Rome-Orthodox Ties Warming as Europe Cools to Religion

Hour of Collaboration Is Now, Pope Tells Delegates from Athens

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VATICAN CITY, MARCH 11, 2002 ( As he received an Orthodox delegation from Athens today, John Paul II said “the hour of collaboration has struck” between the Catholic and Greek churches.

The summit of representatives of the Holy See and the Greek Church, which began Friday, has surprised observers. Just a few months ago, relations between Rome and Athens were icy: The latter did not send a delegation to the World Day of Prayer in Assisi on Jan. 24, for instance.

But the distance between Rome and Athens suddenly seems to be narrowing, as it becomes more evident that East-West ecclesial cooperation is needed to bolster Christianity´s contribution to the building of a new Europe.

The European Convention, which will shape the future of the European Union, began Feb. 28. The marginalization of Christians in this process now seems to be helping bring Catholics and Greek Orthodox closer.

John Paul II invited his Greek guests, who were led by Metropolitan Panteleimon of Attikis, to walk together toward the “ecumenism of holiness, which with God´s help will finally lead us to full communion, which does not mean absorption or fusion, but a meeting in truth and love.”

The Holy Father proposed a “deepening of our collaboration and working together to make the voice of the Gospel resound forcefully in this Europe of ours, in which peoples´ Christian roots must be revived.”

The Vatican Press Office published a letter sent by Orthodox Archbishop Christodoulos of Athens to John Paul II, explaining his motives for sending a delegation to Rome.

The letter states that the Archbishop Christodoulos “wishes to create a bridge of communication, reconciliation and confidence between us in the European Union, so that our Christian witness will be more intense, more credible and more effective in a society that is on the verge of losing the traditional values of faith in Christ the redeemer.”

The letter continues: “Without denying the dogmatic and doctrinal realities that separate us and create obstacles to our common prayer and our communion we, despite the foregoing, are ready to collaborate together in the social, cultural, educational, ecological and bioethical fields for the good of humanity.”

Relations between the Orthodox Church and Rome have never been easy since the Eastern schism of 1054. When he visited Athens last May, John Paul II asked God´s forgiveness “for past and present occasions in which sons and daughters of the Catholic Church sinned with actions or omissions against their Orthodox brothers and sisters.”

During his meeting with the Holy Father, Metropolitan Panteleimon acknowledged, “In the past, historical situations and rifts have created, not without reason, a climate of mistrust and suspicion toward Western Christianity in a great part of our people and our clergy, especially in our monks.”

“Our duty at the beginning of the 21st century is to return to the common path of the first 10 centuries,” the Greek representative added. “It will not be easy! It will not be easy to forget 10 centuries of separation characterized by numerous errors and distress. We will have to make efforts, we will have to struggle, and above all, pray ardently.”

“To attain this objective, we ask for your understanding and your effective and sincere help,” the metropolitan told the Pope.

The Orthodox delegates are also meeting officials of the Roman Curia, and touring the city´s basilicas and catacombs. Their visit ends Wednesday.

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