I am an Eastern Catholic who attends a mission community. I am seeking advice mainly from Roman Catholics but I welcome insight from any who can offer it.
Our bishop is a long distance away and our eparchy (the bishop’s territory) is huge. Our mission community’s territory also falls within the geographic area of a large Roman Catholic diocese, but we’re isolated on an island amid the sea of fellow Catholics. The diocese refuses to work with us on anything, like the pro-life movement, joint celebrations like retreats, confession, or festal processions, or allowing our youth to attend regional youth activities. They say their safe environment program forbids cooperation with clergy from outside their diocese unless an extensive background check that takes 3-6 months is completed for every single day, and every activity, within every event in which our clergy are present. We thought this was a low-level person too rigidly going by the book when we first encountered it, but have since been assured the decision came from the bishops’ office to exclude us from all activities on those terms.
Those of their educators I’ve met, like catechists and RCIA instructors, are averse to learning about or teaching about our presence, saying it is scandalous to introduce to people the idea of married men being priests and of infants being confirmed and communed, even though their diocese probably has more married priests than our whole eparchy. They also say that our presence is a high level footnote that is unnecessary for any ordinary Catholic to know even within our surrounding community, and they say they are already overwhelmed and understaffed in teaching what they consider to be necessary and useful information. They will not accept any help from us to alleviate that burden.
When laity from the diocese encounter us, the exchanges are not usually charitable. They tell our priest’s wife that she’s robbing the church of her husband’s vocation, tell our deacon that they’re praying for him to join the true church, try to convert our seminarian to Catholicism, and tell us that we’re schismatics calling ourselves Catholic. There’s a tiny group who go to the other extreme, being sedevacantists who seek us out for the Eucharist and non-English language, because of their rejection of the ordinary form Mass and any priest ordained in it. They want us to be Roman Catholic, too, but in a different way. Even people who acknowledge on the surface that we’re Catholic will still refuse to receive the Eucharist, saying they can’t wrap their minds around how it is possible to be in full communion with Rome without being Roman. It is nothing more than our very presence that brings about these responses, as our community isn’t even all that well-formed in our theology or practices to consider a backlash to militancy as a possibility.
I’ve noticed that we walk on eggshells to be unintimidating and hospitable, but they really have no seed on which they can build any truth of our existence and they aren’t about to accept the story from us, whom they already disbelieve. When we point out documents like Orientale Lumen or Roman Catholic sources like St. John Paul II’s funeral where the Eastern Catholic heads of Churches prayed, they think every reference to Eastern Catholics is actually saying Eastern Orthodox and tell us we’re causing them more suspicion and confusion as it looks like we’re pointing to Orthodox references when they can’t tell the difference.
A few reject any document we could provide outside of Trent or the 1950s. Most point to their libraries of popular Catholic apologists who almost never mention Eastern Catholicism but who give apologetic responses which appear to dogmatize things like the age and order of reception of the sacraments, all-celibate clergy, and other western traditions that we don’t have in common. Even if they acknowledge our truth and existence, the fact that the big names don’t discuss us seems to be reason enough for them to never acknowledge us, either. Some of them tell us that uniformity of expression is the single most important identifier to being Catholic. They say they can go into any Catholic Church in the world and get the exact same Mass, prayers, and practices and that’s so important to them that it is their mark for universality and therefore for Catholicity, which means they see no place in the church for us. It is isolating and hurtful to constantly experience these same roadblocks and rejections from the people we’re in communion with, no matter what we try to cooperate on.
In a neighboring and traditionally-oriented diocese that has no Eastern Catholic presence within their geographic territory, they welcome our travelers and use the opportunity to educate their parishioners on the universality of the church. In another nearby traditionally-oriented extra-diocesan community, we’re told that they “don’t mix rites” and refuse to commune us at all.
We’re just a small and faithful community trying to live the faith as it has been handed down to us and want to be a functioning part of the Body of Christ. I am looking for constructive advice on how we can move forward from this position to being a fully active part of the local church community. Is it through education? Prayer? Service? Connections? Food? What is the process we can start working towards? I don’t need any advice on how to accept this as normal because we have a lot of experience with that already. How can we remain who we are, Eastern Christians in full unity with Rome, and come to eventually live out that unity in this climate and culture?
As there are a lot of clergy and religious, catechists, church leaders, and laity here who must feel the same way when they encounter us, I thought this would be a good place to get positive and prayerful support for moving forward.