The Congregation for the Eastern Churches and CNEWA

by Msgr. John F. McCarthy

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The popes’ pastoral concern for the Eastern churches had an early expression in the establishment in 1573 by Pope Gregory XIII of a Roman “Congregation for Matters Pertaining to the Greeks.” After the founding of the Propaganda Fide by Pope Gregory XV in 1622, various ad hoc commissions relating to Eastern Christian affairs were created within it, until finally, in 1862, Pope Pius IX set up a separate section of the Propaganda Fide “For Affairs of Eastern Rite.”

The “Congregation for the Oriental Church” was founded by Pope Benedict XV on the 1 May 1917, and it began to function on 1 December of the same year. To this congregation were reserved all concerns of the Holy See regarding persons, discipline and liturgy of the Eastern churches, including concerns involving both Eastern and Latin churches. In the decree of foundation, Pope Benedict XV made it ever more clear that the Holy See did not undervalue the merits of these churches or desire to subject them to Latin customs.

In 1967 Pope Paul VI changed its name to the “Congregation for the Oriental Churches,” or, as it is often called in the United States, the “Congregation for the Eastern Churches.” It is a “congregation” in that it consists of a group of cardinals and bishops. Since 1967, it has consisted of about 26 cardinals together with all the Eastern Catholic patriarchs and major archbishops, and seven bishops chosen mainly to represent those Eastern Catholic churches not having a patriarchate or major archbishop. The Cardinal President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity is always a member.

The Congregation is located in the historic Palazzo dei Convertendi, used after 1675 as a hospice for persons converting to the Catholic faith. It was originally built by Bramante and was purchased in 1517 by Raphael for his residence. Raphael died there in 1520. Interestingly, this building was situated on what is now the Via della Conciliazione, the “Avenue of the Reconciliation,” constructed in the mid-30s to mark the ending in 1929 of the estrangement between the government of Italy and the Holy See. The building was torn down and reconstructed a few meters away at the edge of the new street with the same facade but with modern finishing inside. In this building are also housed some other offices of the Holy See, including the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity and the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, an historical accident illustrating yet another dimension of conversion that has been emphasized since Vatican II – the emphasis upon ongoing conversion of heart to the love of God, which is presupposed in all religious dialogue and is its only ultimate aim. Thus the ultimate reconciliation of all Christians will hopefully come about through the greater conversion of hearts to love for Jesus in full communion of faith and love for one another.

The congregation is led by a Prefect, Achille Cardinal Silvestrini, who is a Latin (Roman) Catholic. He is assisted by Archbishop Miroslav S. Marusyn, the Secretary General, who is Ukrainian Greek Catholic; and by the Egyptian-born Undersecretary, Father Marco Brogi, O.F.M., who is also Latin Catholic. Five of the 13 other officials are Eastern Catholic.

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Tags: CNEWA Eastern Christianity Eastern Churches Pope