Saturday, January 30, 2010

Serbian church leader breaks with past, invites pope to Belgrade
Reuters January 29th, 2010

Patriarch Irinej at a news conference in Belgrade, 28 Jan 2010/Ivan MIlutinovic

For all of Irinej Gavrilovic’s 80 years, his Serbian Orthodox Church has kept its distance from the Vatican and the pope, maintaining a division whose roots date back a millennium. But only a few days into the job as the 45th Serbian Orthodox Patriarch, Irinej has several times repeated an invitation to the Roman Catholic pontiff, hoping that both men could celebrate a significant anniversary in 2013.

It was an expression of hope, not only that the churches could overcome past differences, but also that two men already in their 80s could make plans three years into the future.

On Thursday, Irinej discussed the invitation in a forum that none of his recent predecessors had ever employed, the news conference, amid a give and take with a gaggle of reporters. There he said his church will be glad to welcome Pope Benedict to Serbia in 2013 in a bid to foster dialogue about reconciliation between two largest Christian communities, a millennium after their Great Schism.

The occasion would be the 1,700th anniversary of the Edict of Milan, which will be marked in Serbia’s southern city of Nis, the birthplace of the Roman Emperor Constantine. The Edict promoted religious tolerance and legalised Christianity in the Roman Empire, whose realm extended across the Balkans.

“For what we know, there’s a wish of the Roman Episcopate, the pope, that such a meeting should happen in the city which is the birthplace of an emperor who made such a landmark move,” Irinej said. Though there were no formal contacts between the Serbian Orthodox Patriarchate and the Holy See, “such a meeting would be a golden opportunity not only for an ecumenical meeting but also for the renewal of the dialogue. It would be an opportunity to open the issue of the reunification and discussion about that. It would be a long process since many centuries have passed since the split.”

The East–West Schism of 1054 split Christianity into Eastern (Greek) and Western (Latin) branches, which later became known as the Eastern Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic Church. The Eastern Church further divided into the autocephalous groups including the Russian, Greek and Serbian Orthodox Churches.

In 1965, after centuries of sometimes bitter disputes, the Pope and the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople nullified the anathemas exchanged between Eastern and Western Christian leaders in 1054, but the split along doctrinal, theological, linguistic, political and geographical lines lines has never been healed.

Irinej said there had been discussions about a papal visit to the Balkans in the 1990s, shortly after the end of wars that tore apart Yugoslavia. “Back then, we as the Holy Assembly and as the Holy Synod, believed that it was not the right time, and that the visit should be postponed for more peaceful times,” he said.

Belgrade’s daily Blic quoted Vatican spokesman Father Frederico Lombardi as saying Irinej’s remarks demonstrated an “encouraging, open and ecumenical approach, something we received with a great joy … However, we are only at the beginning of the 2010 and the 2013 is still far. This is a positive possibility, but we still don’t have enough elements to foresee the exact date of the meeting.”

Irinej’s remarks about papal visit came weeks after Serbian President Boris Tadic visited the Vatican in late 2009.

At his new conference, Patriarch Irinej also said that the Serbian Orthodox Church will remain open for dialogue with much smaller Macedonian Orthodox Church which unilaterally split from the Patriarchate in Belgrade in 1967. Although it is not in communion with any Orthodox Church, it enjoys support from the government in Skopje. “Our door will remain open to the dialogue until the issue of the unrecognized Macedonian church is resolved in the best possible way,” he said.

Although he reached out to other Christians, the new patriach upset Serbia’s Islamic community. In an interview carried by Blic, Irinej said that “Islam’s philosophy was that Muslims, when they are in small numbers, can behave well and be fair, but that once they become superior, they start to exert pressure.”

The remarks, which echoed the church’s hardline practices during the Balkan wars of the 1990s when top Serbian clergy openly backed paramilitaries who committed war crimes throughout the former Yugoslavia, sparked outrage among Serbian Islamic communities.

“It is completely clear that this statement calls for genocide, because it shows that Muslims are acceptable to the patriarch only when they are in minority and when they live with their heads bowed down,” the Islamic Community in Serbia said in a statement.

Irinej sought to rectify the problem and at the press conference he said that his church has always respected Muslim community. “It is their religion and why would we interfere and give our opinion? We respect them as a religious community. That’s what we have always been doing. We will continue to do so onwards, to be fully tolerant toward every religion, religious community and ideology,” he said.
'Unhappy' Queen sends Lord Chamberlain to ask Archbishop Nichols about Pope's Anglican plan
by Damian Thompson Religion

In a surprising departure from protocol, the Queen has sent the Lord Chamberlain, the most senior official of the Royal Household, to see Archbishop Vincent Nichols, leader of the Roman Catholic Church in England and Wales, to discuss Pope Benedict XVI’s offer to Anglicans wanting to convert to Rome en masse.

