On Sunday, October 10, 2010, during the opening Mass for the Synod of Bishops for the Middle East, I have to admit that the number 23 was on my mind. I was first introduced to the symbolism of the number some years ago, over lunch with a wonderful pastor from Church of the Virgin Mary, a Melkite Catholic parish in Brooklyn, NY. Over lunch, Father John reminded me and a small group of Canadian and Colombian tourists that the Catholic Church benefits from the richness of 23 Rites which, although nuanced in rituals, language, culture and garments, stand united in spirit, tenets and faith. The number has been on my mind ever since, but it reached a peak at the Synod Mass, as hundreds of clergy, religious, bishops, Cardinals and Patriarchs from a myriad of Rites marched together, in perfect unison and common purpose, toward the altar in St. Peter's Basilica - a spectacular site.
A Mass like the one held on October 10 at St. Peter's Basilica, with its beautiful chants and prayers in Greek, Arabic, Syriac, Hebrew, Farsi, Armenian, French, English and Latin, reminds us that the most extravagant miracles can happen when Christ-filled people get together and offer their minds, actions and even voices to the Holy Spirit. It also reminds us that diversity at the cultural and practical level plays an important role in our faith, perhaps even more than in years past.
Earlier this year, we presented a two-part Catholic Focus episode on Eastern Churches. It was one of the most popular Catholic Focus episodes in recent memory - with a significant increase in viewer feedback. We would like to do more on the Eastern Churches and, God willing, we will with the help of funders. If we start to receive donations for $23, we'll know what to do with it!
To view The Light of the East, parts 1 and 2, visit our Catholic Focus
Vatican information on the Synod visit here
Photos: CNS/Paul Haring