Signs of the Times

Pilgrimage of Reconciliation

On a pilgrimage highlighted by bold ecumenical and interreligious gestures, Pope John Paul II reached across centuries of division to Orthodox Christians in Greece and Muslims in Syria. In Greece on May 4-5, the pope issued a dramatic apology for past treatment of the Orthodox and said it was time to “heal the wounds” that have divided Eastern and Western churches for nearly 1,000 years. Vatican and Orthodox officials called the visit an ecumenical breakthrough.

In Syria on May 6, he became the first pope in history to enter a mosque, where he was warmly greeted by his Muslim hosts. He said Christianity and Islam should forever put aside conflict and ask forgiveness for past offenses. In Malta, an almost entirely Catholic country, Pope John Paul beatified three Maltese and called them guides for the church’s future.


The pope was retracing the footsteps of St. Paul, and he encouraged the minority Catholic communities in Greece and Syria to follow the Apostle’s example in combining evangelization and dialogue. He said St. Paul had approached the ancient peoples of the region on their own cultural terms 2,000 years ago, launching the church’s universal mission.

0The pope, who turns 81 later in May, appeared tired as he labored through receptions and liturgies during his pilgrimage from May 4 to 9. But the pontiff was clearly buoyed by the success of his stops and the welcome he received—cordial in Greece, enthusiastic in Syria and rousing in Malta.

“I don’t want to overuse the term historic, but it really was historic,” said Vatican spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls. “In Greece, the visit to the Orthodox Church came after 10 centuries. We received messages from many Islamic countries in the world, messages which say: ‘We wish we were there’ [in Damascus],” he said. “These are successes of such historic importance that they will remain in the future, for future popes, as part of the heritage of the church,” he added.

The pope arrived in Greece with little fanfare and a pilgrim’s humble demeanor. He made his biggest ecumenical impact with a unilateral apology on behalf of Catholics, delivered in the presence of the head of the Orthodox Church in Greece, Archbishop Christodoulos of Athens.

“For the occasions past and present, when sons and daughters of the Catholic Church have sinned by action or omission against their Orthodox brothers and sisters, may the Lord grant us the forgiveness we beg of him,” the pope said. Among the especially painful memories for the Orthodox, he said, was the “disastrous” sacking of Constantinople by Western Crusaders in 1204.

“It is tragic that the assailants, who had set out to secure free access for Christians to the Holy Land, turned against their own brothers in the faith. The fact that they were Latin Christians fills Catholics with deep regret,” he added. The pope followed his strong mea culpa statement with a call to turn the page, saying the time had come for Christians to put aside rancor over past injustices and “walk together.”

At the end of the day, Archbishop Christodoulos prayed the Our Father with the pope and called his visit the start of “a new era” between the churches. The archbishop flew to Moscow the next day for talks with Russian Orthodox Patriarch Alexei II, a coincidence Vatican officials found promising.

The visit to the Umayyad Great Mosque in Damascus marked a milestone in Christian-Muslim relations, and in a talk to Muslims the pope urged others to take note of the historic event. “It is my ardent hope that Muslim and Christian religious leaders and teachers will present our two great religious communities as communities in respectful dialogue, never more as communities in conflict,” he said.

The pope, who greeted the Muslim leaders with the Arabic expression As-salamu alaikum (“Peace be with you”), received long applause and a warm reception from dozens of imams and other Islamic leaders gathered in a courtyard of the eighth-century complex. After removing his shoes and donning a pair of white slippers, he walked down a long aisle of the mosque’s prayer hall and stopped silently for a minute before a memorial shrine to St. John the Baptist.

Syria greeted the pope warmly. He received his first enthusiastic welcome of the trip at an Orthodox cathedral in downtown Damascus on May 5. Tens of thousands of cheering Christians—Catholics and Orthodox—lined the streets of the old city and the courtyard of the church, tossing flower petals as he rode in his popemobile with Greek Orthodox Patriarch Ignatius IV.

After listening to a chanted prayer, the pope said he was pleased at the generally excellent relations between Syrian Catholic and Orthodox churches today, but urged them to do more in terms of cooperation. A prime example in which the Middle Eastern churches should show leadership, he said, is reaching agreement on a common date for the celebration of Easter.

