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 CNS Story:

SOROKA-POPE Apr-24-2008 (410 words) xxxn

Archbishop lauds pope's acknowledgment of Eastern Catholic churches

By Catholic News Service

PHILADELPHIA (CNS) -- Pope Benedict XVI's special acknowledgment of the Eastern Catholic churches in the United States during his U.S. visit offered Ukrainian Archbishop Stefan Soroka of Philadelphia encouragement for his church to continue energetic evangelization in this country and in Ukraine.

During his meeting with Catholic bishops at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington April 16, Pope Benedict recognized the presence of bishops from "all the venerable Eastern churches in communion with the successor of Peter."

"Your presence here is a reminder of the courageous witness to Christ of so many members of your communities, often amid suffering in their respective homelands," the pope said during his address to the U.S. bishops, which followed a vespers service.

The Ukrainian Catholic Church is one of 22 Eastern Catholic churches. It is fully in union with Rome but has maintained the liturgical and spiritual heritage shared with the Orthodox churches.

Some of the other Eastern Catholic churches in the U.S. are Armenian, Chaldean, Maronite, Romanian and Syrian. They all have their own distinctive liturgical and legal systems, but are considered equal in dignity, rights and obligations to the Latin tradition within the Catholic Church.

"The Holy Father's comments reflect his knowledge and sensitivity to the sufferings and persecutions endured by many of the hierarchy, clergy, religious and faithful of the Eastern Catholic churches in their homeland," Archbishop Soroka said in a statement issued April 23. "Escaping persecutions and hardships and the search for religious freedoms were often the motivator for the immigration of many to the United States of America."

The pope said the Eastern Catholic churches in the U.S. offered "a great enrichment of the ecclesial life of America, giving vivid expression to the church's catholicity and the variety of her liturgical and spiritual traditions."

Archbishop Soroka said the pope's comments reinforce the Eastern Catholic churches' unique position in the U.S., providing its hierarchs an opportunity to enjoy a mutually enhancing relationship with their Latin-rite brothers.

"The religious freedom enjoyed in America has allowed for the Ukrainian Catholic Church to flourish, with approximately 200 parishes and missions and well over 100,000 faithful," he said.

"Our church in America expressed a strong and steadfast voice of faith for those who could not speak in Ukraine in its time of persecution. The church has since served a significant role in the renewal of our Ukrainian Catholic Church in Ukraine," he said.


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