Cardinal Daoud inaugurates
the Pontifical College St. Ephrem in Rome
March 8, 2003
On the afternoon of Saturday March 8, 2003 His Beatitude Cardinal Ignace Moussa I Daoud, Prefect of the Congregation for the Oriental Churches, officially inaugurated the Pontifical College of St. Ephrem. The College is designed to provide lodgings for those priest students of the Arabic language from any of the Oriental Catholic Churches, who do not have a college of their own in Rome and who are taking specialized courses in any of the ecclesiastical sciences at the Pontifical Roman Universities.
The College is located in Via Boccea, in one of the wings of the building which accommodates the Pontifical Institute of St. Mary of Comfort, which is the community of students and priests from the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church. There was no better occasion for the dedication of the new College to St. Ephrem than on the day of his liturgical commemoration, which according to the Syro-Antiochean calendar falls on the first Saturday of Lent. The day is observed with solemnity by the Syrian Church, which venerates this Saint as one of the greatest witnesses of its theology and spirituality. But, indeed, the whole Christian East celebrates this feast day. That is why it was a particularly joyful occasion for the new house of formation, which is now available for all Catholic Oriental communities.
On hand to welcome the Cardinal Prefect was Father Jijhad Battah, who, in addition to looking after the Seminary of the Syrian Catholic Patriarchate in Charfe, Lebanon, was also entrusted by the Congregation with the responsibility of being the Rector of the new College. Representing the Secretariat of State at the ceremony was His Excellency the Apostolic Nuncio Dominik Hrusovky, Titular Archbishop of Tubia. The Cardinal Prefect was accompanied by His Excellency Antonio Maria Vegliò, Secretary of the Oriental Congregation, and Monsignor Cristoforo Nitkiewicz, Undersecretary of the same Congregation, as well as other officials of the Dicastery. Also present were Lebanon’s Ambassador to the Holy See, His Excellency Fouad Aoun, with the First Secretary Henri Castoun; the Rector of the Pontifical Oriental Institute, Rev. Father Hector Vall Vilardell S.J.; Rectors of other Oriental Colleges in Rome associated with the Congregation for the Oriental Churches; a great many men and women religious from Oriental Religious Orders and Congregations; and students, friends and co-workers of the new College as well as the managers and employees, who renovated the building to suit its present purpose.
After the welcome address by the Rector the water was blessed in the Chapel of the College according to the Syrian-Antichean Rite for the sprinkling of the Chapel and the residence. The students accompanied the rite of blessing with hymns sung in Aramaic and Arabic. Prior to the chant in honor of St. Ephrem, His Beatitude Cardinal Daoud said the liturgical prayers in Arabic and then addressed all present, in particular the students, expressing his satisfaction that, after the Maronite College re-opened in 2001, he was able to welcome another community of Oriental students: “Today we can, as it were, touch with our own hands once again the continuous care with which the Universal Church looks after the Oriental Catholic Churches. Most sincere thanks go to the Holy Father who gives a human face to perfect Christian charity, the fruits of which have also been bestowed upon you and to which you are called to be outstanding witnesses through a generous and competent service to your Churches of origin”.
Referring to the figure of St. Ephrem, the Cardinal Prefect praised his intense love for divine wisdom, drawn like living water from the Gospel of Christ, his extraordinary works in the field of biblical studies, theology and poetry and, in addition, his administration of two schools, one at Nisibi with the help of its bishop and the other at Edessa. Then he added: “St. Ephrem has indeed been, as the Syriac meaning of his name indicates, fruitful, that is a Christian who has borne most abundant fruit. He has given the Church and the world an abundance of valuable truth and remarkable knowledge, imbued with a sense of beauty and poetry and inspired by Christian love, all of which became part of the history of the great Fathers as the Church’s universal and lasting heritage”. He concluded by proposing the great Saint as a special model not only for all the Churches of the East, but also for the students in view of their formation: “During your stay in Rome, while you experience a rewarding encounter with Christian science and culture, you are being called by St. Ephrem to cultivate holiness of life and fidelity to the Churches to which you belong. That is why I invite you to create a priestly community which appreciates learning and is not just dedicated to it out of a sense of duty, but also with a sense of joy and passion, aware that being thus chosen is a privilege. A spirit of prayer, punctuality, mutual respect, sincerity, a proper use of material things and genuine concern for each other may bring about among you an authentic atmosphere of fraternity, which will determine the style of St. Ephrem’s College”.
The ceremony continued with a visit to various parts of the College and with a video produced by the students of key moments of community life. Having had a previous history (most importantly the years when Arabic language students were accommodated at the Parish of St. Benedict outside of Porta San Paolo), which was made possible through the continuous care of the Congregation for the Oriental Churches, the new College accommodates alumni, who belong to different rites and nationalities, in an atmosphere which is completely in keeping with the needs of their formation. It is a promising sign of hope and encouragement for the future of the Oriental Catholic Churches, who are often called to exist in particularly difficult circumstances. It is a testimony to the primary attention, which the Congregation for the Oriental Churches has given for years to the formation of candidates to the priesthood and to the religious life and to their educators.
This concern was taken up repeatedly by the last Plenary Assembly of this Dicastery and was most clearly reiterated by the Holy Father at the audience on the occasion, where he said: “I have noticed the priority your Congregation has been giving to the liturgical and catechetical renewal as well as to the formation of the various sections of the People of God beginning with the candidates for Holy Orders and for the Consecrated Life. Such a priority of formation is inseparable from the ongoing care for their respective educators”. Then the Holy Father directly addressed the Superiors and students of the Colleges and Institutes, which the Congregation supports in Rome, saying: “It is my hope that those, who have the possibility of coming here, may be able to receive a complete formation and may grow in an ever more ardent love for the Church, which is one, holy, catholic and apostolic. The diversity of rites must not allow us to forget that all Catholics are part of the one Church of Christ” (L’Osservatore Romano, Friday Nov. 22, 2002, p. 5). This is the best wish, which can accompany the first steps of the new College of St. Ephrem. Having finished their studies here the alumni of the Pontifical Colleges will indeed go on to their own seminaries and institutes of formation, to which they will be able to contribute the wealth of their Roman experiences matured in the encounter with the many different ritual, theological and cultural expressions of the one Church.