Among the many audiences the Holy Father granted at the Vatican today, one stood out for its historical significance. In an audience he gave to the Pontifical Oriental Institute, Pope Benedict XVI spoke about their founder, Pope Benedict XV, and praised their work to make known the outstanding heritage of Christian wisdom that the Church in the East has to offer.
Recalling the history of the Pontifical Oriental Institute for the 280 members at the audience, Benedict XVI explained that it was founded by Pope Benedict XV in 1917.
"The time of that Pope was a time of war," said the Holy Father, "while he himself worked for peace. To achieve peace he launched various appeals and even drew up ... a plan for peace, a detailed plan which unfortunately proved unsuccessful.”
"Nonetheless," the Pope added, "in order to ensure peace within the Church, he created ... three monuments of incomparable value: the Congregation for the Oriental Church (later renamed 'for the Oriental Churches'); the Pontifical Oriental Institute for the study of the theological, liturgical, juridical and cultural aspects of Oriental Christian wisdom; and the 'Codex Iuris Canonici'."
Noting his own "particular bond" with Benedict XV, Benedict XVI explained how his predecessor thereby favored the Oriental Churches. Under his care the Church in the East cam to "enjoy a regime more in keeping with their traditions, under the gaze of the Roman Pontiffs who have never ceased to show their concern with concrete gestures of support."
These communities have known "difficult periods" and "harsh trials," said the Pope. "Though physically distant from Rome, they have always remained close through their faithfulness to the See of Peter.”
In these times of trial, the Holy Father said, the eastern Church’s “progress and their firmness in difficulties would have been unthinkable without the constant support they were able to draw from that oasis of peace and study that is the Pontifical Oriental Institute, a meeting point for scholars, professors, writers and publishers, some of the greatest experts on the Christian East."
The Holy Father also singled out the institute's library for praise, calling it "justly famous throughout the world" and "one of the best on the Christian East." He also mentioned that he is committed to expanding it still further "as a sign of the interest the Church of Rome has in knowledge of the Christian East, and as a means to eliminate any prejudices which could harm the cordial and harmonious coexistence of Christians. I am, in fact, convinced," he added, "that supporting academic study also has an effective ecumenical value, because drawing from the heritage of wisdom of the Christian East enriches everyone."
"The Pontifical Oriental Institute," the pontiff said in parting, "represents an outstanding example of what Christian wisdom has to offer, both to people who wish to acquire an ever more accurate knowledge of the Eastern Churches, and to those seeking a more profound orientation of life according to the Spirit, a subject on which the Christian East can justly boast a rich tradition."