saw in the face the mercy of God”: A dialogue with Cardinal Koch
Badde interviews the president of the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of
Christian Unity on a special event
|PHOTO: Paul Badde|
2016 / 9:15 a.m.) In 2017, it will be 500 years since in the West the Lutheran brothers
and sisters began to separate themselves from the Pope and from the Roman
Catholic Church. However, even older than the Reformation and the division of
the Western Church is the Great Schism of the East, and the division of
Christianity into the Church of the East and the Roman Catholic Church in the
West, which occurred in 1054 between Rome and Constantinople. Only on December
7, 1965 Pope Paul VI from Rome and the Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras from
Istanbul solemnly cancelled the reciprocal anathemas “from the memory and from
the center of the Church” “abandoning them to oblivion.” But the Eastern Church
and the Western Church remained estranged, above all from the cultural point of
view. Now, however, at the invitation of Archbishop Bruno Forte of
Chieti-Vasto, on September 18, 2016, seventy Orthodox bishops celebrated the
“Divine Liturgy” of Saint John Chrysostom under the Face of Christ, there
exposed above the principal altar, together with two cardinals and numerous
other prelates of the Roman Catholic Church in the Basilica of the Holy Face of
CNA: Lord Cardinal,
Archbishop Bruno Forte calls the “Holy Face” of Christ “the polar star of
Christianity.” For him, there is no reasonable cause to doubt that the image on
the veil is the sudario
of Christ that John cites in the Holy
Sepulchre near the burial clothes. But is it not also a provocation for the
Cardinal Koch: Christians
believe in one God who showed his concrete face in Jesus Christ. When we know
more closely the Face of Christ and when we more deeply identify ourselves with
him, the more deeply we become one, as well. For this is a wonderful event to
be in front of the Face of Christ, to pray, to venerate the Face, because it
fulfills his [Christ’s] desire that we be one.
Catholics have something
to bring to the Orthodox. Also for the Orthodox it is so, as for instance for
their culture of the veneration of icons. Could it be that from this day
forward also in the Catholic Church the images can come to be understood and
evaluated in a new way – in the midst of that mighty “Iconic Turn” that the
experts of communication today note, in which the images expect a general role
in communications like never before?
Yes, the very profound
mystery of ecumenism is an exchange of gifts. Today the Church has her gifts.
And a particular gift the Orthodox have are the icons. So I think that also
many Christians in the West can find a new access to the icons and thus deepening
the faith. It is a great gift. It is very important that we also re-evaluate
the images in the Western tradition. With the Reform of the sixteenth century,
we have placed a whole new accent on the word. But the Word has become flesh,
the Word became visible, so also the images belong to the faith. This is a gift
from the Orthodox that we welcome gratefully.
At Chieti, in these
recent days the delicate question of the theological and ecclesiological
relations between primacy and synodality in the life of the Church, then the
role of Peter and that of all bishops, was discussed within the commission that
has come on pilgrimage to Manoppello. Ten years ago Peter came here in the
vesture of Pope Benedict. Since then, there has been an enormous turning point
in the evaluation of this image of Manoppello that has become famous throughout
the world. What significance do you think will be given to this day of
pilgrimage, in which the synod of bishops gathered here?
It is very beautiful that
we could come here on this anniversary ten years later. Pope Benedict came in
the name of the whole Catholic Church. Today is present here the Church of the
East and of the West. So this anniversary maybe can also help in the search for
the unity between the Church in the East and the Church in the West.
You, as president of the
Pontifical Council for the Promotion of Christian Unity, are responsible to
Rome for ecumenism. In this regard, Pope Francis affirmed: “Look at Christ and
go ahead with courage!” Which next step would indicate to you today to go with
courage to encounter Christ, in a day in which notwithstanding the difference
between the Eastern Church and the Western Church you have come together before
In reality, we are always
on the way towards Christ. Because it is his will that we find unity, it is not
a human project. Christ himself on the eve of His Passion prayed that His
disciples might be one, that the world might believe. The credibility of this
testimony depends on the fact that we are one. This is also a particular
request of Pope Francis, when he says that when we can walk on the same road
toward Christ, then we find unity.
“Misericordiae Vultus”: with these first Latin words begins the
Bull of Indiction with which Pope Francis announced this year of the Jubilee of
Mercy. The “Face of Mercy” has given to this year a very particular meaning.
What do you sense today being here before the merciful gaze of Jesus, who looks
at us from this wonderful veil?
It is a magnificent
message that we can have a merciful God, for which we know that there are no
cases without hope. Per as long as a man can fall down, he can never fall lower
than the hands of God. Now you can really see this face, encounter it, it is
naturally a marvelous deepening of this message of the Holy Year. The men of
today need nothing more than the mercy of God. And if they can look on the face
of the merciful God it is a marvelous gift.
And what will you tell
Pope Francis about this event in case you will have the opportunity?
I will certainly tell him
that we saw in the Face his great message of the mercy of God. And that this
Face is important for the whole Church. It is in a certain way the manifesto of
the Church: the merciful face of God!