My source says Her Majesty – who is expected to meet the Pope when he visits Britain this autumn – was “unhappy” about aspects of the scheme as she understood it. So, late last year, she dispatched Lord Peel with a list of questions for the Archbishop. The nature of the questions has not been revealed, but Archbishop’s House confirms that the meeting took place and was “mutually beneficial”.

The Queen – a somewhat “Low Church” Anglican who feels it is her solemn duty to preserve the Protestant identity of the Church of England – appears to have been alarmed by press reports of Pope Benedict’s Apostolic Constitution, Anglicanorum coetibus. This allows groups of ex-Anglicans anywhere to convert to Rome together, retaining aspects of Anglican worship. Some members of the Church of England have expressed interest in doing so, but are very keen to carry on worshipping in their former Anglican parish churches. Possibly the Queen felt that this process might conflict with her Coronation Oath to maintain all the “rights and privileges” of the bishops, clergy and churches of England.

My source was surprised that the Queen should ask one of her courtiers, the Ampleforth-educated but Anglican 3rd Earl Peel, to quiz Archbishop Nichols on the subject. The source felt that the meeting – thought to have been held in November at Archbishop’s House, Westminster – could be seen as a breach of protocol: one would expect the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, to represent the Church’s Supreme Governor in such a discussion.

There have been rumours that the Queen is dismayed by the Anglican drift towards homosexual blessings and women bishops. Perhaps she felt that she needed an adviser answerable only to her to convey information impartially – particularly given that she will probably meet Pope Benedict in Scotland, either at Balmoral or Holyrood, when he visits Britain in September. (The discussion between Lord Peel and the Archbishop is unlikely to have been about this meeting, however, since the Scottish Catholic Church is independent of England and Wales.)

At any rate, the spokesman for Archbishop Nichols insisted tonight that the meeting was a success. “It gave the Archbishop the opportunity to correct some of the misunderstandings about the Apostolic Constitution created by misreporting in the media,” he told me. “It was a very successful meeting and mutually beneficial.”

What the spokesman couldn’t tell me – and indeed, didn’t seem to know – was why the leader of the Catholic Church in England and Wales should have been asked to see the Lord Chamberlain, of all people, to discuss what is essentially a theological and constitutional question.

The Catholic Bishops of England and Wales have been asked by Rome to discuss a provisional structure for the ex-Anglican “Ordinariate” (a quasi-diocese). Archbishop Nichols is a key figure in this process, and I don’t envy him. On the one hand, some of his bishops hate the Pope’s proposal and will work to make its provisions as ungenerous as possible; on the other, he has to report to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which is ultimately in charge of the Ordinariate scheme on behalf of the Pope, and which does favour generosity.

Now, it would seem, the Archbishop has also to bear in mind the Queen’s early misgivings about a scheme which could see a few parish communities moving from the Church that she governs – and that she promised to protect at her Coronation – to the jurisdiction of the Holy See.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Pope's Synagogue Visit Seen as "Sign of Continuity"

Rabbi Di Segni Analyzes Jewish-Catholic Relations
By Carmen Elena VillaROME, JAN. 20, 2010 (

Benedict XVI's recent visit to Rome's Synagogue was an important step on the way to understanding and reconciliation between Jews and Christians, says the Chief Rabbi of Rome, Riccardo Di Segni. On Sunday, the Pope became the second Pontiff to visit the Synagogue of Rome. Pope John Paul II was the first, in 1986. It was Benedict XVI's third visit to a synagogue, after visits in Cologne and New York.

Di Segni told ZENIT this week that he believes "it has been an important event, and one that goes beyond all the polemics that have taken place and that in a certain sense continue to take place inevitably."

"We thought it was a necessary moment in the path, an important sign of continuity," he added.

According to the rabbi, who has been Rome's chief rabbi since 2001, the Pope's visit "shows the existence of a foundation of good disposition by both sides, which constitutes the basis on which we can discuss with all frankness, without giving up anything, but going forward."


The rabbi sees two challenges to progress in the dialogue between Catholics and Jews, although he admitted that if he was to make a complete list, "I could stay until tomorrow morning."

In the first place, he clarified, "there is a problem that affects the interpretation of the role of the Church during the Shoa: the responsibility of Christians in anti-Semitism."

"A part of this problem is in fact the responsibility of Pius XII," the rabbi said. "The judgment on Pius XII is very complex, as there is no doubt that in his pontificate many Jews were hidden and saved, but for us there is no doubt that there was an acquiescence, a lack of action, in face of what was happening."

