Nearly 1,000 years ago, there was a schism in the Church that created the Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church.
Today some say the two churches are closer than ever to reunification, and one of those people is local businessman John Georges, owner and publisher of The Advocate newspaper.
To foster a better understanding between Catholics and Orthodox in New Orleans and beyond, Georges and his wife Dathel have endowed the Catholic-Orthodox Fund at Notre Dame Seminary.
The gift comes just as Pope Francis and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew prepare to meet May 25 and 26 in Jerusalem. Georges and his wife, accompanied by Msgr. Christopher Nalty, pastor of Good Shepherd Parish in New Orleans, will be in Jerusalem for the meeting.
“The more we talk about what we have in common the sooner the two churches can be unified,” Georges said. “I was recently asked to make a capital gift to the Notre Dame Seminary, but I thought what a great opportunity it would be to make a program gift to be part of this goal.
Perspectives on faith
The fund, $250,000 over five years, will cover the costs of bringing in clergy and academics for guest lectures and seminars to educate future Catholic priests and the broader community on what it means to be Eastern Orthodox, and how the two churches work together.
“The unification of both churches, the Latin and Orthodox, has been a pastoral priority since the Second Vatican Council, and Pope Francis’ pilgrimage to the Holy Land and his meeting with the Patriarch of Constantinople once again highlights this desire,” said Father James Wehner, rector-president of Notre Dame Seminary. “The seminarians study these relations from a theological standpoint and we discuss ecumenism on a regular basis,” Father Wehner said. “When Mr. Georges proposed a fund by which seminarians would have the experience of meeting those who direct the talks between the churches, I was thrilled.”
It is important for priests of both traditions to understand why church unification is not just a theory or an abstract goal, but something that Christ prayed for on the cross, Father Wehner said.
“We are very grateful that Mr. Georges is providing the funds necessary for our seminarians to get a first-class formation, both practical and pastoral, about ongoing relations between the Orthodox and Catholic churches with the goal of full unification,” Father Wehner said.
N.O. a Greek Orthodox hub
According to Georges, Catholics and Greek Orthodox in Louisiana have always been close communities. New Orleans is home to about 5,000 Greek Orthodox and the oldest Greek community in the nation. At one time Holy Trinity Church was the only Greek church in America, and people would travel from great distances to get married there.
“As a New Orleanian, I understand the importance of the Catholic Church and the many programs that serve and benefit the entire community,” Georges said. “When you see what the Catholic Church does in terms of education, feeding the hungry, taking care of the homeless and the list goes on, you understand they are a very important part of the community and want to do what you can to help.”
Patriarch Bartholomew has made two visits to New Orleans since Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the first just four months after the storm devastated the city, including Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church. He returned in 2009 for an environmental conference. For both visits, he was greeted by Roman Catholic archbishops of New Orleans, first by Archbishop-Emeritus Alfred Hughes and then by Archbishop Gregory Aymond.