OF POPE JOHN PAUL II
THE 350TH ANNIVERSARY OF THE UNION OF UZHOROD
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
1. "First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because
your faith is proclaimed in all the world. For God is my witness, whom I serve
with my spirit in the gospel of his Son, that without ceasing I mention you
always in my prayers" (Rom 1:8-9).
The joyful occasion of the 350th anniversary of the Union of Uzhorod
constitutes an important moment in the history of a Church which by that act
re-established full union with the Bishop of Rome. It is therefore very
understandable that I too join in the thanksgiving to God of all those who
rejoice in the memory of that significant event. The facts themselves are well
known: on 24 April 1646, in the church of the Castle of Uzhorod, 63
Byzantine-rite priests of the Eparchy of Mukacheve, led by the Basilian monk
Parthenius Petrovyc and in the presence of the Bishop of Eger, George Jakusics,
were received into full communion with the See of Peter.
It was not an isolated gesture. It was part of that process of reunification
between the Churches which had had its culminating moment in the Council of
Florence (1439), when the decrees re-establishing full communion between the
Churches of the East and the Church of Rome were signed. It was in fact the
celebrated Metropolitan Isidore of Kyiv, after his return from the Council of
Florence, who became in the Carpathian regions the herald of the rediscovered
In 1595, the representatives of the Metropolitan See of Kyiv met Pope
Clement VIII; and in the following year, 1596, that union was proclaimed at
Brest, with the intention of implementing the agreement reached at Florence.
Very soon the impulse coming from the Ecumenical Council of Florence reached the
Carpathians and, after certain initial difficulties had been overcome, became a
practical reality in the Union of Uzhorod. Sown in the fertile soil of
Mukacheve, it was the mustard seed of the Gospel which grew with time into a
tree under the shade of which a vast group of faithful of the Byzantine
tradition gathered. Taking note of this reality, on 19 September 1771, with the
Apostolic Constitution Eximia Regalium Principum,1 Pope Clement XIV
established the Greek-Catholic Eparchy of Mukacheve, the seat of which would be
transferred a few years later to nearby Uzhorod.
Subsequently, like flourishing offshoots of that vigorous tree new
ecclesiastical jurisdictions came into being: the Eparchies of Kricevci (1777),
Preov (1818) and Hajdúdorog (1912). In the meantime, a steady flow
of the faithful, heirs of that Union, had migrated overseas. The Holy See,
always careful to identify and favour God's providential designs, erected for
them in the United States of America the Byzantine Metropolitan See of
Pittsburgh (1969), with the suffragan Eparchies of Passaic (1963), Parma (1969)
and Van Nuys (1981).
The shared rejoicing of the various Eparchies born of the Union of Uzhorod,
in celebrating the event which is at the root of their ecclesial identity, is a
precious opportunity for renewing awareness of the bonds deriving from their
common origin, and for strengthening that exchange of fellowship and
co-operation which tragic historical events have long hindered.
2. While the Union of Uzhorod came about as a result of the deliberations of
the Council of Florence, it is certainly not out of place to highlight its close
spiritual connection with the background of the mission of the Apostles of the
Slavs, Cyril and Methodius, whose preaching extended from Greater Moravia to the
Carpathian Mountains. Rightly therefore the faithful of the Churches linked to
the Union of Uzhorod are proud to be sharers in the heritage of Cyril and
I have already drawn attention to the extraordinary value of the
evangelizing work done by Cyril and Methodius in union with both the Church of
Constantinople and the See of Rome.2 I have also emphasized that "the
fervent solicitude shown by both Brothers... to preserve unity of faith and love
between the Churches of which they were members, namely, between the Church of
Constantinople and the Church of Rome on the one hand, and the Churches which
arose in the lands of the Slavs on the other, was and will always remain their
great merit".3 The preaching of the Gospel in the fullness of communion
among Christians constitutes the aspiration, never completely lost, which marks,
though in different ways, the history of the Churches which came into being in
the lands of the Slavs from the time of the two holy Brothers.
The events which followed the Union were filled with suffering and sorrow.
Nevertheless, the Eparchy, strengthened at first by the work of Bishop George G.
Bizancij, later experienced a remarkable development in the period begun by the
great Bishop Andrew Bacynskyj. In recent times, unfortunately, the Eparchy has
once more been called, in not a few of its members, to walk with Christ the
sorrowful path to Calvary in persecution, imprisonment and even the supreme
sacrifice of their lives. This witness, sealed in blood, was borne by the Pastor
of the Eparchy himself, Bishop Theodore Romzha, who did not hesitate to offer
his life for the sheep of his flock (cf. Jn 10:11).
