Friday, May 21, 2010

Pope Meets Sophia Loren, Russian Orthodox Links & New Envoys

Pope Benedict XVI, left, and Hilarion Alfeyev, Metropolitan of Volokolamsk, chairman of the Department of External Church Relations and permanent member of the Holy Synod of the Patriarchate of Moscow, center, meet Italian actress Sophia Loren at the end of a concert dedicated to the pontiff by Patriarch Kirill I of Moscow in the hall Paul VI at the Vatican, Thursday, May 20, 2010 (Daylife Images)


The gentle notes of Sergei Rachmaninoff's "Vocalise" wafted through the Vatican audience hall and carried with them hopes for improved relations between the Roman Catholic Church and the Russian Orthodox Church.

After years of tense relations and painstaking theological dialogue, the Vatican and the Russian Orthodox Church are hoping music and art can create an atmosphere more conducive to their efforts to promote Christian unity.

For leaders of both churches, the artistic compositions are not simply window dressing; they are evidence of how much Catholics and Orthodox share and are reminders of how Christianity has shaped European culture.

The May 20 concert capped two days of meetings and a conference that focused on "Russian culture and spirituality in the Vatican."

The last piece on the musical program was "The Song of Ascent," composed by Hilarion Alfeyev, otherwise known as Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk, the chief ecumenist of the Russian Orthodox Church.

Metropolitan Hilarion sat near Pope Benedict XVI at the concert, which was performed as a gift to the pope from Patriarch Kirill of Moscow.

Meeting journalists May 19, Metropolitan Hilarion said, "It seems to me that there are things which cannot be transmitted either through theological discourse or diplomacy, but can be transmitted through the language of art."

While theological dialogue is essential for resolving the 1,000-year-old split between the Christian East and West, "the dialogue of the heart" is also necessary, he said.

"Through music we can say something we cannot say through words or diplomatic means or even through theological terms," he said. "The dialogue between cultures can bring many good results. It can liberate us from prejudices, from negative feelings toward each other, which we may have inherited from the past."

Archbishop Gianfranco Ravasi, president of the Pontifical Council for Culture, told reporters that the work of the Russian composers chosen for the concert "demonstrates not only the quality of Russian music, but also how it is continuously interlaced with faith."

Pointing out the influence of faith on centuries of European art, music and literature is part of both churches' efforts to remind Europeans that Christianity has inspired not only the beauty they see and hear around them, but also the values that have built their democracies and encouraged them to defend human rights and human dignity abroad.

After the concert, Pope Benedict told the audience that "contemporary culture, especially European culture, runs the risk of amnesia -- of forgetting and therefore abandoning the extraordinary patrimony that flows from and is inspired by Christian faith."

Obviously that heritage includes prayer and service, but also centuries of fruitful dialogue between Christianity and the arts and cultures of different peoples, he said.

Pope Benedict said Catholics and Orthodox must work together to help people today see the dangers of ignoring God and of pushing faith out of both private and public life; human dignity itself is threatened when people do not recognize that dignity flows from being created by God and is not the result of a majority vote on who deserves full rights and protection and who does not.

During the concert, Metropolitan Hilarion read a message from Patriarch Kirill, who praised the idea of improving relations through cultural exchanges.

"To understand a people, you need to listen to their music," the patriarch said.

"Music is a particular language that allows us to communicate with our hearts. Music is able to transmit feelings from the human soul and about spiritual states that words are not capable of describing," he said.

While improving Vatican-Russian Orthodox relations was an obvious goal of the concert, both Metropolitan Hilarion and top Vatican officials believe that Christians in Europe have a common mission that cannot be put on hold while the churches attempt to find unity.

"Today, both of us see the importance of promoting Christian values in society. We cannot reduce our relations to just the unresolved theological questions," Metropolitan Hilarion said.

Addressing a symposium on "Orthodox and Catholics in Europe Today" May 19, he said that up until the Second World War, "the relationship between the Orthodox and Western Christian churches was marked by rivalry." But Europe's "tragic history of violence" has made it clear to both that "we must build bridges, write new pages in the history of our relations."

