Pope Francis sent Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, Prefect of the Congregation for the Oriental Churches, on Thursday, Oct. 12, 2017, a letter to commemorate the Centenary of the Congregation and of the Pontifical Oriental Institute, of which the Cardinal is Chancellor.
Recalling its foundation 100 years ago, Francis reminded that even in the midst of the turbulent first world conflict, the Pontiff knew to reserve special attention to the Churches of the Orient.
After looking at the history of the institute, Francis discussed the missio the missio that this Institute will be called to undertake in the future.
In his letter, the Holy Father stressed that “the times in which we live and the challenges that war and hatred pose to the very roots of peaceful co-existence in the devastated lands of the East, place the Institute once again, just as it was a hundred years ago, at the centre of a providential crossroads.”
“Maintaining intact the attention and application to traditional research, I invite you all to offer to those Churches and to the entire ecclesial community the capacity for listening to life and for theological reflection to help support their existence and their progress.”
Giving thanks to God for the work carried out in these one hundred years, Francis expressed his hope that the Pontifical Oriental Institute may pursue its mission with renewed zeal.
He encouraged the institute to continue “studying and disseminating with love and intellectual honesty, with scientific rigor and a pastoral outlook, the traditions of the Oriental Churches in their liturgical, theological, artistic and canonistic variety, responding ever better to the expectations of today’s world to create a future of reconciliation and peace.”
With these hopes, Pope Francis imparted on Cardinal Sandri and the entire community of this Institute, a special Apostolic Blessing.
Below is the Vatican Press Office-provided translation of the Pope’s letter:
Message of the Holy Father to His Eminence Cardinal Leonardo Sandri for the centenary of the founding of the Pontifical Oriental Institute and the Congregation for the Oriental Churches
The following is the Message the Holy Father handed to His Eminence Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, Grand Chancellor of the Pontifical Oriental Institute, for the centenary of the founding of the Pontifical Oriental Institute and the Congregation for the Oriental Churches:
To the venerable Brother Cardinal LEONARDO SANDRI Grand Chancellor of the Pontifical Oriental Institute
On the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Pontifical Oriental Institute, a few months after the centenary of the establishment of the Congregation for the Oriental Church (see Benedict XV, Motu Proprio Dei Providentis , 1 May 1917), it is my pleasure to address a cordial greeting to you, venerable brother, and to the entire academic community.
Preceding by almost half a century the conciliar decree Orientalium Ecclesiarum, my venerable Predecessor wished to draw attention to the extraordinary richness of the Eastern Churches, by founding here in Rome on 15 October 1917 the Pontifical Oriental Institute. Even in the midst of the turbulent first world conflict, the Pontiff knew to reserve special attention to the Churches of the Orient.
For this foundation, Benedict XV recalled that opening to the Orient that had begun in the Eucharistic Congress of Jerusalem of 1893, with the hope of creating a study centre, which should have been – as affirmed in the founding document – “a fitting headquarters of higher education on oriental issues”, destined to form “also Latin priests who wish to exercise their sacred ministry with the Orientals”. From the outset, it was intended for this “study centre [to be] open to the Orientals, both united and so-called Orthodox”, so that “the exposure of Catholic and, at the same time Orthodox doctrine could proceed simultaneously” (Benedict XV, Motu Proprio Orientis catholici , 15 October 1917: AAS 9 , 532). With this latter clarification, the founder placed the new institution on a horizon that we can describe today as eminently ecumenical.
To solve the initial problems of the Institute, Pius XI, accepting the suggestion of the first president, Blessed Ildefonso Schuster in 1922 decided to entrust it to the Society of Jesus (Letter Decessor Noster , 14 September 1922: AAS 14 , 545 -546), and later assigned the Institute, at the Basilica of Saint Mary Major, its own seat, which opened its doors on 14 November 1926.
In 1928, with the Encyclical Rerum Orientalium on the promotion of Oriental studies, the Pope warmly invited the bishops to send students to the Oriental Institute, to ensure in each seminar the presence of a teacher capable of transmitting at least some elements of Oriental studies (cf. AAS 20 , 283-284). The Encyclical was followed by the Motu Proprio Quod maxime , by which the Gregorian University was associated with the Biblical and Oriental Institutes (see AAS 20 , 310). The following year, Pius XI went on to establish, near the Oriental Institute, the Russicum College, whose direction was also entrusted to the Society of Jesus (cf. Quam curam , 15 August 1929: AAS 22 , 146 -148).
Since then, the most important new element was in 1971 the founding of the Faculty of Oriental Canon Law, to date the only one in existence (cf. Congregation for Catholic Education, Decree Canonicae Orientalium , 7 July 1971: AAS 63 , 791-792), alongside what was identified with the Institute and which, at that time, began to be designated as the Faculty of Oriental Ecclesiastical Sciences, divided into three sections: theological-patristic, liturgical and historical.
