Cardinal Paul Philippe presides over the Sacred Congregation. (photo: Sacred Congregation for the Oriental Churches)
The Most Rev. Mario Brini is the Secretary of the Congregation. (photo: Sacred Congregation for the Oriental Churches)
Monsignor John F. McCarthy (photo: Sacred Congregation for the Oriental Churches)
Sister Anna Duda (photo: Sacred Congregation for the Oriental Churches)
If we somehow caught a glimpse of all the people whose lives are touched by the Sacred Congregation for the Oriental Churches, wed see quite a colorful and mixed group: men sporting fezzes, keffiehs, turbans and fedoras; women wearing veils, saris and delicately embroidered gowns, as well as the very latest Western styles; rich and poor of all the rites of the Catholic Church; and most certainly, the unwanted of many countries orphans, lepers, the aged, blind and deaf, to name just a few.
In short, wed see a cross section of human life and of the globe.
The Sacred Congregation for the Eastern Churches quietly works in a world filled with needs of all kinds. In addition to its spiritual ministry, the Sacred Congregation, with the assistance of the Catholic Near East Welfare Association, prepares boys for the priesthood, trains Sisters, supports orphans, and builds, maintains and supports chapels, churches, clinics and convents in the countries of the Near East.
The Sacred Congregation is an executive branch of the Holy See. Just as our Government has certain departments, there are certain divisions within the Vatican known as Congregations. The Oriental Congregation deals with all matters pertaining to the Eastern Catholic Church, carrying on its varied activities in many regions, especially those areas traditionally associated with the Oriental rites: Afghanistan, Albania, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Dodecanese Islands, Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Greece, India, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine, Syria and Turkey.
While these regions are the special sphere of activity of the Congregation, they are not the only areas in which it operates. Its authority extends to all the faithful of Eastern rites throughout the world. There are sizable groups of Eastern rite immigrants in various lands of the West especially in North and South America. In the U.S. alone there are approximately 800,000 Catholics belonging to the Oriental rites.
The Authority of the Sacred Oriental Congregation also extends to Latin rite Catholics who are living in those lands in the East where the Eastern rites flourish. In the Holy Land, for example, many of the faithful are Latin rite Catholics whose only dealings with the Holy See are conducted through the Sacred Congregation for the Eastern Churches.
There are five basic rites in the Eastern Church Alexandrian, Antiochian, Armenian, Byzantine and Chaldean and within these rites are subdivisions. Thus, for example, within the Antiochian rite we have the Maronites, who number 35,000 (active members) in the United States alone, and the Malankarese, found mostly in Kerala, India. As another example, the Melkite and Ukrainian Churches, both having large numbers of faithful in this country, belong to the Byzantine rite.
Although the Sacred Congregation for the Eastern Churches was established as a separate and complete bureau of the Holy See only in 1917, it had its roots in the 16th century. Having a long and complicated history, the Congregation was at one time a division within the Sacred Congregation of the Propagation of the Faith.
One of the most important functions of the Sacred Congregation is to give economic aid to the Eastern Churches and their members, whenever and wherever the need arises. In the sponsorship of mission works the Congregation is assisted by several organizations, among these the Catholic Near East Welfare Association of New York.
All of the Catholic Near East appeals are sent to New York from the Sacred Congregation in Rome. Before an orphan, seminarian or novice is listed for sponsorship, before a Church or any other project is approved for construction or improvement, the Holy Fathers emissaries first screen all case histories and claims of need, thereby providing a safeguard for all donors.
In addition to these missionary works, the Sacred Congregation has authority in such matters as the nomination of Bishops, the discipline of the Sacraments, liturgy and clergy, and the directing of religious and secular institutes, and seminaries.
Like the other Congregations within the Vatican, the Sacred Congregation for the Eastern Churches is presided over by a Cardinal, Cardinal Paul Philippe. The Cardinal is assisted by the Secretary of the Sacred Congregation, the Most Rev. Mario Brini.
In the Congregation there is an American Priest, Monsignor John F. McCarthy, who handles all of CNEWAs affairs for the Sacred Oriental Congregation. He is assisted by Sister Anna Duda, who is also an American.
In total, the Congregation consists of 21 Cardinals (Cardinal Terence Cooke, Archbishop of New York and President of CNEWA, is among this group), six Patriarchs, and six bishops, who meet periodically for the handling of the most important business. Furthermore, the Congregation has available a group of 40 Consultors, whose opinion is heard in questions requiring particular specialization.
In his decree for erecting the Congregation for the Oriental Churches, Pope Benedict XV called for a return to the splendor and the Sanctity of the Ancient Eastern Church. This is the goal toward which the Sacred Congregation is ever working.
This article has been prepared by the Catholic Near East Staff, both in New York and in Rome.