardinal Shehan and many others, is complemented by another dialogue. This is sometimes called the dialogue of truth and it is the work of our International Joint Commission.

In Jerusalem, during his meeting with Christian leaders at the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate, the Holy Father spoke words which apply to us in Baltimore this evening and in Emmitsburg throughout the week: " . . . it has been my intention to give a clearly ecumenical dimension to the Catholic Church’s celebration of the Jubilee Year 2000. The opening of the Holy Door at the Basilica of Saint Paul-outside-the-Walls, at which so many Churches and Ecclesial Communities were represented, symbolized our passing together through the ‘door" which is Christ: ‘I am the door, if anyone enters by me, he will be saved (John 10:9). Our ecumenical journey is precisely this: a journey in Christ and through Christ the Saviour to the faithful fulfillment of the Father’s plan. With God’s grace the Two Thousandth Anniversary of the Incarnation of the Word will be a ‘favourable time," a year of grace for the ecumenical movement. In the spirit of the Old Testament Jubilees, this is a providential time for us to turn to the Lord in order to ask forgiveness for the wounds which the members of our Churches have inflicted upon one another down the years. This is the time to ask the Spirit of Truth to help our Churches and Communities to engage in an ever more fruitful theological dialogue, which will enable us to grow in the knowledge of the truth and come to the fullness of communion in Christ’s Body. From the exchange of ideas our dialogue will then become an exchange of gifts: a more authentic sharing of the love which the Spirit unceasingly pours into our hearts."

The Holy Father then recalled that Patriarch Diodoros had spoken of the prayer of Jesus on the eve of his passion and death, when Jesus prayed that, "all may be one . . . so that the world may believe that you have sent me." Pope John Paul added, "This prayer is his last will and testament, and it challenges us all. What will be our response? . . . with hope-filled hearts and unfailing trust, let us make the Third Christian Millennium the millennium of our newfound joy in the unity and peace of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen"

This evening, in this Eucharist, let us take to heart a sense of being united with so many around the world. We now entrust ourselves and our prayers to the care of the Holy Spirit, as Jesus Christ, under signs of bread and wine, offers for us to the Father the great prayer of his suffering, death and rising.