We cannot forget these shining examples of faithfulness to Christ and his
Gospel: they constitute the precious patrimony of the Greek Catholic Church
linked to the Union of Uzhorod. Indeed, the children of the entire Catholic
Church receive this witness with veneration and treasure this marvellous lesson
of faithfulness to Christ's truth. With grateful hearts they thank the
Christians of Mukacheve and all those who showed that they were ready to forsake
everything they had in order to purchase the precious pearl of faith (cf. Mt
3. The joyful commemoration of the Union of Uzhorod provides a favourable
opportunity for giving thanks to the Lord who has dried the tears of his
children at the end of a tragic period of severe persecution. He has sustained
them in such a difficult period of their history, enabling them to preserve the
wealth of their Eastern tradition and to remain at the same time in full
communion with the Bishop of Rome. They thus bear witness to that universality
which makes the Church a diverse reality able to embrace, under the charism of
Peter, that legitimate variety of traditions and rites which, far from harming
her unity, shows forth all her richness and splendour.4 This was what Pope Leo
XIII recognized when, emphasizing the precious exchange of gifts between the
Latin and Eastern traditions, he affirmed that the variety of the Eastern
liturgy and discipline adorns the whole Church, illustrates her catholicity and
clearly shows "the divine unity of the Catholic faith".5
Our hope, therefore, is that that chosen portion of the People of God
connected in various ways with the event which took place at Uzhorod will be
able to flourish once more in new prosperity, living serenely in the present and
working for a future marked by full religious freedom, by the quest for
reconciliation between Catholics and Orthodox, and by a tireless commitment to
the building of peace.
An attitude of openness in listening to the teaching of the Second Vatican
Council will help to bring this about. The Fathers gathered in the ecumenical
assembly offered, under the Spirit's guidance, valuable directives on how to
promote the dialogue of charity and the quest for the "unity of the Spirit
in the bond of peace" (Eph 4:3). The goal to which they were looking is
well expressed in these solemn words: "All people are called to be part of
this catholic unity of the People of God, a unity which is harbinger of the
universal peace it promotes. And there belong to it, or are related to it in
various ways, the Catholic faithful as well as all who believe in Christ, and
indeed the whole of mankind. For all people are called to salvation by the grace
4. The same Council reminded us that: "The Church established by Christ
the Lord is, indeed, one and unique. Yet many Christian communions present
themselves to men as the true heritage of Jesus Christ. To be sure, all proclaim
themselves to be disciples of the Lord, but their convictions clash and their
paths diverge, as though Christ himself were divided (cf. 1 Cor 1:13).
Without doubt, this discord openly contradicts the will of Christ, provides
a stumbling block to the world, and inflicts damage on the most holy cause of
proclaiming the good news to every creature".7 In recent times, however,
God "who is rich in mercy" (Eph 2:4) has touched the hearts of many
Christians who are divided from one another and has inspired in them a sincere
desire to find the path to full koinonia. "Today too Christ calls
everyone to renew their commitment to work for full and visible communion".8
The Council Fathers insisted on the fact that "concern for restoring unity
pertains to the whole Church, faithful and clergy alike. It extends to everyone,
according to the potential of each".9 In order to answer this divine call,
they suggested to all Catholics effective aids and means for promoting the
ecumenical movement, in expectation of reaching full communion in the Church
which is "one, holy, catholic and apostolic".
The Eastern Catholic Churches can make a great contribution to this cause, a
cause sustained by divine grace. These Churches, in fact, "have the special
duty of fostering the unity of all Christians, in particular of Eastern
Christians, according to the principles of this holy Synod's Decree on
Ecumenism, by prayer above all, by their example, by their scrupulous fidelity
to the ancient traditions of the East, by better knowledge of each other, by
working together, and by fraternal regard for persons and things".10
In this regard, in the Encyclical Ut unum sint I have emphasized
that "the method to be followed towards full communion is the dialogue of
truth, fostered and sustained by the dialogue of love. A recognition of the
right of the Eastern Catholic Churches to have their own organizational
structures and to carry out their own apostolate, as well as the actual
involvement of these Churches in the dialogue of charity and in theological
dialogue, will not only promote a true and fraternal esteem for one another
between Orthodox and Catholics living in the same territory, but will also
foster their joint commitment to work for unity".11
5. The effective pursuit of so noble a task presupposes on the part of the
Eastern Churches a renewed and generous commitment to the formation of future
Pastors, to the celebration of the Sacred Liturgy as the community's life-giving
centre, to constant attention to the needs of the brethren through acts of
practical charity, to the provision of a catechesis which by presenting anew the
foundations of the Christian faith will hand on the "good news" as the
leaven of daily life, in communion with the universal Church in her commitment
to the new evangelization on the threshold of a new Christian millennium.
