His All-Holiness Bartholomew addresses climate crisis, pandemic in acceptance speech

The University of Notre Dame presented His All-Holiness Bartholomew, Orthodox Archbishop of Constantinople-New Rome and Ecumenical Patriarch, with an honorary degree in an academic convocation at the Basilica of the Sacred Heart on Thursday, October 28. The event also featured a performance by the Archdiocesan Byzantine Choir, led by Georgios Theodoridis, in honor of His All-Holiness.

Patriarch Bartholomew is the successor to the apostle Andrew as the 270th Archbishop of Constantinople-New Rome and spiritual head of the 300 million members of Orthodox Church worldwide. The Synod of Metropolitan Bishops elected him to this role in October 1991. This visit—his first visit to the United States in 12 years—marks the 30th anniversary of his election to the patriarchate.

“Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew is one of the world’s most eminent and courageous religious leaders, and we are deeply honored that he will visit Notre Dame and receive an honorary degree,” Notre Dame President Rev. John I. Jenkins, C.S.C., said in a press release. “The spiritual leader of Eastern Orthodox Christians worldwide, he has been an inspiration for all humankind, especially on the themes of environmental care, support for migrants, and religious liberty. The University of Notre Dame warmly welcomes His All-Holiness as a brother in Christ.”

Reverend Father Alexis Torrance, the Archbishop Demetrios Associate Professor of Byzantine Theology, told the Rover, “I was deeply humbled to be a witness to this landmark event of ecumenical solidarity at Notre Dame. As a priest of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, as well as a faculty member here, it was an especially meaningful and moving occasion for me. It marks an inspiring milestone not only in the history of the university, but in the broader relations between Orthodox and Catholics. As an event, it was a masterpiece.”

Patriarch Bartholomew, in his acceptance speech, spoke to the importance of addressing the global threats of climate change and the coronavirus pandemic as a united Christian community. He also emphasized the necessity of Christian faith leaders working with the scientific, academic, corporate, and political communities to adequately respond to these issues.

“In fact, our response to COVID-19 is the very arena where all Christian believers and indeed all people of good will are called to be and struggle. Otherwise the truth is that we are not living up to our vocations as preachers of Christ crucified and disciples of our Lord who was buried and arose on the third day,” said the Patriarch.

He then concluded, “Similarly, protecting the natural environment is neither a liberal nor a sentimental response. It involves constant pain and forgiveness, unrelenting preference and priority for what we truly value for what really matters. It is the spiritual and moral response whereby we become a healing and transformative presence among our neighbors and on our planet.”

Professor Margaret Pfeil, a moral theologian and professor at Notre Dame, said in a statement to the Rover, “I think [Patriarch Bartholomew] called us all to account to face these crises with moral integrity… We need to look for grounds of unity and overcome the impulse toward division. It is a matter of life and death. Particularly the lives of the most vulnerable,” she concluded.

“And while this momentous occasion has come to fruition,” Torrance told the Rover, “it has not come to an end. It is a catalyst and a call for further, deeper, and more wide-ranging work both in the areas of climate and social justice that were emphasized in the Ecumenical Patriarch’s speech, but also and crucially in the area of ecumenical engagement and fraternal dialogue among Christians that the whole event so beautifully represented.”

He concluded, “We must live and act de profundis, out of the depths, if we are to capture, preserve, and nurture the gifts of grace that accompanied this event. That way, receiving ‘grace upon grace,’ our fruits in all these areas will multiply unto the greater glory of God.”

Maria Keller is a senior PLS and Medieval Studies major who loves smoked salmon, Brideshead Revisited, and po-ta-toes. If you ever want to talk about Augustine, Platonism, or the unshakeable desire to leave your studies behind and become a Desert Father, she can be reached at mkeller7@nd.edu.

William Hunter is a sophomore theology/philosophy joint major and resident of Baumer Hall. If he’s not overanalyzing football statistics, he can be contacted at whunter2@nd.edu.

Photo credit: Barbara Johnston/University of Notre Dame – His All-Holiness Bartholomew, Archbishop of Constantinople-New Rome and Ecumenical Patriarch, delivers his address after being presented with an honorary degree from the University of Notre Dame during an academic convocation in the Basilica of the Sacred Heart