By Nadia Maria Smith
CS&T Staff Writer
Not many Roman Catholics know much about the 21 Eastern Catholic ritual churches the late Pope John Paul II called the second lung of the Church. Some may not know that although Eastern Catholics have different liturgical and cultural traditions, they are no less Catholic than members of the Latin tradition.
It is that topic that Chorbishop John Faris, a Maronite Catholic priest of the Eparchy of St. Maron and native of Uniontown, Pa., will discuss at a lecture on “The Origins of Ecclesial Species” on Friday, March 13, at the International Institute for Culture in the Overbrook section of Philadelphia.
“My talk will explore why there are so many churches that identify themselves as Catholic by discussing the Church from its origins, spanision and reintegration,” said Chorbishop Faris, the deputy secretary general of the Catholic Near East Welfare Association (NEWA) and vice president of the Pontifical Mission for Palestine.
“Such spanersity illustrates the beauty of the Church,” he said. “Unity does not require uniformity, but spanersity contributes to the catholicity of the Catholic Church.”
Indeed the Eastern Catholic churches have apostolic roots and were the early churches of places like Antioch, Constantinople and Alexandria. They, too, have ancient traditions, the sacraments and are in full communion with the Pope, he added.
His own Maronite church, founded by St. Peter, still prays the Our Father in Aramaic, the ancient language of Jesus. Chorbishops, in the Maronite tradition, are rural bishops and are similar to the auxiliary bishops of the Latin-rite Church.
Through his work with NEWA, Chorbishop Faris educates people in the West about the Eastern Catholic churches and elicits support for the humanitarian and pastoral initiatives NEWA carries out under the direction of the Pope.
NEWA is a special agency of the Holy See, established formally by Pope Pius XI in 1926 and placed under the presidency of the Archbishop of New York. It seeks to provide material and moral support to the Catholic Church in the Near East.
“The places in which these churches are found are some of the poorest places in the world, such as Ethiopia and Eritrea, or if not the poorest, the most troubled like in Iraq, Palestine and Israel,” he said. “There is political and social upheaval as well as financial and economic problems. Some of these church members have dispersed and fled to other countries. As the numbers are reduced so is their strength and political clout. There are some who don’t want to leave and others who can’t leave because they don’t have the legal right to emigrate or don’t have the financial means.”
NEWA supports the mission of the various Catholic churches that don’t just serve their own, but also people of other faiths like Hindus and Muslims in the form of schools, clinics and material aid, the Chorbishop said. “Sometimes they carry out this work in places where they are a minority, like in Gaza where on a good day there are 3,000 Christians, but despite the hardships the love of God cannot disappear in those places,” he added.
NEWA also works to build ecumenical relationships between the Eastern Catholic churches and the Orthodox churches that are not in full communion with the Pope but often have similarities to the Eastern Catholic churches because they share cultural and geographic roots.
Chorbishop Faris, a former professor at Catholic University of America, hopes that the lecture will dispel misconceptions and expand perceptions of what it means to be Catholic – in both East and West.
CS&T staff writer Nadia Maria Smith may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (215) 965-4614.
The Catholic Church:
East and West,
Past and Present
of Ecclesial Species”
Friday, March 13, at 7:30 p.m.
At the International
Institute for Culture
6331 Lancaster Ave.,
Philadelphia, PA 19151
$15 per adult
or call (215) 877-9910
for more information.