ROME — The eighteenth meeting of the International Joint Commission for Theological Dialogue between the Catholic Church and the Oriental Orthodox Churches took place in Rome from June 20-24, 2022 and was hosted by the Dicastery for Promoting Christian Unity. It was chaired jointly by His Eminence Cardinal Kurt Koch, Prefect of the Dicastery for Promoting Christian Unity, and by His Grace Bishop Kyrillos, Coptic Orthodox Auxiliary Bishop in the Diocese of Los Angeles, California, USA.

Representatives came from the Catholic Church and from the following Oriental Orthodox Churches: the Antiochian Syrian Orthodox Church, the Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church, the Armenian Apostolic Church (Catholicosate of All Armenians and Catholicosate of the Holy See of Cilicia), and the Coptic Orthodox Church. Archbishop Khajag Barsamian and Bishop Tiran Petrosyan were the representatives of the Catholicosate of All Armenians and Bishop Magar Ashkarian and Father Boghos Tinkjian were from the representatives of the Catholicosate of Great House of Cilicia.

The two delegations met separately on the morning of June 20. Plenary sessions were held from the afternoon of June 20 through June 24, each day beginning with a brief prayer service based on material prepared for the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.

In the evening of Monday June 20, Cardinal Koch hosted a dinner for the dialogue members in the Casina Pio IV in the Vatican gardens. On the evening of Wednesday, June 22, the members attended Vespers at the Benedictine Collegio di Sant’Anselmo at the kind invitation of the Right Reverend Gregory Polan, OSB, Abbot Primate of the Benedictine Confederation, and shared dinner with the community.

On Thursday, June 23 at 12 pm, His Holiness Pope Francis received the members of the Commission in private audience. His Grace Bishop Kyrillos presented to His Holiness the completed statement of the Commission, “Sacraments in the Life of the Church,” and related that the Commission begins a new phase of reflections on the Mother of God. Bishop Kyrillos then presented to Pope Francis a Coptic icon depicting St. Cyril of Alexandria and Pope Celestine of Rome in recalling the cordial relations between the Churches of Alexandria and Rome at the time of the Ecumenical Council of Ephesus.

In his address, Pope Francis emphasized that this document “will be able to mark a new step forward towards full communion.” This leads him to three important dimensions of ecumenical dialogue: baptismal, pastoral and local. “It is in baptism that we find the basis of the communion between Christians and our yearning for full visible unity”, the Pope said. “Secondly, ecumenism always has a pastoral character (…) the broad consensus noted by your Commission, not only on baptism but also on the other sacraments, should encourage us to develop more fully a pastoral ecumenism”. His Holiness referred to already existing pastoral agreements and asked: “Would it not possible to extend and multiply such pastoral agreements, above all in those situations in which our faithful are a minority or in the diaspora?” Finally, he highlighted that ecumenism exists already as a primary local reality. “The dialogue of life in the local, everyday relations between our Churches (…) constitute a genuine locus or source of theology.”

The plenary session then began its final review of the draft of the Document “Sacraments in the Life of the Church.”  This process continued through the morning of Wednesday, June 22.  The text received unanimous approval and was signed by the co-chairs on Thursday, June 23. After the signing, Bishop Kyrillos presented Cardinal Koch an icon of the Mother of God for the Dicastery.

In keeping with the theme, Aspects of Mariology, The Holy Virgin Mary in the Teaching and the Life of the Church, the following papers were presented: Malpan Dr. Mathew Vellanickal, “Mary in the Biblical Tradition;” Rev. Mark Sheridan, OSB, “The Tradition of the Dormition and Assumption in the Catholic Church’s Teachings;” and Bishop Kyrillos, “The Understanding of the Dormition of the Holy Virgin Mary in the Oriental Orthodox Tradition.”

This study and discussion will continue at the next meeting, which will take place at the Logos Center of the Saint Bishoy Monastery, Egypt, January 31-February 4, 2023, with arrivals on Monday January 30 and departures on Sunday February 5.

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