A small but brave group of Byzantine Catholics has stood on Western soil tediously, yet joyfully, toiling away at the task given by Pope John Paul II in his May 2, 1995 Apostolic Letter Orientale Lumen (Light of the East ). That is to aid in the restoration of unity between Catholics and all the Christians of the East.
For the better part of 14 years, The Orientale Lumen Conferences have provided ordained and lay Roman Catholics, Eastern Catholics and the Eastern Orthodox a forum for understanding the similarities and differences among the Eastern and Western Christian Churches. With endorsements ranging from the Vatican to the Phanar, these conferences include a variety of prayer services, learning experiences and intellectual discussion.
“It is with great pleasure and paternal joy that we humbly greet the blessed… Orientale Lumen Conferences,” said Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople in 2006. “Your pioneering ecumenical gatherings have indeed provided an exceptional forum… [and] your sacred intent is blessed from within and from above by the very nature of your initiative. For, while your effort may be — as you describe it — ‘grass roots’, we are convinced that it is at the same time rooted in heaven.”
Meeting annually since 1997 in Washington, DC and other locations around the world — including San Diego, Detroit, Birmingham, UK and Istanbul (Constantinople), Turkey — these conferences host some of the world’s best-known and well-loved experts in a variety of fields that range from theology and history to liturgy and spirituality. Each speaker gives a plenary session followed by a panel discussion and a question-and-answer session; all of the papers presented at the conference are published. More importantly, a variety of liturgical services are conducted during the conference to provide an opportunity for attendees to pray together for Church unity.
“Wherever Christian faithful meet for growth in communion, it is the Holy Spirit who inspires and prompts them,” said Cardinal Walter Kasper, president, Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, during a June 2006 video commemorating the 10th anniversary of the conference. “What you are doing at the level of local Churches is appreciated as a true contribution of promoting Christian unity.”
This year’s conference is being held in Washington, DC, June 15-18, 2009, at the Pope John Paul II Cultural Center and will focus on the theme of “Monastic Spirituality for Everyday Life”. The focus of this session will be on returning to God and seeking to find a meaning in the mystery of life by making use of certain specific practices like prayer, fasting, silence, vigils, reading and good works.
“One aspect of the conference that is worth noting is that there is no [political] agenda involved,” said Jack Figel, president, Eastern Christian Publications, which runs the conference. “What that means to the number of clergy — including cardinals and patriarchs — who have mentioned it is that these conferences offer face-to-face interaction without the need for official reports and studies. That is a benefit to all the Church and ultimately benefits the formal dialogue between Churches.”
Greek Orthodox Metropolitan and Professor at Oxford University, Kallistos of Diokleia, who will once again be featured at the conference, once remarked: “Let me begin by saying something about what I see as the specific gift of Orientale Lumen and its spirit. I can best express this by recalling some words of Cardinal Suenens of Belgium… ‘If we are to unite together, we must first love one another. And if we are to love one another, we must first get to know one another’. I see a group such as Orientale Lumen as fulfilling an important task in this mutual knowledge and mutual love. Part of the function of Orientale Lumen is to build up ecumenical friendships. And if we are to make progress in the ecumenical movement we do need personal friendships, not simply reports by experts, but human contact.”
For Roman Catholics this conference may be an opportunity to live out not only the spirit of John Paul II’s apostolic letter that must be observed but its letter too.
Since, in fact, we believe that the venerable and ancient tradition of the Eastern Churches is an integral part of the heritage of Christ’s Church, the first need for Catholics is to be familiar with that tradition, so as to be nourished by it and to encourage the process of unity in the best way possible for each. Our Eastern Catholic brothers and sisters are very conscious of being the living bearers of this tradition, together with our Orthodox brothers and sisters. The members of the Catholic Church of the Latin tradition must also be fully acquainted with this treasure and thus feel, with the Pope, a passionate longing that the full manifestation of the Church’s catholicity be restored to the Church and to the world, expressed not by a single tradition, and still less by one community in opposition to the other; and that we too may be granted a full taste of the divinely revealed and undivided heritage of the universal Church which is preserved and grows in the life of the Churches of the East as in those of the West (§1).
Registration details for this year’s conference (as well as the 2010 conference in Istanbul) can be found on-line at www.olconference.com . Photos and quotations from past speakers can be found on the conference website, and videos of past plenary sessions and liturgical services can be viewed at www.oltvweb.com .
2009 speakers will include: Archimandrite Robert Taft, SJ, Pontifical Oriental Institute, Rome, Italy, (by prerecorded video); Bishop Hlib Lonchyna, Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, Kyiv, Ukraine; Mother Lois Farag, Coptic Orthodox Church, Assistant Professor of Church History, Luther Seminary, St. Paul, MN; Sister Barbara Jean Mihalchick, OSBM, Byzantine Catholic Church of America, Retreat House Director, Uniontown, PA; Prof. Richard Schneider, Orthodox Church in America, Professor and Director of the Orthodox Eastern Christian Studies Program at Trinity College, University of Toronto, Canada; Mr. Elias Damianakis, Greek Orthodox Church, Iconographer and Lecturer, Tampa, FL; Metropolitan Jonah, Primate of the Orthodox Church in America, New York, NYand Metropolitan Kallistos of Diokleia, Greek Orthodox Church, Oxford, England.