Your All Holiness, Your Eminence, Cardinal McCarrick, Your Excellencies, Father Burroughs, ladies and gentlemen.
Today, the Center for American Progress and I are truly inspired to welcome, with our partner, Georgetown University, the premier spiritual leader of the Orthodox Christian World, His All Holiness, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, Archbishop of Constantinople, New Rome and Ecumenical Patriarch.
My Greek-American, Orthodox mother and my Italian-American Catholic father who, in their own small way, overcame the distance between Rome and Constantinople would be as pleased and gratified to witness this moment as I am pleased to welcome the Ecumenical Patriarch to Georgetown. The presence of a leader who has worked not only for reconciliation of the Roman and Orthodox churches but also toward a broader dialogue with Jews and Muslims signals that we can and must unite in the pursuit of both a better understanding of God’s planet and of a more progressive order in the society men create.
His All Holiness—who, yesterday, celebrated his 18th anniversary as Ecumenical Patriarch and 270th successor to Andrew the Apostle—is here today to speak of progress and what it means for the most ancient of Christian faith communities. He will discuss the environment and our impact on it, philanthropy and particularly the need to provide health care to the poor; and the importance of nonviolence as we strive towards a more just society.
To those who might wonder at His All Holiness’s interests in such seemingly worldly matters, he has written that “if life is sacred, so is the entire web that sustains it.”
The convening of his eighth international environmental symposium, which brought scientists, policy makers and theologians together on the banks of the Mississippi River last week, and his presence here on the on the banks of the Potomac bear witness to his continuing advocacy for ecological responsibility.
But His All Holiness recognizes something else. Something which has been an energizing force both in my own faith and in my activism for many years: just as the natural environment imposes spiritual demands on us, so does the social environment; that society, too is part of the “web that sustains” life. He reminds us, with his work, with his teachings and with his presence, that how we care for those around us is a vital portion of our faith. As Jesus taught those who would inherit the Kingdom: “I was hungry and you gave me food to eat; I was thirsty and you gave me drink…I was sick and you visited me… I was in prison and you came to me…as much as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.”
I believe that we are charged with creating a society that reflects this moral vision. And there is no more important and historic an institution putting that vision into action than the Orthodox Church. Orthodox Christianity is not a “progressive” faith as that term might be defined in today’s modern political arena. But it has always been a revolutionary faith in its embrace of causes that elevate the physical as well as the spiritual lives of those around us, and in its work with other faiths and movements to strengthen the web that sustains us all.
His All Holiness has been called the “Green Patriarch.” He is most assuredly an advocate for a sustainable ecology, but he is of course, much more than that. He has taught us all the connection between the natural world, human dignity and the divine.
His All Holiness said during his last visit to the United States that, “The seamless garment of God’s creation places the human person at the nexus of the Creator’s union with His creation. Divine and human meet in every human being and in every detail of this created world. The individual is the window of God’s will in the creation. Our faith is the guarantee of our spiritual freedom, and that freedom guarantees our physical freedom in the world. Freedom is the key to the transformation of the world, the key to guaranteeing human rights as fundamental to human existence. It is our prayer to the almightily God that all human beings may enjoy the fullest measure of freedom.”
Those are words that must guide us as students, as members of our own faith communities and as citizens.
It is a deep, deep honor for me personally and for the Center for American Progress to welcome Your All Holiness to Georgetown University. Please join me in welcoming him to the podium.