CHICAGO — The Eastern Catholic bishops of Canada and the United States of America, along with the general superiors of religious foundations, and eparchial priests and deacons, monastic priests, nuns and brothers and laity gathered in the Marriott O’Hare Hotel from Oct. 30-Nov. 3 for an Encounter of the Eastern Catholic Churches in Canada and the United States of America. The 125 participants, gathered from Australia, Belgium, Italy, Ukraine, Canada and the United States of America, focused on the theme “Evangelization through the Celebration of the Mysteries [Sacraments].” This gathering was a direct result of the recommendations of the 1999 Encounter in Boston, convoked by the Congregation for the Eastern Churches, in which the participants asked for more involvement of clergy, religious and laity in future encounters of the Eastern churches in North America.

Bishop Nicholas Samra, retired auxiliary bishop of the Eparchy of Newton and chair of the Encounter Coordinating Committee, emphasized that the Encounter participants gathered first to pray together in order to share the wealth of Eastern traditions and secondly to encounter each other in charity in order to deepen that experience and recognize the common mission of proclaiming the Good News.

In attendance at the Encounter was the Prefect of the Congregation for the Eastern Churches, Cardinal Ignace Moussa I. Daoud, who in his welcoming message indicated his pleasure that the Eastern Catholic churches emphasize the particular identity, integrity and dignity of each respective church and promote dialogue to further enable the “coherence and harmony” among those same traditions.

Cardinal Lubomyr Husar, major archbishop of Kyiv, commented in his keynote address that in this endeavor of evangelization there was much work to be done and that no one else but the Eastern Catholics themselves will be able to accomplish such a work.

Many distinguished national and international speakers contributed their thoughts and practical solutions to the evangelistic efforts of the Eastern churches in these two North American countries. Mitred Archpriest Andriy Chirovsky, in speaking on the sacraments of initiation, offered that initial evangelization efforts in the homelands of many of the Eastern Catholic churches were so effective that when these traditions set roots in North America, it was hard to re-establish the faith on foreign soil. He proposed that evangelization through the celebration of baptism, chrismation and Eucharist be realized through a renewal of beauty and reverence in these rites. Father Charles Joanides addressed the need to assist the Christian faithful to embrace a full and rich Christian perspective on marriage. Conventual Franciscan Father Jobe Abbass spoke on the common priesthood and lay ministry. Father Deacon John Chryssavgis offered a reflection on repentance and the change of heart as a means of evangelization. Benedictine Archimandrite Michel Van Parys, former abbot of the famous Chevetogne monastery, and Basilian Sister Alphonsa Donavich presented ideas for evangelization through the living of the monastic and religious life. Archpriest David Petras spoke of the celebration of the Divine Liturgy as representative of the stages of spiritual development. Trinitarian Father Damon Geiger addressed the role of the clergy in evangelization efforts and spoke of the need for clergy to rouse all baptized members to collaborative ministry – as the clergy evangelize the faithful, so the faithful evangelize the world.

Divine Liturgies were celebrated according to three traditions: Byzantine at St. Joseph Ukrainian Catholic Church, Chicago; Syro-Malabar at Mar Thoma Sleeha Cathedral, Bellwood; and the closing Liturgy of the Encounter in Syro-Maronite tradition. During the closing Liturgy, Cardinal Francis George, archbishop of Chicago, preached the homily re-enforcing the commitment to evangelize. Morning prayers each day were celebrated in various traditions: Syriac, Chaldean and Armenian.

This Encounter also provided opportunity for participants to offer support for those churches experiencing oppression, persecution and suffering throughout the world. The Encounter assembly specifically directed that support to the Eastern Catholic churches in Iran, Iraq and the Holy Land.

Participants of the Encounter were from the following Eastern Catholic traditions: Armenian, Chaldean, Maronite, Melkite, Romanian, Ruthenian, Slovak, Syriac, Syro-Malabar and Ukrainian. A future Encounter of the Eastern Catholic Churches is already being considered.