Eastern Christian leaders from the Greater Chicago Area, clergy and lay, gathered with Catholic Near East Welfare Association on the University of Chicago campus last month.
The Lumen Christi Institute hosted the event on 19 July on the heels of a yearlong Eastern Christian theology series covering ethics, social teaching, patristics and hymnody.
The event with CNEWA not only extended Lumen Christi’s educational program on the Christian East into the summer, but provided Eastern Christians in the country’s third-largest metropolitan area the opportunity to meet and create new, mission-minded relationships.
At least seven Eastern churches — Catholic and non-Catholic — were represented.
CNEWA President Msgr. Peter I. Vaccari gave a 30-minute presentation on the mission of the papal agency, explaining how CNEWA works to assist the Eastern churches with their humanitarian and pastoral programs in their lands of origin.
“CNEWA never works alone,” said Msgr. Vaccari. “We always work with the local churches on the ground. Few organizations have offices and partners on the ground as does CNEWA.”
While fundraising “is a necessary way to do all the work we do and to bring to life our Gospel mandate,” CNEWA also walks with the Eastern churches through prayer and the dissemination of correct information, he said.
Msgr. Vaccari welcomed questions from the invited guests and a lively social followed.
“It was like being with brothers and the mutual appreciation of each other was very much evident in the conversations,” said Father Jerry Mathew, pastor of St. Mary Syro-Malankara Catholic Church in Evanston, north of Chicago.
“It is important for Eastern Christians to gather together to share the richness of each one’s culture, experience and knowledge, as we tend to our relatively smaller congregations with varied difficulties,” he added.
Several people in attendance cited Pope John Paul II’s well-known reference to the presence of both the Eastern and Western churches as the two lungs of the church and said the event offered the opportunity to experience “both lungs.”
“It is vital that all branches of Christianity should be connected with one another,” said Peter Tokatlian, a member of the Orthodox Church of America and a regular patron of Lumen Christi events since 2004.
“The Eastern churches are, especially in this day, endangered species in lands windswept by powerful and hostile historical and creedal forces,” said Mr. Tokatlian, a retired defense attorney. “This meeting was very important, the first step in the vast endeavor which lies ahead in this field.”
“CNEWA is exerting a valiant endeavor in this area,” he added. “And Lumen Christi continues to be a beacon and wellspring of Christian creedal and inter-creedal comity and an inspiration to the Christian community.”
Following up on a suggestion that Lumen Christ hold more gatherings for Eastern Christians, he said “creating a network and a community of Eastern churches and Christians in the Chicagoland area is vital and I do hope that Lumen Christi will take the lead in doing so.”
Father Joby Joseph of the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church said the event was a “blessed opportunity” to “witness how Christian intellectual life informs practical activism.”
In light of the current Eucharistic Revival in the United States, he said he would like to see the 19 July gathering followed up with “greater fellowship between the various churches, especially around the altar.”
“Intellectual programming would be phenomenal and very much needed. However, perhaps the simplest course of action and the most foundational need would be fostering openness to pray together,” he said.
“It may present its own logistical and pastoral challenges, but I would find it remarkable to have different congregations simply pray together as brothers and sisters to the Father and partake of the same Eucharistic Body,” he said.
The event at Lumen Christi was part of Msgr. Vaccari’s pastoral visit to Chicago, which included a prayer service and dinner with the Ukrainian Greek Catholic community and a breakfast meeting with representatives of the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church.
The breakfast was hosted by Bishop Jabob Angadiath and Bishop-elect Joy Alappat, who will be enthroned as the second bishop of the nationwide Syro-Malabar Catholic Eparchy of St. Thomas of Chicago on 1 October.
“I was very grateful to meet some Eastern Christian communities and leaders in the Chicago area and to speak with them about the work we are doing with the church in their countries of origin,” said Msgr. Vaccari. “These are important relationships that we hope to develop and nurture.”
Lumen Christi intends to continue its Eastern Christian programming with the start of the new academic year.
Laura Ieraci is assistant editor of ONE.