Evangelization Theme of Orthodox, Catholic Bishops' Meeting

October 22, 2007 By Public Affairs Office

WASHINGTON (October 22, 2007)—The theme of evangelization marked the October 3-5 meeting of the Joint Committee of Orthodox and Catholic Bishops in St. Augustine, Florida.

The annual meeting was hosted by the Standing Committee of Canonical Orthodox Bishops of the Americas (SCOBA) and co-chaired by Archbishop Oscar Lipscomb of Mobile, Alabama, and Archbishop Seraphim of Ottawa and Canada. Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted of Phoenix, a new Catholic member, attended for the first time.

At the first plenary session, October 3, Rev. Protopresbyter Martin Ritsi, the Executive Director of the Orthodox Christian Mission Center in St. Augustine, provided an overview of the history and theology of Orthodox evangelization with emphasis on missions overseas. On October 4, Paulist Father Francis DeSiano spoke on the context of evangelization in the United States today, and summarized the 1992 document of the US Catholic Bishops, "Go and Make Disciples: A National Plan and Strategy for Catholic Evangelization in the United States."

A historical perspective on Catholic missions in the United States was provided by Archbishop Lipscomb, who spoke on Florida's early evangelization in 1827. Father Nicholas Harris, a priest at St. Stephen the Protomartyr parish in Sanford, Florida, offered perspectives on the Russian Orthodox missions in Alaska in the mid-19th century. Father Harris, now retired, and his wife Anastasia spent 32 years working at Orthodox missions in Alaska. On October 5, the members of the Joint Committee visited the nearby St. Photios National Shrine, where Polly Hillier, the shrine director, spoke about the first colony of Greeks in North America. On October 3, the bishops visited the Orthodox Christian Mission Center where they toured the facility and heard presentations from staff about the Center's work.

One meeting session involved an exchange of information about key events in the lives of the Catholic and Orthodox Churches. Items discussed included the visit of Pope Benedict XVI to the Ecumenical Patriarchate, the international Catholic-Orthodox theological dialogue, the recent work of the North American Orthodox-Catholic Consultation, the meeting of SCOBA bishops in Chicago in October 2006, the visit of Archbishop Christodoulos of Athens to Rome, the Motu Proprio of Pope Benedict XVI on "The Roman Liturgy Prior to the Reform of 1970," the document of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, "Responses to Some Questions Regarding Certain Aspects of the Doctrine on the Church," the situation of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, the election of a new Romanian Patriarch, reconciliation between the Moscow Patriarchate and the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia, and the Visit of Archbishop Chrysostomos of Cyprus to Rome.

The bishops were also informed that Archbishop Christodoulos of Athens and All Greece had been in Miami since August 18 waiting for a liver transplant following surgery for cancer earlier in the summer. The bishops expressed prayerful support for the Archbishop, who has work to improve relations between the two churches.

The next meeting of the Joint Committee is slated for October 1-3, 2008, in Mobile, Alabama, hosted by Archbishop Lipscomb.

Catholic members of the Committee include Archbishop Lipscomb; Cardinal William Keeler of Baltimore; Archbishop Daniel Pilarczyk of Cincinnati; Bishop Tod D. Brown of Orange, California; Bishop Dale Melczek of Gary, Indiana; Bishop Olmsted of Phoenix, Bishop Nicholas Samra, Auxiliary of the Melkite Greek Catholic Eparchy of Newton, Massachusetts; and Auxiliary Bishop Richard Sklba of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee. The committee is staffed by Paulist Father Ronald G. Roberson of the United Sates Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Orthodox members include Archbishop Seraphim of Ottawa and Canada (Co-Chairman, Orthodox Church in America), Archbishop Vsevolod of Scopelos (Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA), Metropolitan Isaiah of Denver (Greek Orthodox Archdiocese), Metropolitan Christopher (Serbian Orthodox Church), Metropolitan Nicholas of Amissos (Carpatho-Russian Orthodox Diocese), Archbishop Nicolae (Romanian Orthodox Archdiocese in America and Canada), Metropolitan Gerasimos of San Francisco (Greek Orthodox Archdiocese), and Fr. Mark Arey (staff). Bishop Dimitrios of Xanthos, the former General Secretary of SCOBA and Ecumenical Officer of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese, also attended this meeting.