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“Listening to the East”: Walking Together and Breathing with Both Lungs

Julian Paparella

Saturday, September 9, 2023

Saint John Paul II would often say that “the Church must breathe with her two lungs!” (Ut Unum Sint #54) By this, the Polish pope meant that the Church in the East and the West is one organic whole, and that both are necessary for the life and vitality of the one Body of Christ. Both lungs are needed to breathe deeply and be fully alive!
Today, the call to breathe with both lungs, the East and the West, takes on new light on the path of synodality. As Pope Francis underlined on the flight back from his recent trip to Mongolia, across history the synodal dimension of the Church gradually faded in the West, whereas in the East it was kept alive. In various ways, the Orthodox and Eastern Catholic churches have continued the tradition of synodality that first began in the days of the Early Church, as early as the Council of Jerusalem recounted in the Acts of the Apostles (ch. 15)! 
As part of the synodal journey that is underway across the Church, the Angelicum University in Rome hosted a series of conferences so that the Catholic Church could learn from the experiences of synodality in its Sister Churches in the East – Orthodox and Eastern Catholic Churches – and in the West – Anglicanism, Lutheranism, and Methodism. The events were sponsored by the Vatican’s Dicastery for Promoting Christian Unity and the General Secretariat of the Synod. From the gathering with Eastern Churches was born a new documentary produced by the PRO ORIENTE Foundation, entitled “Listening to the East.” You can watch the trailer here:
Salt + Light Media is pleased to air this masterful documentary, showcasing the diverse practices of synodality in the various Orthodox Churches as well as in Eastern Catholic Churches. Featuring exclusive interviews, the film offers us a taste of Eastern Christianity and inspires us to walk together between East and West. Amidst the synodal journey that the whole Church is undertaking, the documentary introduces us to the rich synodal practices that have been at the heart of Eastern Churches for centuries. 
It may come as a surprise to many Catholics, but Catholicism is comprised of 23 Eastern Catholic rites in addition to the Latin rite, which is the one to which most Catholics belong. These Eastern Catholic rites (also known as Oriental Catholic Churches or Churches sui iuris, i.e. “of their own law”) are branches of Catholicism that are in full communion with the Pope, but which are not Roman Catholic. In other words, they are distinct from Roman Catholics in terms of various aspects of their liturgy, theology, canon law, and history, but they are fully members of the Catholic Church. All together, about 18 million Catholics belong to the Eastern Catholic rites, out of a total of approximately 1.3 billion Catholics in the world. Though they are relatively smaller in number, these Eastern Catholic churches have so much to teach the rest of the Catholic Church. 
As one patriarch reminds us during the “Listening to the East” documentary, we can easily forget that Christianity is originally a religion that comes from the East. Jesus was born, lived, preached, healed, died, and rose from the dead in the East! Now that the Christian faith has spread throughout the world, how easy it is to forget the deep Eastern roots of Christianity that remain to this day. 
So often in our own parishes and communities, we miss the opportunity to learn from and walk with our fellow Catholics in other rites, and with our fellow Christians in other denominations. Christian unity is a major pillar of synodality: we walk together as one family in Christ, guided by the Holy Spirit on the path to the Father (cf. Gaudium et Spes #1). As the Catholic Church seeks to become more synodal, let us seize and create opportunities for learning from our brothers and sisters in Orthodox and Eastern Catholic Churches. Let us dare to walk together in order to breathe with both lungs. 
"Listening to the East" is currently available on Salt + Light Plus here.

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