Nationalism and rift with Orthodox surface in Rome meeting of Euro-bishops
by Viviane Hewitt in Rome and Peter Stanford TROUBLED relations with the Orthodox church, the growth of nationalism throughout the continent, arid the need to see eastern Europe as a "mission field" dominated the first ten days of the Rome Synod on the. evangelisation of Europe.
The seats at the gathering assigned to "fraternal delegates" from the Moscow Patriarchate as well as the Serbian, Greek, Bulgarian and Romanian Orthodox churches are empty after the Pope's invitations were declined because of tensions between the two denominations.
However, representatives of the Orthodox churches from Constantinople and Georgia are attending. They heard Bishop Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz, the recently appointed apostolic administrator of 250,000 Catholics in the Soviet Union, berate the Orthodox for failing to cooperate in the building of a new Europe.
And he rejected charges that the Catholic church was growing in Russia at the expense of the Orthodox. "We cannot prevent Russians from joining our church. It is not proselytism to accept them". Disputes between Catholics and Orthodox have been particularly acute in the Ukraine, where the Roman church's property, confiscated by Stalin in 1946 and handed over to the Orthodox, has yet to be returned.
At the opening mass in St Peter's, Cardinal Camillo Ruini, the Synod's recording secretary, told the 134 bishops present that the reappearance of inter-church tensions "makes it urgent for us to search for every means to free ecumenical questions from historical prejudice and political conditioning". The cardinal also paid tribute in his address to the Jewish contribution to the building of the continent, and stressed that " the tragedy of the Holocaust has shown us just how far the perversion of Europe's conscience can go". His remarks were taken as a response to preSynod criticisms made by Jewish leaders that the meeting was discussing only the Christian roots of Europe.
The Serbian Orthodox Patriarch Pavle I decided only at the last minute not to attend the synod, but his Catholic counterpart in Yugoslavia's civil war, Croatian Cardinal Franjo Kultaric, told delegates of the 100,000 homes destroyed in his homeland by Serbs, the thousands who mourn their dead, and the. 10 per cent of people who have fled as refugees.
His theme of nationalism was taken up by several other delegates. Some, notably from Romania and Slovenia, spoke of the healthy effects of nationalism, but Archbishop Thomas Winning of Glasgow warned against the reemergence of a narrow nationalism that threatens not only civil peace but the credibility of the church, especially if "ethnic and cultural divisions are allowed to assume religious overtones".
Many of the delegates have referred in their addresses to the changing situation in eastern Europe. It was on a trip to Czechoslovakia after the 1989 "Velvet Revolution" that Pope John Paul announced the Synod. Czech Bishop Josef Koukl said that freedom to worship in his country existed on paper because the vast majority of people were still under the. influence of communist propaganda. Czechoslovakia is a " mission field", he said, and its religious re-birth is only evident in a low degree in cities among the young.