Another important novelty was the transfer – which took place in 1993 – of the title of Grand Chancellor of the Oriental Institute from the Prefect of the Congregation for Catholic Education to the Prefect of the Congregation for Oriental Churches. Thus, while maintaining the proper academic competence of the Institute exercised by the Congregation for Catholic Education, the two “Oriental” institutions, established in the same year, were called to “promote closer co-operation and unity of intent” in their service to the Christian Orient (Rescriptum of the Secretariat of State, 31 May 1993).
This look at history leads us to question the missio that this Institute will be called to undertake in the future.
If in the beginning there was some confusion between study and pastoral work, today we must recognise that such antinomy does not exist. It is not a question of “ aut … aut ”, but “ et … et ”. I therefore call upon the professors to place their scientific commitments first among their commitments, following the example of the predecessors who distinguished themselves in the production of prestigious contributions, erudite monographs, accurate editions of liturgical, spiritual, archaeological and canonical sources, and even bold collective works, such as the publication of the Acts of the Concilium Florentinum and the critical edition of Anaphorae Syriacae . The Institute’s teachers have made well-known contributions first to the preparation of the conciliar documents Orientalium Ecclesiarum and Unitatis redintegratio (1964), and then to the preparation of the Codex Canonum Ecclesiarum Orientalium (1990).
On the one hand, the times in which we live and the challenges that war and hatred pose to the very roots of peaceful co-existence in the devastated lands of the East, place the Institute once again, just as it was a hundred years ago, at the centre of a providential crossroads.
Maintaining intact the attention and application to traditional research, I invite you all to offer to those Churches and to the entire ecclesial community the capacity for listening to life and for theological reflection to help support their existence and their progress. Many students and professors are aware of this important moment in history. This Institute, thanks to research, teaching and witness, has the task of helping these brothers and sisters of ours to strengthen and consolidate their faith before the tremendous challenges they find themselves facing. It is called upon to be the privileged place to promote the formation of men and women, seminarians, priests and laypersons, able to give reason to the hope that inspires and supports them (cf. Pt 3: 15), and capable of collaborating in the reconciliatory mission of Christ (cf. 2 Cor 5: 18).
I urge teachers to remain open to all the Oriental Churches, considered not only in terms of their ancient configuration, but also in their current diffusion and at times troubled geographical spread. In relation then to the venerable Oriental Churches, with whom we are still journeying towards full communion and which continue autonomously on their path, the Pontifical Oriental Institute has an ecumenical mission to pursue, through care for fraternal relations, detailed study of the issues that still appear to divide us, and active collaboration on themes of first importance, awaiting the moment, when the Lord wills and in the manner that only He knows, “they may all be one” ( John 17: 21). In this respect, the growing presence of students belonging to the non-Catholic Oriental Churches confirms the trust they place in the Oriental Institute.
On the other hand, the task of the Institute is also to make known the treasures of the rich traditions of the Oriental Churches to the western world, in order for them to be comprehensible and assimilated.
Noting that many students of the various oriental colleges in Rome attend institutions in which they receive a formation that is not always consistent with their traditions, I invite reflection on what could be done to address this shortcoming.
With the collapse of the totalitarian regimes and of various dictatorships, which in some countries has unfortunately created conditions favourable to the spread of international terrorism, the Christians of the Oriental Churches are experiencing the tragedy of persecutions and an increasingly worrying diaspora.
We cannot close our eyes to these situations. As a part of the “outbound Church” (cf. Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii gaudium , 20-24), the Oriental Institute is called to listen prayerfully, to perceive what the Lord wants at this precise moment and, consistently with the Ignatian magis , to seek new roads to travel. It means, for example, stimulating future pastors to instil in their oriental faithful, wherever they may be, a profound love for their original traditions and rite; and, at the same time, to make the bishops of Latin dioceses aware of the need to take responsibility for the geographically dislocated oriental faithful without their own hierarchy, ensuring to individuals and families an adequate spiritual and human assistance.
I address a warm invitation to the Society of Jesus to implement, with the provisions required today, what Pius XI had already prescribed in 1928 regarding the Gregorian Consortium, with the purpose of promoting, along with a notable saving in men and means, a greater unity of intentions. Alongside the missio carried out by, respectively, the Gregorian University and the Biblical Institute, there exists that, no less important, of the Oriental Institute. It is therefore urgent to guarantee to this institution a stable core of Jesuit formators, to whom others may commendably associate. Inspired by Ignatian pedagogy and using a fruitful community discernment, the members of the community, both religious and academic, will be able to find the most suitable forms for initiation in the austere discipline of research and the needs of pastoral care that the Churches may wish to entrust to them.
In joining me in giving thanks to God for the work carried out in these one hundred years, I hope that the Pontifical Oriental Institute may pursue its mission with renewed zeal, studying and disseminating with love and intellectual honesty, with scientific rigour and a pastoral outlook, the traditions of the Oriental Churches in their liturgical, theological, artistic and canonistic variety, responding ever better to the expectations of today’s world to create a future of reconciliation and peace. With these hopes I impart to you, venerable Brother, and to the entire community of this Institute, a special Apostolic Blessing.
From the Vatican, 12 October 2017
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