Di Segni said the second problem posed in Judeo-Catholic relations "is the theological role of Jews in the Catholic vision": "Must we be converted or can we arrive at salvation calmly?"

"Moreover," he added, "there are political problems that affect the land of Israel, but they are specifically political." Finally, among these challenges, the rabbi mentioned the relation of Jews and Christians "with the other religions, with all the problems of modernity."


Rabbi Di Segni said he appreciated what Benedict XVI said during his visit to the synagogue, in particular his quotation of John Paul II in which he asked for forgiveness for the sufferings caused by the children of the Church to the children of the People of the Covenant.

"It is a very noble, very important text on which we must reflect from different points of view, as in Judaism there is no delegation of forgiveness," the rabbi said. "Anyone can forgive the fault suffered personally and ask for forgiveness. It is something that serves above all as commitment for the future and, from this point of view, it is important."

"What sense does it make to ask for forgiveness without identifying the one I do not now say who is responsible, but perhaps indifferent? Then, on this, a discussion is opened which can be somewhat complex at this moment," he added.

According to the rabbi, the proposal of forgiveness presented by the Pope could purify future relations between Jews and Catholics: "For us, forgiveness must be understood as not to do the same again. This is what is important for us."

Bioethics and culture

The rabbi, who continues to practice his medical profession in the Radiology department of St. John's hospital in Rome, believes that the defense of life could become a common point of commitment for Catholics and Jews.

"I am actively involved in the field of bioethics," he said. "Obviously we share the theme of the defense of life from the beginning until the end."
"We have discussions on the way of defining the beginning and the end," the rabbi noted, "as we do not have identical positions."

He explained that Jews "do not see conception as the beginning of life." Finally, speaking about Benedict XVI, the rabbi stressed above all "his doctrinal profundity and his sensitivity to cultural topics."

"He is very different from the preceding pastoral image," Di Segni said. "And I can tell you that we, Jews, love culture."

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Jewish-Catholic dialogue continues after papal synagogue visit

Rome, Italy, Jan 19, 2010 / 09:32 pm (CNA).- Since Pope Benedict's visit to the Synagogue of Rome on Sunday, media outlets have produced countless stories on the state of relations between the two religions. Despite the climax of the encounter, dialogue between the two continues to be a work in progress and important talks have immediately followed the occasion.

Representatives from the Chief Rabbinate of Israel and the Holy See's Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews have been holding talks since the afternoon visit between the Pope and the Chief Rabbi of Rome.

Meetings between the delegations began after the Sunday synagogue visit and ended on Tuesday afternoon after seven sessions promoting Catholic-Jewish dialogue. The sessions closed with a lecture by the French priest and expert in Judaism Father Patrick Debois, who spoke on the Holocaust.

The meetings were developed around the theme "Catholic and Jewish teaching on Creation and the Environment. The challenges of human intervention in the natural order."

Fr. Norbert Hofman, secretary of the Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews told Vatican Radio this week that the symposium offered the delegations a welcome return to normal relations after some turbulent times.

Due to the changing of the Good Friday prayer for the conversion of Jews in the Latin-language 1962 Roman Missal and the comments made about the Holocaust by the recently reinstated Pius X Society Bishop Richard Williamson, representatives of the two faiths had not met in two years, Fr. Hofman noted.

"Now, after two years, we meet again, and this is a good sign,” the secretary for dialogue said. “These meetings have always been characterized by a friendly atmosphere,” he explained, adding that he is happy to be meeting with his "Jewish friends" again.

When he was asked if the dialogue is influenced by the changes in the political climate, Fr. Hofman replied, “Maybe political situation could influence a little, but our primary aim is an exchange of religious ideas, a dialogue on a religious level."

Members of the Jewish delegation include four chief rabbis, three of which are from Israel, the secretary general of the Chief Rabbinate of Israel and the Director of International Affairs of the American Jewish Committee.

The Catholic delegation is composed of Cardinal Jorge Mejia, retired archivist of the Vatican secret archives, Patriarch of Jerusalem Fouad Twal, Apostolic Nuncio to Israel Archbishop Antonio Franco and six others including two archbishops and the Custos of the Holy Land.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Pope Benedict XVI (R) shakes hands with former chief rabbi Elio Toaff at Rome's main synagogue January 17, 2010.

Pope Benedict XVI chats with Rome's Chief Rabbi Riccardo Di Segni during his visit at the Synagogue of Rome in Rome, Italy. In the Pope's comments he claimed that the Vatican had made attempts to save Jews during the Second World War, and also apologized for Christian responsibility for anti-Semitism and urged Jews and Christians 'to come together to strengthen the bonds which unite us and to continue to travel together along the path of reconciliation and fraternity'.