The world in which we live "has undergone such cultural, political,
social and economic transformations as to formulate the problem of
evangelization in totally new terms".12 Thus there must be devised "a
new quality of evangelization, such as will succeed in setting before modern man
the ageless message of salvation in convincing terms".13 Above all it is
necessary to speed up the process towards full reconciliation between the
Churches and within each ecclesial community.14 Since the Church is "a kind
of sacrament or sign of intimate union with God and of the unity of all mankind"15
and has the task of working for the reconciliation of the whole of humanity,
this vocation cannot be fulfilled with effectiveness while there still exist
divisions among those who believe in Christ.
May the perspective of the forthcoming Great Jubilee of the Year 2000 bring
about in everyone an attitude of humility, capable of effecting "the
necessary purification of past memories"16 through prayer and conversion of
heart, so as to help people to ask and give mutual forgiveness for the
misunderstandings of centuries past.
The gaze focused on the future which sees "the approaching end of the
second millennium demands of everyone an examination of conscience and the
promotion of fitting ecumenical initiatives, so that we can celebrate the Great
Jubilee, if not completely united, at least much closer to overcoming the
divisions of the second millennium".17
6. May fervent thanksgiving rise from the inmost hearts of the children of
the whole Catholic Church for the path of faithfulness and courage along which
the Father has led the Churches born of the Union of Uzhorod. It is a sign of
his love that the planned celebrations can take place with due solemnity and
freedom. At the same time let us also ardently implore the Holy Spirit that the
time may be shortened for all believers in Christ to come to glorify the Trinity
together with one voice (cf. Rom 15:6). An indispensable condition for such a
joyful event is that the courage to forgive will mature in the hearts of
everyone: this too is a grace to be implored with tireless perseverance.
As the third Christian millennium draws near, the Bishop of Rome celebrates
with grateful heart this Jubilee and, remembering with emotion those who
suffered to the point of heroism in order not to compromise their commitments of
faith, he now offers to God their sufferings in communion with the whole Church,
as a pleasing sacrifice, for the unity of Christians and the salvation of the
May the Mother of God, who at the foot of the Cross received from her Son
the task of watching over the Church with motherly care; may the Queen of Peace,
who gave her assent to the Eternal Word that he might make his dwelling among us
in order to reconcile us with the Father; may the Virgin of Pentecost, from
whose prayers we await a renewed outpouring of the Spirit of holiness; may Mary
Most Holy make her loving presence felt by these brothers and sisters of ours
who are preparing to celebrate with joy such a significant anniversary.
Entrusting those beloved ecclesial communities to her, the Mother of unity
and peace, I cordially impart my Apostolic Blessing.
From the Vatican, on 18 April in the year 1996, the eighteenth of my
1 Cf. Bullarium Romanum IV/3 (1769-1774), 373-376.
2 Cf. Apostolic Letter Egregiae virtutis (31 December 1980), 1:AAS
73 (1981), 258.
3 Encyclical Epistle Slavorum Apostoli (2 June 1985), 14: AAS
77 (1985), 798; cf. Apostolic Letter Orientale lumen (2 May (1995),
3; AAS 87 (1995), 747.
4 Cf. Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Decree on Eastern Catholic Churches
Orientalium Ecclesiarum, 2.
5 Leo XIII, Apostolic Letter Orientalium dignitatis (30 November
1894): Leonis XIII Acta, 14 (1894), 360.
6 Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Dogmatic Constitution on the Church
Lumen gentium, 13.
7 Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Decree on Ecumenism Unitatis
8 John Paul II, Encyclical Letter Ut unum sint (25 May 1995), 100:
AAS 87 (1995), 981.
9 Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Decree on Ecumenism Unitatis
redintegratio, 5; cf. John Paul II, Encyclical Letter Ut unum sint (25
May 1995), 101: AAS 87 (1995), 981.
10 Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Decree on Eastern Catholic Churches
Orientalium Ecclesiarum, 24.
11 John Paul II, Encyclical Letter Ut unum sint (25 May 1995), 60:
AAS 87 (1995), 957-958.
12 John Paul II, Discourse to the Participants in the Sixth Symposium of the
Council of European Episcopal Conferences (11 October 1985), 1: AAS 78
13 John Paul II, Letter to the Presidents of the Episcopal Conferences of
Europe (2 January 1986), 6: AAS 78 (1986), 457.
14 John Paul II, Encyclical Letter Ut unum sint (25 May 1995), 78:
AAS 87 (1995), 968.
15 Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Dogmatic Constitution on the Church
Lumen gentium, 1.
16 John Paul II, Encyclical Letter Ut unum sint (25 May 1995), 2:AAS
87 (1995), 922.
17 John Paul II, Apostolic Letter Tertio millennio adveniente (10
November 1994), 34: AAS 87 (1995), 26-27.