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Orthodox, Catholic parishioners pray for peace

January 23, 2015
Valerie Schmalz

“Christians are being persecuted and killed in countries from Lebanon to Sudan,” Greek Orthodox Metropolitan Gerasimos told a gathering of Catholics and Greek Orthodox at a Belmont Catholic church Jan. 18.

Members of neighboring parishes, Greek Orthodox Church of the Holy Cross and Immaculate Heart of Mary Catholic Church continued their tradition of praying together – this time for the beginning of the international Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, praying for Christian unity but especially for persecuted Christians in the Middle East and Africa who are suffering and dying for their faith.

San Francisco Archbishop Salvatore J. Cordileone invited Metropolitan Gerasimos to deliver the homily at the evening vespers. The two parishes have a tradition of cooperation that goes back decades and this coming Lent will be the ninth year that they have joined together in prayer.

“Fifty years ago it was unthinkable. Today it is almost routine” to gather to “pray together for the peace of the world,” Metropolitan Gerasimos said.

“We share so much in common,” Archbishop Cordileone said, thanking Metropolitan Gerasimos for “a powerful reminder of the serious situation Christians are facing around the world.”

“Christians need to stand together, most especially Christians in the apostolic churches,” Archbishop Cordileone said, noting both churches trace their roots directly to the Apostles. St. Andrew, the brother of St. Peter, founded the church in Constantinople. The Greek Orthodox Church does not accept the authority of the pope, but the Catholic and Orthodox churches recognize each other’s sacraments, and share a profound devotion to Mary, the mother of God.

The jointly celebrated Catholic vespers was the second prayer service in less than a year that featured the leaders of the local Catholic and Orthodox churches. In April, Archbishop Cordileone was invited to give the homily at the Orthodox Service of Salutation to the Holy Cross as all prayed for the upcoming meeting last May in Jerusalem of Greek Orthodox Patriarch Bartholomew and Pope Francis. The Greek Orthodox Church of the Holy Cross has a fragment of the true cross.

Benedictine Father Samuel Weber, director of the Benedict XVI Institute for Sacred Music and Worship, led vespers as cantor, assisted by the Schola Cantorum of St. Patrick’s Seminary & University.

“There is a long history of cooperation between these two parishes, going back to when Holy Cross was first coming to our vicinity and needed a place for their Sunday school” temporarily, IHM pastor Father Steve Howell told the gathering, noting when he visits the Greek festival every year he sees “half my parishioners.”

Father Howell and Holy Cross pastor Father Peter G. Salmas also share a warm friendship, cemented by prayer but also by regular chats over coffee and panettone, Father Salmas said. “Father Howell brings the panettone,” he said.

Archbishop Cordileone thanked Father Salmas and Father Howell for their “great vision and hard work and leadership.”

“We have made it kind of regular to meet this way, and we will not stop meeting this way I hope and pray,” said Metropolitan Gerasimos as he began his homily, calling upon “Orthodox and Catholic brothers and sisters to bear witness to our common faith in Jesus Christ, and to raise our voices, our shared voices, to our most high God.”

Immaculate Heart of Mary parishioner Nuria Simon said the ecumenical service “just gives me goose bumps. I love it.”

Her daughter Didi Simon, who noted her wedding reception years ago was at the Greek Orthodox hall, said that raising awareness of Christian persecution is imperative. “It is crucial for our kids, our nephews and nieces to get to know what is going on,” Simon said. “Love your enemy, love those around you. This message must be spread.”

Holy Cross parishioner Christos Kolias, who attended last Lent’s service, called the ecumenical prayer “very moving.”

“It is very important for us to join in prayer not only for our local community but for the community at large,” Kolias said.

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