Pontificio Instituto Orientale

A cogent but little-known example of advancing the Kingdom is the work of an Institute created 102 years ago by Pope Benedict XV: Pontificio Instituto Orientale, or the Pontifical Oriental Institute (PIO) located in Rome.

Since 1922 it has been entrusted to the Jesuits. According to its website (https://unipio.org/it/) PIO’s mission is to pursue “research, teaching, and publishing relating to the traditions of the Eastern Churches in their theology, liturgies, patristics, history, canon law, literature and languages, spirituality, archeology, and question of ecumenical and geopolitical importance”. Readers who visit the website will be interested in the video of PIO’s Rector, Fr. David Nazar, who explains why the work of the Institute is so critical for the Universal Church in the coming years.

Most of us Catholics in the United States are remiss in our ignorance of the Universal Catholic Church. Its membership comprises 24 Churches, the largest of which is the Latin (Western) Church otherwise known as the Roman Catholic Church. The other 23 are Eastern Catholic representing around 18 million faithful. While they are sui juris with their own rites and discipline these ecclesial communions are in communion with the Roman Church. The four largest of these are the Byzantine Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church with 4.5 million members, the Syriac Syro-Malabar Catholic Church with 4.3 million members, the Maronite Church with 3.5 million members, and the Melkite Greek Catholic Church with more than 1.5 million members.

The existence and shared bond of these Churches give witness to the truth that diversity and unity are not inimical. Indeed, they are complementary. In its Decree on Eastern Catholic Churches (Orientalium Ecclesiarum) the Second Vatican Council overwhelmingly supported Catholic unity, equality of rites, avoidance of latinization, and the restoration of the heritage of each Eastern Churches.

While some have diaspora communities around the world, their primatial sees are in the Middle East and Asia. They trace their lineage back to Apostolic times and therefore enjoy no less dignity or authority than their western counterpart. However, because of political, religious and ethnic persecution many of their adherents are forced to flee their homelands, an exodus which threatens the preservation of their unique heritage. Consider the situation of the Chaldean Catholic Church in Iraq. Among other endeavors the Pontifical Oriental Institute educates and supports representatives from these ecclesial communities so that they can return to their home countries to start seminaries and universities, and to undertake much needed social work.

To this end the Jesuits have asked Fr. Bill Watson, S.J. to assist the Institute with its fundraising efforts in the United States. Fr. Watson has established a fund at NCCF and has appropriately named it: “The Breathing with Two Lungs Fund” in deference to St. John Paul II who, like his predecessors and successors, insisted that only by ‘breathing with two lungs’ will the Church respond ever more truly to the prayer of Jesus “that all may be one”.