Wednesday, May 07, 2008

"Ut Unum Sint!"

This morning's General Audience saw more than one "Santità" present as the head of the Armenian Apostolic church, Catholicos Karekin II, sat in for Papa Ratzi's Wednesday gathering.

Greeting the "supreme patriarch" of the worldwide fold of 6 million, Benedict XVI noted the nation's history of "severe persecutions"; "Armenia’s many martyrs are a sign of the power of the Holy Spirit working in times of darkness, and a pledge of hope for Christians everywhere," the Pope said. Between 1.5 and 2 million Armenians were killed in the Ottoman-led genocide in the years around World War I.

In his catechesis, the pontiff melded the twin themes of ecumenism and Sunday's celebration of Pentecost, praying that the Holy Spirit might "advance" the Christian family along the path to unity.

In the Easter season, Benedict said, "the Holy Spirit appears as the force for the forgiveness of sins, the renewal of our hearts and our lives; and so he renews the earth and creates unity where there was division.

"On the feast of Pentecost," he added, "the Holy Spirit reveals himself in other signs: the rushing wind, the tongues of fire, and the Apostles speaking in every language. This is a sign that the division of Babel, fruit of the pride that divides man, is superseded in the Spirit who is love and whose gift is unity amid diversity. From the first moment of its existence the church speaks in every language -- thanks to the strength of the Holy Spirit and the tongues of fire -- thus it lives in all cultures, it doesn't destroy their various gifts, their many charisms, but takes them all into a great and new unity of reconciliation: unity and multiformity."

At the end of the audience, Benedict voiced his "cry of pain and help" for the people of Myanmar following Cyclone Nargis, which struck the country last weekend. "I invite everyone to open their hearts with mercy and generosity," the pontiff said, "that there might be relief to the suffering caused by such an immense tragedy."

According to Catholic Relief Services' current estimates, the CAT-3 storm's toll has left at least 20,000 dead, 40,000 missing, 100,000 homeless, with "tens of thousands" of homes destroyed; calling the situation "increasingly horrendous," the charge d'affaires of the US embassy in the capital, Yangon, said earlier today that the actual death toll could be as high as 100,000.

* * *

In other Vatican briefs, while all was gracious at Monday's meeting between B16 and the archbishop of Canterbury Dr Rowan Williams, one leading papal surrogate has called the Anglican Communion to a moment of decision.

In comments to the UK's Catholic Herald, Rome's top ecumenist Cardinal Walter Kasper expressed his hope that this summer's Lambeth Conference would serve as the moment when the fractured global body of 70 million would "clarify its identity."

"Ultimately, it is a question of the identity of the Anglican Church," Kasper told the paper. "Where does it belong?

"Does it belong more to the churches of the first millennium -- Catholic and Orthodox -- or does it belong more to the Protestant churches of the 16th century? At the moment it is somewhere in between, but it must clarify its identity now and that will not be possible without certain difficult decisions."

For its part, the president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity said the Holy See hoped "that certain fundamental questions will be clarified at the [Lambeth] conference so that dialogue will be possible.

"We shall work and pray that it is possible, but I think that it is not sustainable to keep pushing decision-making back because it only extends the crisis."

At Williams' invitation, Kasper will speak at the decennial summit of Anglican bishops. However, in an unusual move intended to underscore its support, the Vatican's top hand in attendance will be the "Red Pope" Cardinal Ivan Dias, the Curia's top official on the missionary world.

And lastly, just two weeks after Italian President Giorgio Napolitano threw the Pope a concert to mark his 81st birthday and third anniversary on Peter's chair, B16 will return to the Paul VI Hall tonight for another, even more politically charged performance as the China Philharmonic plays for the pontiff.

While both Rome and Beijing are seeking to downplay the event's profile -- no diplomatic invitations have been issued -- the evening of Mozart's Requiem and traditional Chinese songs indicates a heightened commitment to what diplomatese calls "reciprocal contacts."

As the orchestra criss-crosses Europe in the run-up to the Summer Olympics in Beijing, conductor Long Yu even went so far as to compare the concert to the early '70s China-US ping-pong matches that paved the way for Richard Nixon's eventual visit.

Long might just be onto something. Statesiders might have a thing for sports... but the Pope's weakness for Mozart is far from a state secret.

Benedict will close the concert with an address.

PHOTO: Reuters