Last Updated:Friday - 09/24/2010
July 9, 2001
Stunning success in Ukraine
Pope John Paul remains a most amazing man, or rather, a most amazing force for good in world history. At 81, this once-most-vigorous leader is, physically, a mere shadow of his former self. And yet his grueling five-day visit to Ukraine last month may well turn out to be one of the most important of the many bold advances of his (so far) 22-year pontificate.
His 1979 visit to Poland was the launching pad for the process that led to the peaceful collapse of the entire Soviet bloc of communism. In just a few days, the Polish faithful saw for themselves that "we" were many and that conscience, not political power, is the true driving force of history. "They," on the other hand, were few and bereft of moral authority.
It took 10 years before Eastern European governments began to fall like dominoes. But the process was set in motion with the papal empowerment of the Polish people in 1979.
Likewise, we may look back to June 2001 as the time when the current Russian Orthodox hierarchy's attitude of bluster and unforgiveness was revealed to their own people in its true character.
The Orthodox people came in large numbers to worship with a Catholic pope, not because they were being "proselytized," but because we share the same faith and because they refuse to live their lives focused on centuries-old hurts. "Do not be afraid," the pope has said time after time since his election in 1978. It is a message that continues to resonate.
The Globe and Mail's Geoffrey York managed to find Angelina Lavrikova, a cook at a Russian Orthodox church in Moscow, attending a papal Mass in Kiev. "Some people are probably going to criticize me," said Lavrikova. "But we are all Christians and we look forward to a future where these barriers do not exist."
Contrast her words with those of Russian Orthodox Patriarch Alexei who said the papal visit could "close the door" to any future reconciliation between the Orthodox and Roman Catholics.
So, who really speaks for the Orthodox Church - the patriarch or the cook? Based on the openness of so many Orthodox in Ukraine to the papal visit, one would have to say the cook.
At least, that's the hopeful view. That view says that, given the witness of the Orthodox faithful during the papal visit, the rigidity of the Russian Orthodox hierarchy might now be pushed towards a little more suppleness on such basic Christian issues as forgiveness, repentance and dialogue.
The hopeful view is that the papal visit might provide the impetus that will move the Orthodox and Catholics towards full unity. The openness of the Orthodox faithful may help to melt the intransigence of the Russian Orthodox hierarchy. We are separated less by theology and doctrine than by history. That history should not be white-washed. But if we are true to the spirit of Jesus, we should be able to turn past hurts into future bonds of communion. The flower can grow where the wound once festered.
Indeed, the East and West need each other. Pope John Paul is fond of saying the Church will be stronger once it again breathes with both lungs. We ought not to be at loggerheads with one another. We ought, rather, to provide a united alternative to a world where consumerism, the culture of death and the ravages of uncontrolled capitalism are gaining ever-greater sway.
Reunited, the Orthodox East and Catholic West can spark the "new evangelization" that can be the driving force for the re-humanization of cultures around the world. The pope's visit to Ukraine showed that hope is not an empty one. May it now begin to take root and blossom in a new dialogue of charity among Catholics and Orthodox.
Copyright © 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009 -- Western Catholic Reporter
Our mission: To serve our readers by bringing the Gospel to bear on current issues in the Church and in secular culture through accurate news coverage and reflective commentary.