Eastern Catholics share their culture, experiences at Chicago gathering

By Laura Ieraci | Catholic News Service
Tuesday, August 9, 2022

CHICAGO — Eastern Catholics in the Chicago area, clergy and lay, gathered mid-summer on the University of Chicago campus to discuss the needs and good works of the church in their countries of origin and to start new, mission-minded relationships.

The Lumen Christi Institute hosted the gathering on the heels of a yearlong Eastern Christian theology series covering ethics, social teaching, patristics and hymnody. The event featured Catholic Near East Welfare Association, a papal agency based in New York.

Msgr. Peter Vaccari, president of CNEWA, gave a 30-minute presentation on the mission of the agency, explaining how CNEWA works with the various Eastern churches in their lands of origin to advance their humanitarian and pastoral programs. A discussion and hourlong social followed.

At least seven Eastern churches were represented at the July 19 gathering, including a member of the Orthodox Church of America.

“It was like being with brothers and the mutual appreciation of each other was very much evident in the conversations,” said Father Jerry Mathew, pastor of St. Mary Syro-Malankara Catholic Church in Evanston, north of Chicago.

Eastern Christians in the country’s third-largest metropolitan area need the opportunity to gather, “to share the richness of each one’s culture, experience and knowledge, as we tend to our relatively smaller congregations with varied difficulties,” he added.

Several people in attendance cited St. John Paul II’s well-known reference to the Eastern and Western churches as the two lungs of the church and said the event offered the opportunity to experience “both lungs.”

“It is vital that all branches of Christianity should be connected with one another,” said Peter Tokatlian, a member of the Orthodox Church of America and a regular participant at Lumen Christi events since 2004.

“The Eastern churches are, especially in this day, endangered species in lands windswept by powerful and hostile historical and creedal forces,” said Tokatlian, a retired defense attorney. “This meeting was very important, the first step in the vast endeavor which lies ahead in this field.”

Following up on a suggestion that Lumen Christi hold more gatherings for Eastern Christians, he said that “creating a network and a community of Eastern churches and Christians in the Chicagoland area is vital, and I do hope Lumen Christi will take the lead in doing so.”

Father Joby Joseph of the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church said the event was a “blessed opportunity” to “witness how Christian intellectual life informs practical activism.”

In light of the three-year National Eucharistic Revival currently underway in the United States, he said he would like to see the gathering followed up with “greater fellowship between the various churches, especially around the altar.”

“Intellectual programming would be phenomenal and very much needed. However, perhaps the simplest course of action and the most foundational need would be fostering openness to pray together,” he said.

“It may present its own logistical and pastoral challenges, but I would find it remarkable to have different congregations simply pray together as brothers and sisters to the Father and partake of the same Eucharistic Body,” he said.

While in Chicago, Msgr. Vaccari also attended a prayer service and dinner with the Ukrainian Catholic community and a breakfast meeting with Bishop Jacob Angadiath and Bishop Joy Alappatt, of the Syro-Malabar Catholic Diocese of St. Thomas of Chicago.

Bishop Alappatt, who turns 66 Sept. 27, will be enthroned as the second bishop of the nationwide eparchy Oct. 1.

He had served the diocese as auxiliary bishop for 14 years, when Pope Francis appointed him July 3 to succeed Bishop Angadiath, who is 76.

Canon law requires bishops to submit their resignation to the pope at age 75. The pope accepted the elder bishop’s resignation the same day he appointed his successor.

Bishop Angadiath was appointed the first bishop of the diocese by St. John Paul, who established the diocese March 13, 2001.