Dry Bones


St. Catherine's Monastery

A few years ago, John Paul II, the Flying Pope, visited a Greek Orthodox monastery. The visit, apparently intended to promote JP2's ecumenical drive, seems to have been something of a failure.

The pope dropped in to visit the Greek Orthodox folks at St. Catherine's monastery, which is located in the foothills of Egypt's Mt. Sinai. According to a syndicated article by New York Times correspondent Alessandra Stanley (San Antonio Express-News, Feb 27 2000, p. 19A), the pope had planned to gather Christian (Read Catholic and Orthodox), Muslim and Jewish leaders at the site "to symbolize religious reconciliation in the new millennium." The Greek monks, and some other folks, put the kibosh on that idea.

The monastery supposedly was built over the roots of the burning bush that God appeared in when He spoke with Moses. Unfortunately, the news report does not explain how the monastery's 6th century builders were able to identify that specific bush some 20 or so centuries after the encounter. Not to worry, superstition always finds a way. You reckon Moses had the bush bronzed?

Before his visit, Archbishop Damianos, the abbot, reportedly informed the pope that the Orthodox folks did not want him to pray in their chapel; that to do so would be considered disrespectful. No one could tell John Paul II what to do, it seems, for he dropped to his knees and prayed for about 10 minutes while in the chapel.

It appears that the Orthodox folks are as ghoulish as Roman Catholics. Among the odds and ends stored at the monastery are dead people's bones; specifically the skull and hand bones of St. Catherine (Or somebody). When the Catholic king, or emperor, came to the accumulation of bones, he took off a ring and placed in on a dead finger. Then he kissed the ring. Sounds like something out of a Stephen King novel, doesn't it?

Apart from differences dating back even before the Great Schism of 1054, one of the major issues that cast a shadow over JP2's visit was the fact that the RCC had demoted Catherine back in 1960 and kicked her out of the Pantheon of Catholic Saints and Demigods.

Though the Greek Orthodox abbot was civil toward JP2, he did not pray with him. The Archbishop explained that Greek Orthodox canon law forbade him from doing so.

John Paul II didn't do terribly well in his efforts to convince Orthodox Judaism, Islam or the Eastern churches to buy into his grand scheme to bring together in ecumenical embrace the world's great monotheistic religions. On the other hand, he did make progress with adherents of Buddhism and Hinduism.

I have to wonder whether the Flying Pope had planned, before he became too ill to travel, a visit to Haiti to join a Voodoo priestess in cutting off a chicken's head and sprinkling blood to raise Baron Samedi?

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