On Saturday, Pope Benedict XVI received participants in a congress marking the 20th anniversary of the current Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches. Reflecting on the occasion, the Pope called for Eastern Catholics to maintain their ancient traditions, as witnesses to the important diversity of the universal Church.
The Pope observed that the 20th anniversary of the code's implementation was an important chance to examine its impact on the lives of Eastern Catholics, and to consider its effectiveness as an instrument for the unity of many self-governing churches that maintain communion within the Catholic fold.
Pope Benedict also recalled the traditional roots of the modern code as an adaptation of many “sacred canons of the ancient Church.” The continuity of ancient and modern practice, he said, is an inspiration to all of the various Eastern Catholic Churches “to preserve their own identity, which is (Eastern) and Catholic at one and the same time.”
“In maintaining Catholic communion,” he stated, “the Eastern Catholic Churches had no intention of renouncing faithfulness to their own tradition. As has been noted on several occasions, the union they have already achieved with the Church of Rome must not cause the Eastern Catholic Churches to lose an awareness of their own authenticity and originality.”
“Therefore,” the Holy Father continued, “the task of all the Eastern Catholic Churches is that of preserving their legal heritage and nourishing their traditions, which are a treasure for the whole Church.”
The Pope likewise highlighted the “fundamental” similarity of the Eastern Catholic Churches' canon law to the various canonical traditions of Eastern Orthodoxy, acknowledging that “the Eastern Catholic Churches can make a specific and important contribution to the progress of ecumenism.”
Describing canon law as “the specific and indispensable regulation of ecclesial unity,” Pope Benedict noted that the clear regulation of the Church's functions and duties “will not fail to make an effective contribution to the life and mission of the Church in the world, if all members of the People of God interpret it wisely and apply it faithfully.”