And as more people seem to lose their way ethically and turn their backs on faith, "we do not have a right to concentrate only on that which divides us," he said at the Russian Orthodox Church of St. Catherine.

Cardinal Walter Kasper, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, told the conference that a new evangelization, "connected to a re-inculturation of the Gospel in Europe, is possible only if it is done ecumenically, in collaboration with the other churches and Christian communities."

But he also said the process could be moved forward if the Russian Orthodox patriarch would finally agree to meet the pope, a meeting the Russians continue to say -- and Metropolitan Hilarion repeated -- can't be scheduled until Catholic-Orthodox tensions are resolved in Western Ukraine.

From the Vatican's point of view, "a meeting between the pope and the Russian patriarch would be an important sign that would make visible and more credible our common commitment," Cardinal Kasper said.


Benedict XVI warmly thanked Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill for a concert celebrating the Pontiff's April birthday and anniversary of election.

Beyond his words of gratitude to the Orthodox leader, the Holy Father used the occasion to promote harmony between East and West, particularly in light of Europe's growing distance from its Christian roots.

The concert Thursday featured some of the great works of 19th and 20th century Russian composers. It closed with "Song of the Ascension," a symphony composed by a leading prelate in the Russian Orthodox Church: Archbishop Hilarion Alfeyev of Volokolamsk, chairman of the Department of External Affairs of the Moscow Patriarchate.

The Pontiff reflected that the concert opened a window to the "soul of the Russian people and with it the Christian faith, which find an extraordinary expression precisely in the divine liturgy and the liturgical singing that always accompanies it."

Benedict XVI, himself an accomplished musician, noted the "profound original bond" between Russian music and liturgical singing.

"In the liturgy and from the liturgy is unleashed and begins to a great extent the artistic creativity of Russian musicians to create masterpieces that merit being better known in the Western world," he said.


Drawing a deeper meaning from the concert, the Bishop of Rome affirmed that in music there is already a certain fulfillment of the "encounter, the dialogue, the synergy between East and West, as well as between tradition and modernity."

Citing Pope John Paul II's appeal for Europe to breathe with its "two lungs," the German Pontiff reflected that "contemporary culture, particularly European culture, runs the risk of amnesia, of forgetfulness and, therefore, of abandonment of the extraordinary patrimony fostered and inspired by the Christian faith."

"The Christian roots of Europe, in fact, are constituted not only by religious life and the testimony of so many generations of believers, but also by the inestimable cultural and artistic patrimony, pride and precious resource of the peoples and countries in which the Christian faith, in its different manifestations, has dialogued with cultures and art, has animated and inspired them, fostering and promoting as never before the creativity of the human genius," he said.

The Pope affirmed that these roots are still alive in East and West and "must inspire a new humanism, a new season of authentic human progress, to respond effectively to the numerous and at times crucial challenges that our Christian communities and our societies must face, beginning with secularization, which not only leads to doing without God and his plan, but which ends by denying human dignity itself, in a society regulated solely by egotistical interests."

"Let us make Europe breathe with its two lungs again," the Pontiff urged, "let us again give a soul not only to believers but to all peoples of the continent, let us promote confidence and hope again, rooting them in the age-old experience of the Christian faith!"

Related Links:

Read full text of Benedict's remarks here

Ukraine dispute blocks Vatican, Russian Orthodox meeting

The gentle notes of Sergei Rachmaninoff's "Vocalise" wafted through the Vatican audience hall and carried with them hopes for improved relations between the Roman Catholic Church and the Russian Orthodox Church

After the concert, Pope Benedict told the audience that "contemporary culture, especially European culture, runs the risk of amnesia -- of forgetting and therefore abandoning the extraordinary patrimony that flows from and is inspired by Christian faith."

Patriarch Kirill’s message to guests and participants in the concert of Russian Orthodox music in Vatican

Chairman of the Department for External Church Relations meets with Vatican’s Secretary of State

Concert of Russian spiritual music in Vatican


Annie said...

What is that magnificent art work extending out over the choir. Truly staggering.

Carlos Echevarria said...

I will have to look it up for you, Annie.

How are things in Cali? Did you vote? who is ahead?