Cardinal of Boston: Pope On Pilgrimage

By Theodore Kalmoukos
Special Thanks to the National Herald 

BOSTON – Pope Benedict XVI went to the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople as a “pilgrim,” Cardinal Sean O’Malley, the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Boston, said in the National Herald’s first ever complete interview with a Roman Catholic cardinal.

Cardinal O’Malley, one of the most prominent hierarchs of the Catholic Church in America, said, “The pilgrimage is also an expression of solidarity with the Orthodox Church, particularly as the Patriarchate labors to minister under very difficult circumstances.”

Asked about clash of religions today, the Cardinal said, “Islam and Christianity have a choice to make. And the choice we should make is for peace and cooperation for the good of mankind.”

O’Malley and Metropolitan Methodios of Boston are planning a joint Orthodox-Catholic pilgrimage to Rome, Constantinople and St. Petersburg in September 2007.

The full text of the interview with Cardinal O’Malley is published below.

TNH: Your Eminence, what are your thoughts on the Pope’s visit with Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople?

O’MALLEY: He is going as a pilgrim. When his predecessor, Pope John Paul II, landed in Athens, he kissed the ground. In that same tradition, Pope Benedict’s visit shows his commitment to the Orthodox as our closest spiritual kin, respect for their ecclesial authenticity and heroic witness, recognition of the role of the Orthodox Church in the world, and the priority of healing the division between us.

TNH: What do you think is the deeper significance of visits between the Pope and the Ecumenical Patriarch, above and beyond pubic relations dynamics?

O’MALLEY: The visits have to be understood theologically. The history of division and the tradition of unity is at stake; the challenges are enormous. The pilgrimage is a recognition of the eternal spiritual bonds that unite us and call us to unity. The pilgrimage is also an expression of solidarity with the Orthodox Church, particularly as the Patriarchate labors to minister under very difficult circumstances.

TNH: Given the general climate which exists today in Turkey – huge demonstrations this past Sunday in Constantinople protesting the Pope’s visit – do you worry about his safety?

O’MALLEY: The Pope gives witness, as many Orthodox have, even at times of personal risk.

TNH: Are we currently facing a clash of religions? I am referring specifically between Christianity and Islam.

O’MALLEY: Islam and Christianity have a choice to make, and the choice we should make is for peace and cooperation for the good of humankind. Islam is not the enemy; those who want us to choose conflict are the enemy. We must put our energy into working for justice as the sound basis of peace. I am thinking, at the moment, of a just solution for the Holy Land and the freedom of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate there, and I am thinking of the religious freedom rightfully belonging to the Orthodox living in Turkey to worship in repaired churches and study at a reopened Halki Seminary. It is also time to intensify inter-religious dialogue and expressions of respect for each other.

TNH: How would you describe the relations between Roman Catholicism and Greek Orthodoxy today?

O’MALLEY: Relations in general are good and getting better. One of the great challenges today is to educate the faithful on what is at stake: the very will of Christ for us to be united; the history and tradition of the faith; the witness and martyrdom on both sides to pass on the unadulterated gospel given to the Apostles; our ability to speak with one voice a message of healing and logic to a deeply wounded world. This past September, we took a significant step by restarting the international Orthodox-Catholic Dialogue at Belgrade. That step, in turn, was built on many gestures of love and respect, such as the return of the Kazan icon and the holy relics of several saints. Only love can save us from our history of difficulties.

TNH: Do you think that the Uniate issue can be resolved? Is the Vatican ready to dissolve that ecclesiological anomaly?

O’MALLEY: The issue of the Eastern Catholics is deeply intertwined with the issue now before the national and international theological dialogues, namely how the Petrine ministry can be exercised in a way acceptable to all, as Pope John Paul II said in his encyclical, Ut Unum Sint (May They Be One). Perhaps if we are all very docile to the Holy Spirit, we may adhere more and more closely to the will of Christ and find solutions to jurisdictional problems, and thereby find solutions to the conflict over Eastern Catholics.

The answer lies in recognizing and respecting the Eastern Catholics, with centuries of tradition and witness even unto the shedding of their blood, and letting their status be regulated as part of a comprehensive reconciliation between Orthodoxy and Catholicism – the same applying, presumably, for the Orthodox of Western Rite.

TNH: How are your relations with Metropolitan Methodios? I understand you are planning a trip together to the Vatican, to the Ecumenical Patriarchate, and to St. Petersburg, Russia in September of 2007.

O’MALLEY: I have great respect, esteem and spiritual affection for His Eminence Metropolitan Methodios. These come from the way I see him strive to follow Christ every day. Our relationship and the relationship of the Catholics and Orthodox in Boston owe a great deal to the heroic work of Metropolitan Methodios, steadfast in his commitment to ecumenism out of pure fidelity to Christ. For years, decades, His Eminence has been fortifying the relationship between our two churches. Together, we put our commitment into practice in the 1996 Pilgrimage; our exchange of visits on the Feasts of Saint Andrew and Saints Peter and Paul; our exchange of visits during the Easter season; and countless gestures of Christian love. In January 2007, we will preside together at a prayer service for the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. And in September, we will make a pilgrimage together to the holy places, so we can become more spiritually enriched and bound more closely by encountering the Triune God together, learning about each other and building relationships: parish to parish, pastor to pastor, Church to Church. It will be a form of witness and evangelization, offering spiritual enrichment and grace as we are drawn closer together.