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Last June, Pope Benedict XVI declared a Year for Priests; next week, the Catholic Church will celebrate National Vocation Awareness Week.
Photo courtesy of Wikipedia

It may be uncommon to spot a “religious vocation” table at many university career fairs, but Catholic churches across the country will be highlighting this choice during National Vocation Awareness Week (NVAW) next week.

U.S. bishops have declared the promotion of vocations to priesthood and religious life as one of their current most pressing priorities.

Last June 19, Pope Benedict XVI declared a Vatican-sponsored “Year for Priests.” Churches across the nation are being encouraged to highlight the works of their dioceses, bring attention to priestly vocations on their Web sites and provide information to young people interested in this life choice.

Christ the King Catholic Church in Ann Arbor - a church which, according to clergy members, has been recognized by the Catholic bishops in Washington, D.C. as probably having more men in seminary than any other Catholic church in the United States - features a Year for Priests on its Web site at

At a time when the Catholic Church is battling a decline in clergy interest, Christ the King’s accomplishment is noteworthy - particularly when some dioceses can’t reach the number (24) of men that the Ann Arbor parish has.

The secret?
According to clergy members, both religious leaders and church members strive to help those considering a consecrated life or ordination to the priesthood every day of the year. Of importance, they also say, is that they don’t push the pursuit of religious vocation on everyone. Rather, part of the church’s mission remains to open young people’s ears and to support those who do find themselves following a religious vocational path.

“As Catholics, we believe a call to a vocation is something Jesus does, and what a parish strives to do is to help people to hear the call,” said Deacon Dan Foley of Christ the King Catholic Church, also a member of the church’s vocations committee. “We don’t push. Maybe someone was meant for something else - married life, to become an evangelist or teacher - we want them to discern what Jesus wants. We help them to hear the voice of the Lord and we encourage families to be supportive of them.”

Unlike the high number of up-and-coming clergy from Christ the King Catholic Church, however, the Catholic Church as a whole has been battling a decline in new clergy for years. Pope Benedict XVI recognized this fact when, in an address to the members of the Congregation for the Clergy last March, he announced his reasons for creating a Year for Priests.

“Awareness of the radical social changes that have occurred in recent decades must motivate the best ecclesial forces to supervise the formation of candidates for the ministry,” stated the Pope.
And how would the Catholic Church go about reaching the young people of today?

Well, through Web sites like Facebook, of course.
The Year for Priests on Facebook has 6,515 official fans, quotes, discussions and more.
Even if specific events aren’t scheduled for next week’s National Vocation Awareness Week, Catholic churches in Ann Arbor - such as St. Mary Student Parish - continually have educational material available and priests, nuns and other clergy members available for questions or to talk.
At Christ the King Catholic Church, support for vocations remains at the top of the list of priorities.

“The nature of our parish is to be open to men being called, and we try to support them in a practical sense while Fr. Ed (Fride) mentors them,” Foley said. “We have supportive families and good priests as models - the kind of priests these men want to be. And every Thursday, we have a Mass intended to pray for those in the seminary.”

Stephanie Fenton covers faith for Stephanie can be reached at

Sunday, January 03, 2010

Pope's aide visits attack woman
Pope Benedict XVI's personal secretary has visited the mentally disturbed woman who assaulted the pontiff at Mass on Christmas Eve.

Monsignor Georg Gaenswein saw Susanna Maiolo at a psychiatric clinic near Rome at the pontiff's request.

The Vatican confirmed the visit after Italy's Il Giornale newspaper said it had taken place on New Year's Day.

It added that a judicial case opened against Ms Maiolo by the Vatican authorities would "run its course".

The Roman Catholic world was shocked by the attack, in which Ms Maiolo leapt over a barrier at St Peter's Basilica and brought the 82-year-old Pope to the ground at the beginning of the Mass.
She was quickly overpowered and Benedict, who was not injured, proceeded with the service.

Attacker 'forgiven'
Ms Maiolo, 25, attempted an identical lunge at the Pope during the same Mass in 2008, but was restrained by security guards.

Monsignor Gaenswein made the visit to convey Pope Benedict's concern for the woman's situation, Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi told the Associated Press news agency.

He saw Ms Maiolo at a hostel for people with psychiatric problems in the town of Subiaco.
According to Il Giornale, the papal aide brought her a rosary and told her the Pope believed in her good intentions and had pardoned her.

The paper added that an elderly French cardinal, Roger Etchegaray, who suffered a broken hip during the incident in St Peter's, had also passed on his forgiveness.

Fr Lombardi said he did not want to comment on what was said at the meeting but added: "Every Christian pardons."

Asked about the judicial proceedings, he said it had still to be determined if the woman, who has a history of psychiatric problems, could be held legally responsible for what she did.

Story from BBC NEWS: