Washington (June 16, 2004) -- Evangelization was the main topic of this year's session of the Oriental Orthodox-Roman Catholic Theological Consultation. The meeting took place on June 7 and 8 at the Passionist Spiritual Center in Bronx, New York, under the co-chairmanship of Bishop Howard Hubbard of Albany and Very Rev. Chorbishop John Meno of the Syriac Orthodox Church of Antioch.
From an Oriental Orthodox perspective, Fr. Athanasius Farag spoke on the theology of evangelization in the Coptic Orthodox Church. He described four aspects of the mission of the Coptic Church in the United States. First, there is a need to provide spiritual care for first generation Copts who have come to this country from Egypt. Second, there is a need to communicate the spiritual life to children, often in areas where there are few if any other Copts to provide them with support. Third, there is a need to reach out to other Christians in the country, and to preach to non-believers. The Coptic Orthodox Church senses a strong spiritual hunger among many Americans and seeks to meet this need through proclamation and personal witness. The Coptic Church tries to make its own historical heritage available to more Americans by providing English translations of Coptic patristic and contemporary sources.
A basic overview of the Catholic understanding of evangelization was provided by Rev. Frank DeSiano, CSP. Father DeSiano is former President of the Paulist Fathers, present pastor of Old St. Mary's parish in downtown Chicago, consultant to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops' Committee on Evangelization, and the principal writer of Go and Make Disciples: A National Plan and Strategy for Catholic Evangelization in the United States, adopted by the Bishops in 1992. In a second presentation Fr DeSiano provided a summary of Go and Make Disciples, and focused on the three goals of evangelization that are identified in the document. He also spoke about parish evangelization strategies in a third presentation, geared to help parishes reach out beyond themselves to evangelize the unchurched and inactive. The Catholic and Coptic presentations at the meeting were followed by lively discussions regarding the best ways to witness to Christian faith in an increasingly secular society.
The dialogue also held a session devoted to an examination of major events in the lives of the churches. Topics discussed included the dialogue between the Catholic Church and the Oriental Orthodox Churches in India, an update on the way the U.S. Catholic Bishops have responded to the clerical sexual abuse scandal, the new agreed statement on the filioque released by the North American Orthodox-Catholic Theological Consultation, a new patriarch of the Eritrean Orthodox Church, the visit of a delegation of U.S. Catholic Bishops to Armenia in the summer of 2003, current issues concerning the reception of communion by pro-choice Catholic politicians, the first session of the Catholic Church-Oriental Orthodox Churches International Joint Commission for Dialogue, the installation of a new Malankara Orthodox Metropolitan in North America, the "Christian Churches Together" initiative, and the present situation of the Coptic, Ethiopian, and Syriac Orthodox Churches. The members also reviewed reactions to the document Reflections on Covenant and Mission that was issued by representatives of The National Council of Synagogues and the Catholic Bishops' Committee for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs on August 12, 2002.
The members of the Consultation were particularly pleased to welcome Archbishop Mor Titus Yeldho Pathickal, of the Malankara Archdiocese of the Syrian Orthodox Church in North America, who attended for the first time since his recent installation as metropolitan.
The next meeting is scheduled to take place on June 9-10, 2005, at St Nersess Armenian Seminary in New Rochelle, New York. It will focus on developing closer relations among our churches, and on the position of the Catholic Church regarding proselytism among the Oriental Orthodox faithful.
The United States Oriental Orthodox-Roman Catholic Consultation was established in 1978, and is sponsored jointly by the Bishops' Committee for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs of the USCCB and the Standing Conference of Oriental Orthodox Churches in America. In 1995 it published "Oriental Orthodox-Roman Catholic Interchurch Marriages and Other Pastoral Relationships," which includes pastoral guidelines for marriages involving the faithful of the two communions as well as ample documentation about the development of our ecumenical relationship in recent decades. In 1999 it issued "Guidelines Concerning the Pastoral Care of Oriental Orthodox Students in Catholic Schools."