Sunday, June 26, 2016

In Armenia, The Pope's Prayer: "May Our Communion Be Complete"

Amid what's arguably been the most under-covered PopeTrip of recent times – all the more given the usual hysteria surrounding this pontificate – Francis' weekend trek to Armenia hasn't lacked for striking moments and, indeed, a pocket of controversy in the Pope's unscripted use of the charged word "genocide" in his remarks to the country's leadership: a move which, to the surprise of no one, set off another round of tension with the Turkish government.

All that said, however, the visit's core emphasis came earlier today as Papa Bergoglio attended a Divine Liturgy of the country's Oriental Orthodox Church in its home-base at Etchmiadzin, celebrated by the Catholicos (Patriarch) Karekin II.

Given the opportunity to deliver his own homily at the rite – and notably clad in a stole bearing the coat of arms of his predecessor (unusually topped by a tiara, to boot) – the Bishop of Rome echoed his prior messages to the Orthodox world in advancing the cause of full communion between East and West as "God's call," and ending with a request that the Armenian hierarch "bless me and the Catholic Church":
During this Divine Liturgy, the solemn chant of the Trisagion rose to heaven, acclaiming God’s holiness. May abundant blessings of the Most High fill the earth through the intercession of the Mother of God, the great saints and doctors, the martyrs, especially the many whom you canonized last year in this place. May “the Only Begotten who descended here” bless our journey. May the Holy Spirit make all believers one heart and soul; may he come to re-establish us in unity. For this I once more invoke the Holy Spirit, making my own the splendid words that are part of your Liturgy. Come, Holy Spirit, you “who intercede with ceaseless sighs to the merciful Father, you who watch over the saints and purify sinners”, bestow on us your fire of love and unity, and “may the cause of our scandal be dissolved by this love” (Gregory of Narek, Book of Lamentations, 33, 5), above all the lack of unity among Christ’s disciples.

May the Armenian Church walk in peace and may the communion between us be complete. May an ardent desire for unity rise up in our hearts, a unity that must not be “the submission of one to the other, or assimilation, but rather the acceptance of all the gifts that God has given to each. This will reveal to the entire world the great mystery of salvation accomplished by Christ the Lord through the Holy Spirit” (Greeting at the Divine Liturgy, Patriarchal Church of Saint George, Istanbul, 30 November 2014).

Let us respond to the appeal of the saints, let us listen to the voices of the humble and poor, of the many victims of hatred who suffered and gave their lives for the faith. Let us pay heed to the younger generation, who seek a future free of past divisions. From this holy place may a radiant light shine forth once more, and to the light of faith, which has illumined these lands from the time of Saint Gregory, your Father in the Gospel, may there be joined the light of the love that forgives and reconciles.

Just as on Easter morning the Apostles, for all their hesitations and uncertainties, ran towards the place of the resurrection, drawn by the blessed dawn of new hope (cf. Jn 20:3-4), so too on this holy Sunday may we follow God’s call to full communion and hasten towards it.

Now, Your Holiness, in the name of God, I ask you to bless me, to bless me and the Catholic Church, and to bless this our path towards full unity.
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Once his 14th overseas trek enters the books this evening – finished off as ever with another in-flight press conference (its content likely to drop around 10pm Rome/4pm ET) – Francis returns to Rome for an eerily quiet wrap-up to the "Vatican year," culminating in Wednesday's celebrations of the solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul.

For the first time since 1984 – when St John Paul II began the practice of summoning the world's new metropolitans to bestow the pallium on 29 June – Peter's successor won't be flanked by the freshly-named archbishops on the feast, culminating Francis' desire for the insignia's conferral to take place in the respective local churches. As with last year's rites – when, due to already arranged pilgrimages from some spots, the archbishops were invited one last time – the Pope will bless the lambswool bands at Wednesday's morning Mass, after which they'll be sent to the world's Nuncios, who now impose the pallia on the new archbishops in their cathedrals. In the US, the newly-arrived Archbishop Christophe Pierre will have just one to give: the pallium for Archbishop Bernie Hebda in the Twin Cities, its conferral date at St Paul yet undetermined.

In addition to the feast, meanwhile, the 29th likewise brings the 65th anniversary of Benedict XVI's priestly ordination. While a non-liturgical celebration of the Pope-emeritus' milestone is scheduled to take place in the Apostolic Palace this week, it's likewise expected that Papa Ratzinger will be present in the Basilica for the liturgy, possibly as a concelebrant for just the second time since his resignation.

While the end of year likewise brings a batch of the annual plenary meetings for the Curial dicasteries and other final business before the summer exodus, barring any surprises – and there might just be some – attention's already turned to two matters for the next term: Francis' still-pending choice of leadership for the new mega-Office for Laity, Family and Life, which will consolidate two Pontifical Councils on September 1st, and the shape of the next intake into the College of Cardinals, with a Consistory widely expected to be called either late in the Fall or early next year.

By November's end, the voting College will be at least 13 members shy of the maximum 120, and given Francis' practice of anticipating future vacancies, his third crop of scarlet could see some 20 electoral red hats doled out – a figure which would give Bergoglio's picks just shy of a majority of the voters in a hypothetical Conclave. Though the possibilities of the Pope's precedent-shattering penchant for the peripheries are fairly endless, with the US having been shut out of back-to-back Consistories for the first time in four decades, and the second-largest voting bloc now reduced to a modern low of seven members – a drop of four in two years – the Stateside element of the mix bears particular watching.

Maintaining his usual practice of "staycationing" at the Domus, the Pope's morning homilies will again be on hiatus in July and August, with next month's trip to Poland for World Youth Day in Krakow the lone major event on tap. Yet while any last-round appointments are usually announced by July 15th, that might not be the case this year – at least, in one particular instance... and, well, more there in due course.