VATICAN CITY, OCT. 13, 2002 (Zenit.org).- John Paul II and Romanian Patriarch Teoctist united in a symbolic embrace and signed a Joint Declaration in which the Orthodox and Catholics Churches commit themselves to seek unity.
The meeting between the two religious leaders, which took place Saturday in the Pope’s private study, was one of the most important moments of the weeklong visit of the Romanian religious leader to Rome. His visit was in gratitude for John Paul II’s trip to Bucharest in May 1999, the first time a Pope set foot on Orthodox soil.
“Our meeting must be considered as an example: Brothers must meet again to make peace, to reflect together, to discover the way to reach agreements, to expose and explain one another’s reasons,” the Joint Declaration reads.
The document touches upon issues such as Catholics’ proclamation of the Gospel in Orthodox lands — a practice the Moscow Orthodox Patriarchate opposes as “proselytism.”
“We are in agreement in recognizing the religious and cultural tradition of all peoples, as well as religious freedom,” the document continues. “Evangelization cannot be based in a spirit of competition, but on reciprocal respect and cooperation, which recognizes the freedom of each one to live according to his/her own convictions, in respect of his/her own religious affiliation.”
The Pope and the patriarch affirmed that Christian witness will be much more credible, especially in Europe, if it is offered in unity.
In his address to the patriarch before signing the declaration, John Paul II responded to the accusations of “proselytism.”
The Pope acknowledged the mission that the Orthodox Churches “are called to undertake in the countries in which they have been rooted for centuries” and, at the same time, he clarified that the Catholic Church “wishes only to help and collaborate in this mission,” carrying out “its pastoral task with its faithful and with those who freely come to her.”
Eventual misunderstandings can be addressed through a “fraternal and frank dialogue,” John Paul II said.
In this connection, the Holy Father proposed the establishment of a “solid institutional structure” that will serve “for communication and regular and reciprocal exchange of information” between the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Churches.
The Mixed International Commission for Theological Dialogue Between the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Churches ended its last meeting in Baltimore, Maryland, in 2000 without final agreements.
In his address, the head of the Romanian Orthodox Church recalled the difficulties his Church experienced until the end of “atheist totalitarianism” and criticized the “competition” that is evident at times “in relations between Christians,” which has caused “disappointment” and “mistrust.”
However, Patriarch Teoctist confirmed his Church’s determination to work assiduously for “the unity of the Church,” as demonstrated by promising plans for dialogue, which have developed in his country.