by Jarek Budny sdb, Romero D' souza sdb and David Elweu M.Afr
JERUSALEM-ISRAEL, NOVEMBER 21, 2014: On the occasion of its Annual Day, DIES ACADEMICUS, November 20, 2014, the Jerusalem Campus of the Salesian Pontifical University (STS) hosted His Beatitude George Cardinal Alencherry, Major Archbishop of the Syro-Malabar Church, who delivered a Lectio Magistralis on THE IMPORTANCE OF THE UNITY OF THE CHRISTIAN CHURCHES AND THE ROLE OF INDIVIDUAL (SUI IURIS) CHURCHES WITHIN THE CATHOLIC CHURCH.
The words of welcome were given by the Rector of the Salesian Monastery Ratisbonne, Rev. Fr Andrew Wong after which the choir of the STS sang "Dona Nobis Pacem." The Apostolic Delegate in Jerusalem and Palestine, His Excellency Most Rev. Giuseppe Lazzaroto, then proposed the "way of Gaudium et Spes - the common good of humanity." The principal of the STS, Rev. Fr Biju Michael, introduced the Guests of honour - His Excellency Most Rev. Giuseppe Lazzarotto, His Lordship Most Rev. William H. Shomali, His Lordship Most Rev. Giancinto-Boulos Marcuzzo, His Lordship Most Rev. Joseph Jules Zerey, His Lordship Most Rev. Grégoire Boutros Melki, and in a special way his Beatitude George Cardinal Alencherry, who then took stage.
In his introductory remarks, he underlined the appropriate timing of the day's lecture, "... today's lecture is quite well timed particularly because this year marks the fiftieth anniversary of the promulgation of the Dogmatic Constitution Lumen Gentium of Vatican II and the Decrees Orientalium Ecclesiarum and Unitatis Redintegratio. These three documents were promulgated on November 21, 1964 and this conference takes place here today on the 20th of November 2014 just one day before the semi centennial jubilee of that historic event." He began by quoting Pope Francis while speaking on the unity and holiness of the Church and stressed the need to live as a community centered on Christ; he proposed a theoretical as well as practical ecumenism based on the above three documents.
Later in his lecture, the Cardinal insistently stated that the unity of Christians would only be possible if there was a change of heart (an interior conversion) enlightened by faith, guided by prayer and an openness to live in fraternal harmony. Unity though, he said, is not uniformity, giving the example of his own Church. "The Syro-Malabar Church or the Church of St. Thomas Christians of India is as old as Christianity itself in the Indian soil." The Cardinal acknowledged that there are slight differences in liturgical practices between the Syro-Malabar Church and the Latin Church yet, he said, the two have never broken communion.
Then, referring to the unity between the 23 Catholic Churches of the East and West that have kept intact the faith received from the Apostles, His Beatitude quoted Pope St. John Paul II to stress the need for unity, "The Church must learn to breathe again with its two lungs: its Eastern one and its Western one." He then highlighted the most important aspects of the following themes, which are indisputably crucial for dialogue between Christian churches: the Church is a Communion of Churches; Individual (sui iuris) Churches and Rites; Canonical Definition of Church sui iuris and Rite; the Prayer of Jesus-the Heart of Our Unity; Gift of God - Not the fruit of a Treaty; the Eucharist and Unity; the Role of Eastern Catholic Churches (sui iuris) in the Path towards Church Unity, and Collaboration in the Field of Evangelization and Pastoral Care.
In his concluding remarks, His Beatitude made a call to unity, one that encompasses all the Christian Churches: "We all irrespective of easterners or westerners, Catholics or non-Catholics should be seriously concerned about the current cultural and social trends that are leading to a progressive de-Christianization and secularization everywhere, particularly of Europe. If we do not stand together and act accordingly, the evangelization process will deteriorate and the primary mission, which Christ entrusted us will not bear fruit. We always and everywhere have to affirm our commitment to work for Christian unity, as desired by Christ."
Then he called the keen attention of the audience "to the plight of Christians living here in the Middle East, especially in Iraq and Syria and other religious and ethnic minorities who are suffering because of the violence raging across the region, which must certainly be an important subject of our reflection and prayer." In the context of this humanitarian catastrophe, the Cardinal added, "I feel that the world conscience is not fully awake to the gravity of the situation. Therefore it is high time that the international community intervene with concrete and effective plans to establish peace, promote freedom of religion and consciousness and eradicate religious fundamentalism, which has gone to the extreme level of violating human rights."
The lectio magistralis was followed by a time of dialogue on the topic with his Beatitude. Some pertinent questions were raised to which Cardinal George responded in a very friendly and realistic manner. This was followed by the release of the book Tu Giovanni written by Rev. Fr Joan Vernet, the Professor of Biblical History and Archeology. The new edition in Arabic of the Liturgical Hymns published by the Patriarchate was also presented to the audience. The event concluded with the melodious singing of "On Eagle's Wings" by the STS choir.