On December 2, 2016 during the traditional Novena in preparation for the Feast of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the Basilica of the 12 Apostles in Rome, His Eminence Leonardo Cardinal Sandri, Prefect of the Congregation for the Oriental Churches, celebrated a Mass, which representatives of all Eastern Catholic Churches in Rome had been invited to participate in, especially those from Ukraine and the Near East.
This act of praying to the Blessed Mother for the Christians of the East is a recent tradition, appropriately centered in the Basilica of the 12 Apostles, where rest the remains of the apostles, Saints Philip and James, gifted by Emperor Justin, has a spiritually symbolic tie with Eastern Christianity. This year was special since it united the celebration of three jubilees: 100 years of the establishment of the Congregation for the Oriental Churches, 100 years of the Papal Eastern Institute and the beginning of the golden jubilee celebration of priestly ordination of His Eminence Leonardo Cardinal Sandri (December 2, 1967). Concelebrating with the Cardinal were Secretary for the Congregation for the Eastern Churches Archbishop Cyril Vasi, representing the Maronite Patriarchate in Rome Bishop-Emeritus François Eid,OMM, representing the Syro-Malabar Church in Rome Bishop Stephen Chirappanath, representing the Bahir-Dahr Eparchy in Ethiopia, Bishop Lisane- Cristos Matheos Semahun, representing the Archeparchy of Prešov, Slovakia, Auxiliary Bishop Milan Lach,SJ. Other concelebrants were the Abbot of the Lebanese Maronites, procurator of the Greek Catholic Melchite Church (Antioch Patriarchate) and the Armenian Church of Sicily, priests working at the Congregation for the Oriental Churches, Deans of various departments of the Oriental Institute and more than one hundred priests of the Eastern and Western Churches.
The Basilica was filled with students from universities and dormitories in Rome, and members of many monastic communities. The Sisters of the Order of St. Basil the Great, represented by Mother Dia Stasiuk, General Superior, Sr. Mariela Rotzen, Sr. Nazariya Mykhaylyuk, Sr. Emanuela Vavreková and Sr. Mahdalyna Vytvytska participated in the celebration joining in the prayers for peace and later especially greeting His Eminence Leonardo Cardinal Sandri. Mass began with the hymn “V strasi i v pokori” sung by the choir from the the Pontifical Collegio Ucraino of St. Giosafat. In addition to the professional choir of the Basilica of the 12 Apostles, the Mass was enhanced with the singing of students attending the different Collegios of Rome using their various languages, including: Ukrainian, Arabic, Romanian, Armenian and Malayalam. The Gospel was delivered in Italian and Arabian. During the homily His Eminence Leonardo Cardinal Sandri addressed all the present and all Catholics in the world, encouraging them and challenging them: “Following the spirit and example of the Blessed Mother we become conscious that we are ‘treasures in earthen vessels’, bringing those vessels with joy and trust to Our Lord, in the hope that we will be a daily source for joy for others. We want to be to be messengers of peace to the whole world, especially to the Near East, Ukraine and to all peoples and Churches under the care of the Congregation of the Oriental Churches for it is written: “For the tyrant will be no more and the arrogant will have gone; all who are alert to do evil will be cut off.’ (Isaiah 29: 20). Before violent actions can be uprooted from the world, they must first be conquered in the hearts of each of us; our prayers must come from a pure and sincere heart.” The services culminated in a procession to an ancient Greek icon of the Blessed Mother with the Child Jesus, found in the Basilica of the 12 Apostles.