Greetings to the 23rd Orientale Lumen Conference

Washington DC, 17-20 June 2019


One City, One Bishop:
Church Boundaries Past, Present and Future


Cardinal Kurt Koch



It is with particular pleasure that I extend my warmest greetings to the President of the Orientale Lumen Foundation, Mr Jack Figel, and to all the participants attending the Annual Conference taking place in Washington from 17-20 June 2019 on the

The theme of your conference is partly inspired by the well-known Canon 8 of the first Ecumenical Council of Nicaea, affirming that “that there may not be two bishops in the city”. This canon, common to both Orthodox and Catholics, expresses the importance of the local principle in ecclesiology. Indeed, since Christian antiquity, the Church has considered itself above all as the gathering of a community in a particular place to celebrate the Eucharist around a bishop. When St. Paul or St. Ignatius of Antioch address Christians, they always address a community gathered in a city: the Church in Corinth, the Church in Rome, the Church that is in Thessaloniki, etc. For a long time, Christians understood that the Church was realized in one concrete place: dioceses, parishes, diets of monasteries were all conceived on a territorial principle. In many ways, it can even be said that the Church has contributed to the structuring of territories and to a particular understanding of space.

But in the twentieth century, what is the actual relevance of the territorial principle? This is a real question for many Catholics in the West. At the local level, in large cities, many faithful, attached to a geographically determined parish, nonetheless frequent another parish for many reasons, without seeing a problem. Furthermore, in the age of globalization, many Catholic movements have an extension of action that goes beyond the borders of dioceses and national units. Population mobility and global migratory movements relativize ecclesial geography. Westerners, even when they are not Catholics, are accustomed to the coexistence of “confessions” in the same territory, and perceive a challenge within Orthodoxy established in the West in terms of the territorial principle.

However, it would probably be dangerous to alienate the territorial criterion. This criterion manifests and guarantees the catholicity of the Church, avoiding that it has ethnic, social, cultural, or even spiritual criteria as its structuring principle. The catholicity of the Church is visible when, in all places, it brings together a people composed of men “of every tribe, tongue, people and nation” (Ap 5:9) before the throne of the Lamb.

These are some of the reflections inspired by the title of your conference. I am sure that the eminent experts taking part in your symposium will be able to extend them and to offer valuable responses. In assuring you of my prayer, I express my warmest best wishes for the successful outcome of the Conference, trusting that it may bear many fruitful outcomes.