Visit of the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew to Baltimore

Your All Holiness, With great joy we welcome you to the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Baltimore.

Cardinal William H. Keeler greets Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople during the patriarch’s 1998 visit to Baltimore. (CR File)

We who are members of the Catholic laity, religious women and men, and clergy of the Archdiocese of Baltimore are joined this afternoon by members of the Orthodox Church, by leaders of other Christian Churches, and of other faiths.

Also with us are officials of our national, state and local governments, distinguished representatives of the academic community of this area, and leaders of the media.

You began your historic visit to Baltimore at the Greek Orthodox Cathedral which honors the Mother of God, Theotokos, under the title of her Annunciation, recalling when the Word became flesh. The splendid service there did great credit to the congregation and to its zealous dean and pastor, Father Constantine Monios.

You continue your visit at the historic church which recalls her Dormition, her entering into a full share of her Risen Son’s victory over death. You come to Maryland, the Free State, where the roots of religious freedom go deeper than anywhere else in the English-speaking world.

Here, within a few years of their establishing a colony in 1634, the Catholic leadership of the early Parliament, although a minority of the colonists, passed Acts of Toleration. Decades later the majority used its political power to set aside these laws. Nonetheless, Maryland’s early posture helped inspire the framers of our national Bill of Rights to guarantee the religious freedom which has so blessed so many in this land. It has also provided the setting in which our Catholic and Orthodox communities have been able to flourish side by side with other faith groups.

Your visit brings you to a Church rich in history and significance—the first cathedral of the first Roman Catholic diocese in the United States, in a city and place where so many of our first bishops were sealed by the Holy Spirit into the Apostolic Succession.

Here also their successors convened ten times in the last century to determine in councils the course our Church should take in a land of freedom, opportunity and challenge.

From the days of our first Archbishop, John Carroll, whose tomb lies here behind us, the Archdiocese of Baltimore has fostered a tradition of cooperation with others in working for the common good in both religious and civic spheres of interest. Your commitment, as Ecumenical Patriarch, to the preaching of the gospel called to holiness, to ecumenical and interfaith initiatives, and to the causes of the ecology and religious freedom, is a commitment which brings light to a world too dark with sin and the effects of sin. Cardinal Lawrence Shehan, who shepherded this Archdiocese during the years of the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965), was sent by Pope Paul VI to Istanbul in December 1965, as president of a pontifical delegation. Another member of that delegation is present here with us today—Father John Long. There Cardinal Shehan took part in the ceremony in your patriarchal Cathedral of St. George during which the excommunications pronounced over nine centuries before in 1054 were, and I quote, “erased from the memory and the midst of the Church” and “consigned to oblivion.” A similar ceremony at which I had the privilege to assist took place at the same time in Rome at St. Peter’s Basilica.

Cardinal Shehan was the first to chair our own United States Bishops’ Committee for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs and, in this capacity, he helped initiate the dialogue between Orthodox and Catholics in the United States. Our scholars’ Joint Consultation, begun in 1965 and co-sponsored by the Catholic Bishops’ Committee and the Standing Conference of Canonical Orthodox Bishops in America, was the first official one of its kind at the national level in the world.

In time also a committee comprising bishops of both the Catholic and Orthodox Churches embarked on formal dialogue, especially regarding pastoral matters. Both the Scholars’ Consultation and Bishops’ Committee are here this day to seek your blessing and your encouragement. As to the Bishops’ Committee, almost two years ago you welcomed them to your Cathedral and the offices of your patriarchate. They were then on pilgrimage to the ancient Sees of Rome and Constantinople to seek guidance and blessings on their continuing endeavor.

Having taken counsel with His Eminence Archbishop Spyridon, I wish now publicly to propose a similar pilgrimage, to be undertaken jointly with Archbishop Spyridon and Orthodox clergy and laity of this city and elsewhere, as he may judge best, and with Catholic clergy and laity of this city and others who may be able to join us.

Our goal will be to visit the Sees of Rome and Constantinople, confessing our faith in the Risen Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and affirming our commitment to pursue the unity for which he prayed on the eve of his suffering, death and resurrection.

Seven years ago, when you accompanied your predecessor of happy memory, Ecumenical Patriarch Dimitrios, to the United States, you spoke with me of the dreams and challenges which face the Joint International Commission for Theological Dialogue between the Catholic and Orthodox Churches.

Today we may continue giving thanks to God for the Commission’s work, since the day in 1979 when Pope John Paul II traveled to Istanbul to stand with Ecumenical Patriarch Dimitrios to announce the formation of the Commission. We rejoice at its impressive statements published in common on the Mystery of the Church and of the Eucharist, in the light of the Mystery of the Holy Trinity; then, on Faith, Sacraments and the Unity of the Church.

More recently came the statement on the Sacrament of Order and the Sacramental Structure of the Church with Particular Reference to the importance of Apostolic Succession for the Sanctification and Unity of the People of God. Finally, there are statements on the current relationships between the Catholic and Orthodox Churches.

We look forward to the continuation of the theological work of this dialogue, which complements our common efforts for service in the name of Jesus to a wounded world, symbolized by the ongoing cooperation of Catholic Relief Services and the International Orthodox Christian Charities, both based here in Baltimore.

On this occasion I publicly express the most cordial invitation and hope that before too long this Joint Commission for Theological Dialogue may meet for the first time in the Western Hemisphere, in this nation, and specifically here in Maryland, where its members would receive a warm and gracious welcome. Here, too, the Commission’s work for understanding, reconciliation and the unity the Holy Spirit wills for the Church would be strongly supported by the prayers of all our peoples. Here the members of the Orthodox Churches would find sisters and brothers who would understand and encourage their efforts to make progress in a world where now cultural and religious pluralism is becoming more and more a reality because of the massive movement of peoples across national borders and, through modern technology, the instantaneous movement of ideas across language and other borders. (Perhaps we should recognize ecumenically the need to bless and at times even to exorcise the world of cyberspace.)

Your All Holiness, once more I express the very great joy of this community at your presence among us today in this Basilica. We ask for your spiritual leadership as we join together now to listen to the powerful word of God. We shall hear God’s call to open our hearts to rejoice in the ineffable gift of holiness, to imitate the humility of Jesus, who took the “form of a servant” and became “obedient unto death,” and to model our ministry of service on his washing of the feet of his disciples. You lead us now as we join together in prayer to Almighty God, responding to the injunction of the Apostle Paul to the Philippians, the reading of this day, “Complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.”

Our prayer shall be a prayer of praise, of thanksgiving, and of heartfelt petition for our Churches and our peoples. It is a particular joy to welcome also His Eminence Archbishop Spyridon, a brother in the Lord whom I have counted as a friend for the past eleven years through our work together on the Joint International Commission.

This address by Cardinal William H. Keeler was delivered Oct. 23, 1997 at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Baltimore.