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Die Ökumene muss
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Kardinal Franz König

Pro Oriente

PRO ORIENTE

The PRO ORIENTE Foundation was initiated by (the then Archbishop of Vienna,) Cardinal Franz König in Vienna on 4 November 1964 while the Second Vatican Council was still in progress. Ever since then, PRO ORIENTE has worked to overcome the schism between the Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox Churches at a scientific level and by means of “travelling diplomacy”.

Patriarch Pavle I. und Bürgermeister Zilk 1993 inRussisch-orthodoxer Protopresbyter Vitalij BorowojKoinonia 1974König + Krikorian September 1973 - 2. Wiener KonsuKardinal König und Papst Paul VI

The PRO ORIENTE Foundation

The PRO ORIENTE Foundation goes back to Cardinal Franz König and a circle of his friends in Vienna (Msgr Otto Mauer, Otto Schulmeister, the editor-in-chief of the Austrian quality daily "Die Presse" and others).
König, who was always interested in the ecumenical movement, founded PRO ORIENTE as early as 4 November 1964, even before the official publication of the Council Decree on ecumenism "Unitatis redintegratio" was passed on 21 November 1964).

PRO ORIENTE’s Mission
PRO ORIENTE has a threefold mission:
The upkeep and promotion of relations between the Churches.
To deepen the faithful’s awareness of the importance of ecumenism.
To support ecumenical initiatives.

PRO ORIENTE’s activities are of a scientific nature and are carried out on an informal basis. This informal basis allows those responsible in their Churches, as also experts, to discuss matters openly and free of directives, and enables a free exchange of ideas. The results and experiences of these inofficial talks have to a great extent been absorbed into the dialogue process between the Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox Churches – and this continues to be the case. One way of conducting inoffical dialogue was through the “travelling diplomacy” which Cardinal König (and his successors as chairman of the PRO ORIENTE Foundation, Cardinal Hans Hermann Groer and Cardinal Christoph Schönborn) undertook to the leaders of the Eastern Churches, accompanied by executive members of the Foundation and in the course of which visits by these leaders to Austria were made possible. In the past ten years, this task has been increasingly carried out by the PRO ORIENTE sections in Salzburg, Graz and Linz.

The founder, Cardinal Franz König

Cardinal Franz König (1905 – 2004), known as a great “man of dialogue”, had been interested in other Churches and denominations ever since he was a young man. (It was this interest which led him to write his pathbreaking religious study “Christ and the World’s Religions”.) Based on his interests and studies, König was in command of an “open-mindedness which he later rediscovered as the basic attitude of the Seond Vatican Council”, according to auxiliary Bishop Helmut Krätzl of Vienna. The Council years were the highlight of his episcopal career. König had a formative influence on certain of the great Council documents (above all on the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church - Lumen Gentium, the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World – Gaudium et Spes, the Declaration on the Relations of the Church to Non-Christian Religions – Nostra Aetate and precisely also on the Decree on Ecumenism – Unitatis Redintegratio.)

The PRO ORIENTE idea

The idea of promoting ecumenical dialogue with the Eastern Churches on account of Vienna’s geographical, historical and cultural position was born in 1964 in talks between König and his friends Msgr Otto Mauer, Otto Schulmeister, the then editor of the Austrian quality daily Die Presse and Adolf Bayer, later director-general of Böhler. It was not only the impulses of the Second Vatican Council that flowed into this idea. It was also the consequence of something that happened in the year 1960. In February of that year, Cardinal König was involved in a serious car accident on his way to the funeral of Cardinal Aloysius Stepinac. The only thing König could see from his bed when he woke up in the small hospital room at Varazdin was a portrait of Marshall Tito. König saw this as a hint that he, as Archbishop of Vienna, which then (and until 1989) lay right on the border of the Iron Curtain at the Crossroads of Europe, should pay greater attention to the dire situation of the persecuted Churches under communist rule. He took this pointer to mean that he should concern himself not only with the Catholic Churches in the communist ruled countries but also with the Orthodox Churches. (Almost all the Orthodox Churches in Europe, with the exception of the Ecumenical Patriarchate and the Greek Orthodox Church, were groaning under communist rule at the time.) As it was, Austrian neutrality proved a useful tool in this connection. Cardinals and Patriarchs from communist countries who would never have received permission to travel to Rome, Paris, London or even Bonn, were able to visit Vienna, the capital of neutral Austria.

Network and Dialogue

From 1964 onwards, under the PRO ORIENTE trademark, Cardinal König was able to develop dialogue with the Orthodox and Old Oriental Churches. A dense network of relations with the Eastern Churches was thus set up. König also understood ecumenical dialogue as an essential contribution by the Churches towards a Common House of Europe. He was convinced that this new Europe must breathe with both its lungs – namely its western and its eastern lung. A Europe without the Orthodox and even less against the Orthodox was unthinkable for him. At a meeting organised by the Institute for the Danube Area and Central Europe on 4 October, 2001, König rejected US political scientist Samuel P. Huntingdon’s hypothesis of the “Clash of Civilisations”, which was popular in certain circles, and in which Huntingdon asserted that there was a historical dividing line between the Christians of the West and the Orthodox. König had the following succinct comment to make: “Through its ecumenical work, the PRO ORIENTE Foundation has drawn attention to the fact that it is possible to build bridges for a larger Europe”. Austria in particular should realise its “special kind of bridge-building function and continue to seek new ways of mutual understanding”, he underlined.

“The Ecumenical Movement must continue!”
The ecumenical Movement remained close to König’s heart until his dying day. One of his last visitors before he died on 13 March, 2004 was the then Greek-Orthodox Metropolitan in Vienna, Michael Staikos. “The Ecumenical Movement must go on” König told him - quasi as a legacy. The day before König’s funeral on 26 March, 2004 Metropolitan Michael held a Panikhida, (the Orthodox memorial service) at the Cardinal’s coffin which had been laid out in St Stephen’s Cathedral, which was possibly the first time ever that a Panichida was said for a Catholic bishop.



Section: Vienna

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