INDIFFERENCE TO ORTHODOX
CATHOLIC indifference to the existence in Britain of nearly 100,000 Christians (mostly British subjects) who are close to them in beliefs is strongly criticised by Fr. George Dagher, chaplain to Eastern-rite Catholics from the Middle East.
The Christians concerned, he told me this week, are Greek-speaking Orthodox, mostly Cypriots. with three churches in London and one each in the larger provincial cities.
Their own immediate religious superior, Bishop James Virvos of the Greek Cathedral, Bayswater, had previously assured me that he would welcome closer relations between the Orthodox and British Catholics. The invitation is by and large ignored by us.
Fr. Dagher, whose headquarters are at the Assumption Convene, Kensington, London, was sent here by his superiors in the Lebanon ten years ago. His terms of reference include the establishment and consolidation of links of friendship with this group of Orthodox.
He is handicapped by lack of funds. by lack of a centre for social activities, and even by lack of an Eastern-rite chapel. "I need the assistance of at least two other priests," he told me.
Yet other Orthodox groups here, much smaller in numbers, are well catered for as far as a Catholic apostolate is concerned. The Roumanians have Fr. Francis Pall, S.J., stationed at the London Polish Jeseit chaplaincy; the Ukrainians have Fr. Maltiga, C SSA., and several other priests; the Byeln-Russians have Bishop. elect Sipovich, M.I.C., of Marian House, Finchley.
The proximity of Catholic and Orthodox faiths permits Catholic Eastern-rite priests to administer the sacraments to Orthodox in extraordinary cases. Fr. Dagher and Fr. (now Bishop-elect) Sipovich (Marian House) both stressed to me that Rome has not repudiated the union concluded at the Ceeancil of Florence in the fifteenth century.
Fr. Sipovich added: "When an Orthodox priest is not available. and I am satisfied of the genuineness of the .motives of the applicant, I administer the sacraments of penance and communion. I do not first ask particular dogmatic questions about papal infallibility and so on."
I asked him how Rome reacts to this. He replied: "I try to do what I feel to be in accordance with the mind of the Holy See and the spirit of Canon Law."
In view of the goodwill of Orthodox leaders in this country towards Catholics, Fr. Sipovich feols that British Catholics should now take steps to further the cause of union Pope John has at heart. "But our apostolic and pastoral activities must not irritate their clergy," he told me. "On special solemnities we should, if invited, attend each other's services in church in an official capacity."
Fr. Dagher claims that Catholics visiting an Orthodox church in this country should perform the usual signs of reverence towards the altar, where the True Sacrifice is offered by brethren whom Rome has never excommunicated.