Eastern Catholic Bishops Of Canada And Argentina Call For Better Relations With Latin-Rite Catholics

Catholic bishops at the Synod on Synodality called for better understanding between Catholics of the East and West.

Santo Josafat Iglesia Greco Catolica Ucrania Argentina

Catholic bishops of the Eastern rites called for improved relations with the Latin rite, following the Synod on Synodality, which was held last month at the Vatican. The latter concluded with a similar call for strengthened ties between Eastern rite clergy living in the diaspora and their colleagues of the Latin rite. Both initiatives aim to foster respect and mutual understanding of the various traditions.

According to ACI Mena – an Arab language media outlet of EWTN – Bishop Milad Al-Jawish of the Greek-Melkite Catholic Eparchy of Canada, and Bishop Juan Habib Chamieh of the Maronite Diocese of Argentina, see challenges and opportunities for improved relations.

Bishop Al-Jawish drew a distinction between Eastern Christian immigrants to Canada who came decades ago, and the more recent arrivals, who came in four significant waves due to wars, persecution, and crises in Lebanon and Syria.

“The first type includes Christians who arrived since ancient times and whose descendants today constitute the fourth generation," he said. "The second type is represented by modern migrations in their four waves. Three from Lebanon - during the civil war after 1975, after the end of the civil war in 1990, and the current migration due to the economic crisis and the explosion of the port of Beirut in 2020—and one from Syria that began in 2012," he explained.

"Whoever arrives here, his first years involve effort, work and adaptation to Canadian society,” he said. “The church becomes for him a refuge through which he maintains his heritage." Although there are no exact statistics, the number of members of our Church is not less than 30,000 believers, and the parish of Montreal alone has more believers than many of the dioceses of the East," he said.

Bishop Al-Jawish said the Maronite Catholic Church has an "excellent" relationship with the Latin-rite Catholic Church. The latter, he said, has shown openness and respect for Eastern Christians, recognizing the importance of maintaining the Christian faith in increasingly secular Western nations.  "The Latin Church considers that it has a role in preserving the Christian faith in Western countries, most of which have become secularized. Therefore, everything is love, communication and cooperation between us, and visits and joint acts do not cease," he said.

A minority of newcomers attend Latin-rite Catholic churches, Bishop Al-Jarwish said, because of the long distances and isolation in Canada, or the assumption that it helps their children's assimilation and language acquisition.However, the bishop said that Eastern Catholic churches like his own are dedicated to preserving the Eastern Catholic faith and heritage among the members of his flock.

Regarding Argentina, Bishop Chamieh spoke of the historical roots of Middle Eastern immigrants to the South American republic, noting a gradual shift from Arabic and Syriac to Spanish in religious services, while maintaining elements of the Syriac tradition. But he also stress that Argentina's Maronite Catholic Church has not completely abandoned "the language of our Syriac ritual, which is dear to our believers because it is the language of Christ."

He said an elderly parishioner asked him to teach him the Lord's Prayer and the Hail Mary in Syriac, so that he could teach his granddaughter. "When I gave him the sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick before his death, he asked that my prayers be in Syriac."

Bishop Chamieh said that the forthcoming Synod of Catholic bishops of Argentina, "which includes four Eastern Churches: the Maronites, the Armenians, the Melkites, and the Ukrainian Church," underscores their good relations with the Latin-rite Catholic Church. He expressed concern over the decline in traditional Maronite marriage ceremonies, which he said are due to population decline and popular misunderstandings. He also expressed regret for the out-flow of young people from the Middle East, which only increased after the detonation of tons of volatile chemicals in a basement in Beirut in a traditional Christian neighborhood.

Recently, the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Eparchy of Buenos Aires commemorated the 400th anniversary of the martyrdom of Saint Josaphat. Josaphat Kuntsevych was a bishop of the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic rite of Ukraine during difficult years following the Union of Brest, an agreement signed in 1596 by the Church of the Rus of Kyiv (Ukraine) and the Holy See, bringing them into communion with each other. However, unity was difficult to maintain, mainly due to the Orthodox Church headquartered in Moscow, which in concert with the Czar sought to dominate political and religious life in Ukraine and Russia. 

Bishop Josaphat insisted on the dignity and equality of the Greek-Catholic rite of his particular church, but also upheld his communion with the Pope of Rome. He is seen as a martyr to the unity of Christians and to communion with the Holy See. In the late 1500s, several bishops of the Ruthenian Orthodox Church (Kiev Metropolitanate) rejected the authority of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Constantinople and instead entered communion with the Holy See under the terms laid down by the Council of Florence and the Union of Brest. Conflict ensued among Christians loyal to the Ecumenical Patriarchate and those loyal to the Pope of Rome.

Eventually, residents of the town of Vitebsk, enraged over discipline Josaphat meted out to a priest who celebrated the Divine Liturgy outside of communion with the Pope, responded to a signal of ringing church bells in October 1623. The mob stormed his residence, wounded his servants, beat him in his room, split his head with an axe, dragged him naked through the streets, and threw his body into the river Dvina. He was canonized in 1867, and his body is now resting in the Basilica of St. Peter in Rome under the altar of Saint Basil the Great.

According to the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church of Argentina, "He lived the words of the Gospel to the end: 'May they all be one.' How good it is to give your life, because there is no greater manifestation of love. Josaphat lives these words and faces reality with the strength that comes from God, inspired by the Holy Spirit. You have to resist, you have to fight... Josaphat is the example of the Good Shepherd. In the end, Jehoshaphat dies to live. A martyr does not die, because he is in the eternal arms of God. The saint is still alive in our lives, Churches, in our liturgical calendars. 1623 was the year in which Josaphat gave his life for these words of Christ: so that "they may all be one."

Topic tags:
Catholic Church Argentina Canada Byzantine Catholic Melkite Catholic Maronite Catholic Orthodox Christianity