Friday, September 06, 2013

The Moynihan Report: Letter #85: A Proposal of Common Work

September 6, 2013, Friday -- A Proposal of Common Work for Peace among Catholics and Orthodox
"I believe, Mary, that in Egypt your heart remained humble and always filled with joy. Is not Jesus the most beautiful homeland? What did exile matter to you if you possessed Heaven? But when you returned to Jerusalem, a great sorrow awaited you, your heart was flooded with an immense sorrow: Jesus withdrew himself from your tender care for three days, and this alone became for you a true and harsh exile." —St. Therese of the Child Jesus (to whom Pope Francis has a particular devotion). This reflection will be part of the Prayer Vigil for Peace tomorrow evening in St. Peter's Square.
The only true exile
The loss of Jesus is the only true exile, the only ultimate sorrow.
The loss of the hope of redemption from sin, of healing from fallenness, which Jesus in his holiness offers, is the only despair that can plunge souls into impenetrable night.
He is the true "Promised Land." The "land promised" where humans can be at home.
That is what we learn from these lines of St. Therese of the Child Jesus, which will be cited tomorrow in Rome during the prayer vigil for peace called by Pope Francis.
The disappearance of Christians
And that is why the suffering and looming disappearance of Christians, of believers in Christ, in the Middle East, is something all Christians ought to feel as a painful wound that needs to stop bleeding so healing can start.
All Christians -- Catholics, Orthodox and Protestants alike.
In yesterday's email, I noted that a small village in Syria, where the Christians still speak a version of Aramaic, is now under attack by rebel forces.
This village should be protected.
The day of prayer and fasting
We are now on the eve of September 7, the Day of Prayer and Fasting for Peace called for by Pope Francis.
Francis is moving earth and heaven to try to bring about a ceasefire in the terrible civil war which has killed many innocent women and children in Syria.
Francis will be present in St. Peter's Square tomorrow evening, starting at 7 p.m., to lead the prayers for peace in a special service designed for the occasion, which has just been released by the Vatican.
The vigil will be televised live on EWTN. It is not clear how the rest of the world's media will cover this extraordinary initiative. Will it be passed over in near silence?
The sorrow of Mary
Significantly, this vigil comes on the eve of the birthday of the Virgin Mary.
It also comes five weeks before the Pope will celebrate on October 12 and 13, in Rome, with great solemnity, the 96th anniversary of the astonishing "Miracle of the Sun" which occurred in Fatima, Portugal, on October 13, 1917, in the presence of 70,000 witnesses.
In this "Marian" context, the reflection of St. Therese of the Child Jesus cited above takes on special significance.
For, in the midst of war, in the midst of the helplessness and despair which comes with the snuffing out of innocent human lives -- especially the lives of children and all the promise those lives contain -- the figure of Mary, the mother of Jesus, who herself suffered such great sorrow, both at the disappearance of her son for three days in Jerusalem when he was 12, and at his death on the cross when he was 33, returns to offer comfort.
On the path of sorrow, we do not go anywhere Mary has not been before us.
And in our brokenheartedness, she whose heart was pierced can comfort us.
In this "Marian comfort" is a basis for hope that human beings, fallen as we are, wounded as we are, limited as we are, may yet find the hard and painful way toward building that just peace, even if imperfect, which can be a powerful eschatological sign of the final divine promise of eternal life, even in this fallen world.
In Mary and her witness, we have the hope of finding peace, even in war-torn Syria, where 110,000 people have been killed in the past two years, even in the Middle East, where armed forces have been preparing for, and sometimes waging, war for many decades, and likewise throughout the world, where peace is often fragile and elusive.
Mary can be a central figure of hope and comfort for all because she represents all. She was a child of the people of Israel, a Jew, trained in the Jewish law, delighting in the Jewish holy days. Yet, as the mother of Jesus, she is of course revered by all Christians as the Mother of the Church, the "new Eve" for the "new Israel." At the same time, she is also revered, as Miriam, by all Muslims,  as the Virgin Mother of Jesus.
And, in particular, she is revered in Damascus, the capital of Syria.
There, in a certain house, lives a woman named Myrna. In that house, for more than two decades, a mysterious icon of Mary and the child Jesus has been weeping, inexplicably.
Mary of Damascus, Mary of Kazan
The icon is an inexpensive copy of the famous Russian icon of Our Lady of Kazan -- the most sacred of all the holy icons of Russia, sometimes called "The Protection of Russia."
That original of that icon is now in Kazan again, after having been lost for decades. It only came back after being protected in Fatima in the 1970s, and then in Rome, in the very apartment of Pope John Paul II, where I myself saw it in the year 2000, after traveling to Kazan and learning that it had been lost.
It was that experience which led me to decide to try to do something to bring about a reconciliation between Catholics and Orthodox, despite nearly 1,000 years of separation, after 1,000 years of unity.
And so we established the "Urbi et Orbi Foundation," to try to work in modest ways with the Orthodox to build the presuppositions for closer communion.
Those presuppositions are friendship and trust. And to build friendship and trust requires talking and working together, on common projects.
We have therefore supported the work of Constantine Sigov in Kiev, Ukraine, who heads the important St. Clement Center there; the work of Orthodox priests and laypeople in Kharkiv, Ukraine, who are attempting to help handicapped children live fuller lives; and a conference between Catholic and Orthodox theologians in November in Minsk, Belarus, under the patronage of Russian Orthodox Metropolitan Filaret.
The Vatican's Council for Promoting Christian Unity recommended all of these projects to us, and Cardinal Kurt Koch, head of that Council, has sent us a letter thanking us for our support of these projects.

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