At a three-hour-long Mass in a Damascus sports stadium on May 6, the pope told a congregation of about 25,000 Syrians that Christians, Muslims and Jews were called to work together for regional peace. The pope’s message of interreligious and political reconciliation contrasted with a strident speech delivered by President Bashar Assad at the pope’s arrival. It assailed Israel—though not by name—for its policies in occupied Palestinian territories and suggested Israel was acting with “the same mentality with which they betrayed Jesus Christ.” Such linking of Christ’s death with the Jewish people is rejected by the Catholic church today. A Vatican spokesman downplayed the remarks, saying they were merely the Syrian point of view.

For his part, the pope called for respect for U.N. resolutions, the banning of acquisition of territory by force and the right of people to self-determination—phrases often used by Palestinian supporters. But the pope added a dimension absent in Assad’s speech: Peace can be achieved only when there is a new attitude of understanding and respect among the populations of the Middle East and its three monotheistic religions.

Vatican Issues New Rules for Liturgical Translations

The Vatican has issued a new instruction on translating liturgical texts. Among topics it addresses are inclusive language—one of the most sharply contested issues in recent years in the English-speaking world—and requirements for exact translation of Latin texts into other languages.

The 34-page instruction, Liturgiam Authenticam (“The Authentic Liturgy”), covers other areas ranging from detailed rules on how bishops’ conferences develop translations and the Vatican’s role in the process to procedures for creating new liturgical texts not contained in the normative Latin ritual books. The Vatican Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments posted the instruction on its page of the Vatican’s Web site late on May 7. There was little or no consultation with bishops’ conferences prior to the publication of the document.

The document replaces the 1969 Vatican instruction titled Comme le Prévoit (French for “as foreseen”), which has guided translators of Latin liturgical texts around the world for more than 30 years. Unlike the 1969 text, which gave translators latitude for relatively free translations in a number of areas, the new one says the normative Latin texts of the Roman Missal and other liturgical rites “must be translated integrally and in the most exact manner, without omissions or additions in terms of their content and without paraphrases or glosses.”

“Liturgical texts should be considered as the voice of the church at prayer” and therefore “should be free of an overly servile adherence to prevailing modes of expression,” it says.

On the issue of gender-related terms and inclusive language, the instruction warns that an insistence on changing traditional usage “is not necessarily to be regarded as the effect or the manifestation of an authentic development of the language as such.” It adds, “Even if it may be necessary by means of catechesis to ensure that such words continue to be understood in the ‘inclusive’ sense just described, it may not be possible to employ different words in the translations themselves without detriment to the precise intended meaning of the text, the correlation of its various words or expressions, or its aesthetic qualities.”

It specifically rejects a number of common devices used by translators to avoid use of exclusive language in translations. The instruction says: “In particular: To be avoided is the systematic resort to imprudent solutions such as a mechanical substitution of words, the transition from the singular to the plural, the splitting of a unitary collective term into masculine and feminine parts, or the introduction of impersonal or abstract words, all of which may impede the communication of the true and integral sense of a word or an expression in the original text. Such measures introduce theological and anthropological problems into the translation.”

Where some texts may be difficult to understand or interpret correctly, it says, “it is the task of catechists or the homilist to transmit that right interpretation of the texts that excludes any prejudice or unjust discrimination on the basis of persons, gender, social condition, race or other criteria, which has no foundation at all in the texts of the sacred liturgy. Although considerations such as these may sometimes help one in choosing among various translations of a certain expression,” it adds, “they are not to be considered reasons for altering either a biblical text or a liturgical text that has been duly promulgated.”

The new instruction also specifies that for each language adopted for liturgical use in a country, “only one approved translation” of the Bible should be used for the liturgy in that country. It says the Nova VulgataEditio (the Latin New Vulgate Edition) of the Bible, promulgated by Pope John Paul II, is the authoritative text of reference for Bible passages with “varying manuscript traditions.”

What will be most noticeable to English-speaking Catholics in the pews are wording changes foreseen for the Creed and for one of the most common Mass acclamations. The instruction said translations of the opening of the Nicene Creed, recited at Mass, should conform to the first person singular, “Credo,” found in the definitive Latin-language missal. (The current English rendering, “We believe,” is based on the ancient Greek text.) In addition, it said the Mass participants’ response to the priest’s greeting, “The Lord be with you,” should be a literal translation of the Latin, Et cum spiritu tuo, or “And with your spirit.” In current English usage, the congregation responds, “And also with you.”

From CNS, staff and other sources.

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