The bridge of the martyrs

Cardinal Peter Erdo (CCEE) at the meeting in Sofia

“Canon law seeks to erect a bridge between theology and life, between theory and practice in the individual and in the community life of the faithful”, said Cardinal Peter Erdo, archbishop of Esztergom-Budapest and president of the Council of European Bishops’ Conferences (CCEE) at the 13th meeting of Europe’s Eastern bishops (CGOE) that ended in Sofia on November 7 titled: “”The ecclesiological criteria of the Eastern Catholic Churches and the reality today”. The meeting, under the aegis of CCEE for the second time, brought together representatives of 13 Catholic Churches of Eastern rite, marking the celebrations for the 150th anniversary of the union of Bulgaria’s Eastern Catholic Church with Rome. Communion and solidarity. In remembering that 20 years have past since the fall of the Communist regime, Cardinal Erdo said that this “is not enough time to heal the direct (in the economy) and collateral (in people’s souls) wounds inflicted in the past”. His Eminence recalled this year’s celebrations for the twentieth anniversary of the promulgation of the Canon Code of Eastern Churches, “a pre-eminent tool of communion at disciplinary level and a clear evidence of the respect for the juridical property of every Church sui iuris”. However, according to the CCEE president “general orientations and political declarations are not enough to reaffirm the justice and the dignity of the human person”. As shown in the bishops’ Synod for the Middle East that has just ended, “the communion and the solidarity of the Catholics of all ‘rites’, of all Churches sui iuris, and of all ethic groups, is of vital importance”. In underlining also the celebrative aspect of the event – the 150th anniversary of the birth of the Byzantine-Slavish Catholic Church in the Country – cardinal Erdo highlighted ‘the witness of confessors and martyrs, members of the clergy and lay Catholics of Latin and Byzantine rite in Bulgaria and in neighbouring countries”, along with “the martyrs of sister churches and ecclesial communities, who fell victims of totalitarian regimes to follow their faith”. Their example, he admonished, “reminds us that it’s always possible to follow God instead of men”. Foundation, martyrdom and rebirth. The Exarch of Sofia, Msgr Christo Proykov, President of Bulgaria’s inter-ritual bishops’ Conference, presided over a divine liturgy in Plovdiv that commemorated the Greek Catholic martyrs of Communist persecution, and illustrated the tormented events and the current situation of the local Catholic Church of Byzantine rite. The prelate retraced its birth in 1980, supported by “eminent representatives of the Bulgarian clergy and distinguished lay people”, including journalist Dragan Tsankov, and the difficulties, until a real and true persecution in the late post-war period, with arrests of priests and religious and the confiscation of property by the State. Several dozens of priests were sentenced to rigorous imprisonment, one of them was also arrested. Only after November 10 1989 did the rebirth begin: the first seminarians were left to study abroad while the confiscation decree was annulled in 1992, but “a large part of distressed property has not yet been returned”. The visit of John Paul II in 2002 was a great encouragement. “In this 2010, a Jubilee year”, on July 28 “the Bulgarian government rehabilitated our blessed martyrs and with them all those sentenced in the 1952 trial thanks to a law by Lachezar Toshev, son of the journalist Tsankov, one of the major promoters of our union to the Catholic Church”, concluded Msgr. Proykov.Catholics in the diaspora and the youth. During the meeting the Office of the Dead was recited to commemorate Msgr. Eleuterio Fortino, under-secretary of the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of Christian Unity, passed away past September 22. Msgr. Antonio Maria Vegliò, president of the Pontifical Council for Migrant and Itinerant People, underlined the need “to create pastoral structures that will enable Eastern Catholic migrants to continue to profess their Christian life in the diaspora”. Msgr. Cyril Vasil, Secretary of the Congregation for the Eastern Churches spoke about “The relations of the Congregation for the Oriental Churches with the Eastern Churches in Europe and their future”, while Msgr. Demetrio Salachas, apostolic exharch of Greece addressed the theme “The Eastern Catholic Churches in the light of the official theological dialogue between the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church as a whole”. Cardinal Leonardo Sandri emphasized “the faithfulness to Christ and the Apostolic See of the predecessors in the Exarchate” and exhorted those present “to give an authentic witness of faith to young people”. The next meeting of the Eastern bishops will take place in Oradea, in Romania, on the theme: “You will be my witnesses: evangelization in Europe’s Catholic Eastern Churches”.

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