Even in the midst of the "turbulent" First World War, Benedict XV reserved "special attention to the Churches of the Orient."
Now, we must look toward the "future mission" of the congregation and institute, he said, noting that at the beginning, there may have been some confusion about the balance between study and pastoral work of the institute.
But today, he continued, this conflict does not and should not exist: it's not about 'either/or,' he explained, but 'both/and.'
He invited the professors to place their scientific commitments "in first place," based on the example of their predecessors, whom he said distinguished themselves with their scholarly contributions and editions of liturgical, spiritual, archaeological and canonical sources.
While many are aware of the contributions scholars have made in these areas, the Pope said that now, as it was 100 years ago, we again find ourselves in challenging times, with war and hatred attacking "the very roots of peaceful coexistence in the persecuted lands of the East."
The institute is again at the center of a "providential crossroads," Francis said, and encouraged members to maintain their long tradition and attention to research, but also to listen to the challenges and experiences of students during this difficult time.
With the collapse of totalitarian regimes and various dictatorships, and the rise and spread of international terrorism, Eastern Christians are experiencing a time of persecution and worry, he said, and "in these situations nobody can close their eyes."
The Oriental Institute is called to listen in prayer to what the Lord wants "at this precise moment," he said, and in coherence with the three wise men, they must "seek new ways to go."
Many of the students and professors are experiencing this important moment in history, he said, and the Oriental Institute, "through research, teaching and testimony, has the task of helping our brothers and sisters to strengthen and consolidate their faith in the face of the tremendous challenges they face."
The institute can be a place of formation for seminarians, priests and laity, giving them hope so that they can collaborate and cooperate with Christ's reconciling mission, he said.
He noted that the Pontifical Oriental Institute has an ecumenical mission in relation to the various Eastern Churches, with which we are still journeying toward full communion.
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The way the institute can carry out this ecumenical mission, he said, is by fostering good relations with the Eastern Churches, collaborating on important issues, and devoting thorough study to the problems and questions still dividing Rome from the East.
However, he stressed that this work must be in the knowledge that everything happens in the Lord's time and manner.
Francis said the institute is also in a good position, with the trust of the many students of the non-Catholic Eastern Churches who attend, to "make known the treasures of the rich traditions of Eastern Churches in the Western world, so that they are understandable and can be assimilated."
Concluding, Pope Francis bestowed his apostolic blessing on participants, giving thanks for the work of the Pontifical Oriental Institute over the last 100 years.
He also voiced his hope for the continued pursuit of its mission, which he said is to study and spread "with love and intellectual honesty, with scientific rigor and pastoral perspective, the traditions of the Oriental churches in their liturgical, theological, artistic and canonical variety."
This mission, he said, also involves responding "better and better to the expectations of today's world to create a future of reconciliation and peace."