Dear Brothers in the episcopate and priesthood,
Illustrious Representatives of other ecclesial churches and communities,
Esteemed Practitioners of Eastern Canon Law,
With great joy I receive you at the conclusion of the scholarly proceedings, which were convened to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the promulgation of the "Codex Canonum Ecclesiarum Orientalium." I cordially greet all of you, beginning with Monsignor Francesco Coccopalmerio, whom I thank for the words he addressed to me also on behalf of those present. I thank the Congregation for Eastern Churches, the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity and the Pontifical Oriental Institute, who worked together with the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts in organizing this conference. I would like to express my cordial appreciation to the speakers for the competent scientific contribution to this ecclesial initiative.
20 years after the promulgation of "Codex Canonum Ecclesiarum Orientalium" we would like to pay homage to the intuition of John Paul II, whom, in his concern that the Eastern Catholic Churches "flourish and carry out the mission entrusted to them with new apostolic vigor" (Vatican Council II, "Orientalium Ecclesiarum," 1) wanted to grant these venerable Churches a complete universal Code adapted to the times. In this way there was fulfilled "the same constant will of the Roman pontiffs to promulgate two Codes, one for the Latin Church and the other for the Eastern Catholic Churches" (Apostolic Constitution "Sacri canones"). At the same time there was reaffirmed the "very clear, constant, and firm intention of the supreme legislator in the Church in regard to the faithful safeguarding and diligent observance of all the rites" (ibid.).
The "Codex Canonum Ecclesiarum Orientalium" was followed by two other important documents of the magisterium of John Paul II: the encyclical letter "Ut unum sint" (1995) and the apostolic letter "Orientale Lumen" (1995). Furthermore, we cannot forget the "Directory for the Application of Principles and Norms on Ecumenism" published by the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity (1993) and the instruction of the Congregation for Eastern Churches about the application of the liturgical prescriptions of the Code (1996). In these authoritative documents of the magisterium various canons of the "Codex Canonum Ecclesiarum Orientalium," just as the "Codex Iuris Canonici," are textually cited, commented on and applied to the life of the Church.
This 20th anniversary is not only a celebratory event to preserve it in memory, but rather provides an occasion for confirmation to which above all the "sui iuris" Eastern Catholic Churches and their institutions, especially the hierarchies, are called. In this regard the apostolic constitution "Sacri canones" already foresees the context of verification. It is a question of seeing in what measure the Code effectively had force of law for all the "suir iuris" Oriental Churches and also in what measure the legislative authority of each "sui iuris" Church has provided for the promulgation of its own particular law, keeping present the traditions of its right along with the directives of Vatican Council II.
The topics of this conference articulated in three unities -- history, particular legislation, ecumenical perspectives -- indicate a very important "iter" to follow in this verification. It must start from the awareness that the new "Codex Canonum Ecclesiarum Orientalium" has created for the Oriental Catholic faithful a disciplinary situation that is partly new, becoming a valid instrument to protect and promote their rite understood as a "liturgical, theological, spiritual and disciplinary patrimony, distinct by culture and historical circumstances of peoples, that is expressed a way of living of the faith that is proper to each "sui iuris" Church" (can. 28, § 1).
In this way, the "sacra canones" of the ancient Church, that inspire the Oriental codification in force, stimulate all the Oriental Churches to conserve their own identity, which is simultaneously Eastern and Catholic. In preserving the Catholic communion the Eastern Catholic Churches did not at all intend to deny their own tradition. As has been many times repeated, the full union of the Eastern Catholic Churches with the Church of Rome that is already realized must not lead to a diminution of the consciousness of the unique authenticity and originality of those Churches. For this reason it is the task of all the Eastern Catholic Churches to conserve the common disciplinary patrimony and nourish their own traditions, which is a treasure for the whole Church.
The same "sacri canones" of the first centuries of the Church constitute to a large extent the same basic patrimony of canonical discipline that also regulates the Orthodox Churches. Thus the Eastern Catholic Churches can offer a peculiar and relevant contribution to the ecumenical journey. I am happy that in the course of your symposium you have taken account of this particular aspect and I encourage you to make it an object of further study, cooperating thus for your part to the common effort to adhere to the Lord's prayer: "May all be one ... that the world may believe ..." (John 17:21).
Dear friends, in the context of the Church's current effort for a new evangelization, canon law, as the peculiar and indispensable ordering of ecclesial fellowship, will not fail to contribute to the life and the mission of the Church in the world, if all the components of the People of God know how to interpret is wisely and apply it faithfully. Thus, I exhort, as did the venerable John Paul II, all the beloved children of the Eastern Churches "to observe the precepts set down with a sincere heart and a humble will, not in the least doubting that the Eastern Churches will provide in the best way possible for the good of the souls of faithful Christians with renewed discipline, and that they will always flourish and carry out the task entrusted to them under the protection of the glorious and blessed ever Virgin Mary, who in all truth is called 'Theotokos' and who shines as the great mother of the universal Church" ("Sacri canones").
I accompany this wish with the Apostolic Blessing, which I impart to you and to those who make their contribution in the various fields connected with the canon law of the Eastern Churches.
[Translation by Joseph G. Trabbic]
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