VATICAN CITY (RNS)-- Pope John Paul II welcomed the leader of the world's 250
million Orthodox Christians to the Vatican on Tuesday (June 29) with an
appeal for a "leap forward" in relations between the long-divided Catholic
and Orthodox churches.
Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I came to Rome at the pope's invitation
to mark the 40th anniversary of the historic meeting between Pope Paul VI
and Patriarch Atenagora I in Jerusalem that opened the way to dialogue
between the churches separated by the "great schism" of 1054.
"The memory of that meeting favors a leap forward in dialogue and in the
strengthening of mutual fraternal relations," John Paul told Bartholomew at
a private audience Tuesday morning. He asked specifically for the urgent
resumption of theological dialogue by a joint Catholic-Orthodox commission.
The pope acknowledged, however, that the memory of such events as the
13th century sack of Constantinople during the Fourth Crusade still impeded
unity. Bartholomew is headquartered in Istanbul (formerly Constantinople)
and is considered the first among equals of Orthodox hierarchs.
Bartholomew agreed that dialogue "has fluctuations because of the
difficulties accumulated by the history of the long division." But he called
it the "responsibility and the duty" of both churches to seek unity without
The white-bearded patriarch later joined the pope in the early evening
at a Mass in St. Peter's Square attended by some 15,000 pilgrims to
celebrate the Solemnity of the Apostles Sts. Peter and Paul. Bartholomew,
wearing a purple stole embroidered in gold with biblical scenes, sat with
John Paul during part of the Mass, but separately during Communion.
Together they recited the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed used by
Byzantine churches, and each delivered a homily in Italian. A Greek Orthodox
choir from Athens sang and the Gospel was read in Latin and Greek.
Both the pope and the patriarch called unity a gift of God. "Your
holiness," Bartholomew said, "we dream with joy of the day in which all the
obstacles to full communion will be removed, and we pray continually that
that day may not be long in coming."
John Paul reiterated the "irrevocable" commitment of the Catholic Church
to dialogue. "I want today to express the wish that all Christians
intensify, each in his own way, the efforts to speed the day in which the
desire of the Lord `that they may be one' will be fully realized," he said.
The ailing 84-year-old pope nodded in agreement as he listened to
Bartholomew, 64, and applauded at the end of the homily. When it was his
turn, he spoke relatively clearly but with obvious effort.
During the Mass John Paul bestowed the pallium, a band of wool
symbolizing the bond of union with the pope, on 44 new archbishops,
including Cardinal Justin Rigali of Philadelphia and Archbishops Sean
O'Malley of Boston, Henry Mansell of Hartford, Conn., Raymond Burke of St.
Louis, Mo., and Raymond Roussin of Vancouver, Canada.
The visit was the third that Bartholomew has made to Rome since he was
elected the 270th archbishop of Constantinople and ecumenical patriarch in
1991. He led an Orthodox delegation that traditionally attends the feast of
the patrons of the Roman Catholic Church. A Vatican delegation traditionally
visits Fanar in Turkey for the feast of the Orthodox patron St. Andrew on
Earlier this month, John Paul backed away from plans to establish a
Catholic Patriarchate in predominantly Orthodox Ukraine after Bartholomew
warned it could mean the end of dialogue.
John Paul recalled the "blessed meeting" between Paul and Atenagora in
1964, but said he knew that the memory of "sad events of past history"
weighed on efforts to end the Catholic-Orthodox schism.
"In particular," he said, "in these circumstances we cannot forget what
happened in the month of April in the year 1204. An army, which left to
recover the Holy Land for Christianity, headed toward Constantinople to take
and sack it, spilling the blood of brothers in faith."
During a visit to Athens in May 2001, the pope offered a formal apology
for this and other "deep wounds" that Roman Catholics have caused to "their
Orthodox brothers and sisters" over the last millennium. Bartholomew said in
April that he gave his "pardon" to Catholics for the sack of Constantinople.
Asking for the resumption of dialogue by the mixed commission of
theologians, which he described as "an important instrument," John Paul
said, "I am convinced, in fact, of much urgency."
"It is my will and that of my collaborators to avail ourselves of every
means to feed the spirit of reciprocal welcome and comprehension in faith to
the Gospel and to the common apostolic traditions," the pope said.