VATICAN CITY, OCT. 19, 2001 ( It´s official: Catholics and Orthodox will celebrate Easter together in Syria, beginning next year.

"I signed the decree at the beginning of September for Greek Catholic faithful in Syria," Greek-Melkite Patriarch Gregory III told the online edition of Inside the Vatican magazine.

On May 5, when he was visiting Damascus, John Paul II proposed that Christians in the East and West celebrate Easter on the same day, as a visible sign of the quest for full unity.

The difference in Easter dates was the result of Pope Gregory XIII´s reform of the liturgical calendar in 1582. Eastern Christians, most of them Orthodox, continued to calculate the date of Easter according to the old Julian calendar.

Now, the 350,000 Greek Catholics in Syria will return to celebrating Easter according to the Julian calendar. From 1724 to 1857 their Church used the Julian calendar and then changed to the Roman calendar.

The new move is an effort to build better relations with the Orthodox. "Seeing the necessity of the local Church, I find it´s better that we go back to the other calendar," Gregory III explained.

The patriarch said he hopes that other rites will follow and that eventually the whole Catholic Church will celebrate Easter together with the Orthodox.