His All Holiness Bartholomew, Orthodox Archbishop of Constantinople-New Rome and Ecumenical Patriarch, after having received an honorary diploma from Our Lady. Photo by Matt Cashore ’94
The successor of Saint Andrew the Apostle is now a former student of the University of Notre-Dame.
During an extraordinary academic convocation held at the Basilica of the Sacred Heart on October 28, His All Holiness Bartholomew, Archbishop of Constantinople-New Rome, received an Honorary Doctorate of Laws conferred by Reverend John I. Jenkins, CSC , ’76,’ 78M.A., president of the university, and Jack Brennan, chairman of the board.
As an ecumenical patriarch since 1991, the “first among his peers” of the patriarchs of Eastern Orthodoxy, Barthélémy made ecumenism, interreligious dialogue, religious freedom and climate change the hallmarks of his preaching and of his spiritual leadership of nearly 300 million Orthodox Christians around the world. Pope Francis, in his famous 2015 eco-encyclical, Laudato si ‘, recognized how the “Green Patriarch” for decades had drawn attention to “the ethical and spiritual roots of environmental problems, which demand that we seek solutions not only in technology, but in changing humanity” .
Two years earlier, Bartholomew became the first ecumenical patriarch since the Great Schism of 1054, which severed ties between the Churches of the West and the East, to attend the investiture of a pope. In his convening address, Jenkins called Bartholomew’s trip to Rome in honor of Francis “an act of love and courage to help heal the wounds of a thousand years.”
The Ecumenical Patriarch, unable to deliver the opening address for the Class of Our Lady of 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic, focused his remarks at the Basilica on Christian duty in response to the twin crises of climate change, ” the greatest challenge of our time “, and COVID-19.
Here is some of what he had to say:
This convocation comes against the backdrop of another global challenge. Climate change and the coronavirus pandemic are rightly called crises. You may know that the etymological root of the word “crisis” is a Greek word meaning “judgment”. The truth is, we are all judged on our response or rejection of defining moments in our lives. Ironically, the the strategies used to reject climate change and COVID-19 adhere to a similar pattern and are adopted by the same people.
Worldwide, we have seen how the pandemic has revealed the best of human nature, as well as the worst of human indifference.
This is precisely where the role of the Church becomes essential. Because a Christian must always remember the vertical dimension alongside – and never to the detriment of – the horizontal dimension of the social gospel. It is of course always difficult to maintain a delicate balance between these two dimensions, but it is the message of the Cross, which marks the tension and the intersection between the terrestrial and the celestial.
Religion must work and serve in connection with – and never in isolation from – science. Faith alone will not overcome the problems of our time; but the challenges of our time will certainly not be overcome without faith. Research and medicine are gifts from God; they provide answers to the question “How?” Faith and theology are also gifts from God; they provide answers to the question “Why?” “
How can the kingdom of heaven be reflected in earthly reality? What does the liturgy look like when it is extended to serve the world? In the 7th century, Saint Maximus the Confessor spoke of a “cosmic liturgy”. This larger worldview is what allows us to imagine a world different from the one we have created or become used to.
What we are facing cannot be naively dismissed like a temptation or a trial. It is not some kind of punishment from God or a threat from the government. And it is certainly not the result of “sin” or “end” revelation.
Our response to COVID-19 is the very arena in which all Christian believers – and indeed all people of good will – are called to be and to strive. Otherwise, the truth is that we are not living up to our calling as preachers of Christ crucified and disciples of our Lord, who was buried and resurrected on the third day.
We are all called to bond between hurting people and hurting the earth. About 25 years ago, we defined abuse of the natural environment as sin. . . we begged people to revise their concept of what is right and what is wrong.
This is why we applaud efforts to expand relevant laws of international law to include “ecocide”, defined as the unlimited and illegal destruction of ecosystems through oil drilling and spills, industrial fishing and animal husbandry, plastic pollution and the elimination of mountain peaks, but also weapons and nuclear testing. In the same framework, we also welcome the discussion in the Latin Code of Canon Law to include a provision calling on every believer not only to avoid damaging creation as a common home, but to improve the natural environment.
In this trip, it’s you – students – that offer us the optimism we so yearn for: the willingness to accept change and sacrifice, the ability to overcome polarization and partisanship, the conviction to be catalysts for social and ecological justice, as well as – very frankly – the opportunity to save democracy and our planet. May God grant your generation the wisdom and courage to continue to lead this charge and this mandate.
John Nagy is editor-in-chief of this magazine.