John Paul II Hails Progress in Ties With Bulgarian Orthodox

Meets With Delegation From Patriarchate

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VATICAN CITY, MAY 26, 2003 ( John Paul II says the recent progress in relations between the Catholic and Bulgarian Orthodox Churches is a hopeful sign that indicates the path to be followed toward full unity.

The Pope expressed this conviction today when he met with a delegation of the Bulgarian Orthodox Patriarchate, headed by Metropolitan Kalinik and accompanied by Cardinal Walter Kasper, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity.

The delegation participated Saturday in the liturgical and pastoral use of the church of Sts. Vincent and Anastasius, which the Pope ceded to the Bulgarian Orthodox community residing in Rome.

The visit also commemorates the first pilgrimage of a Pope to Bulgaria, and his meeting on May 24, 2002, with Bulgarian Orthodox Patriarch Maxim in Sofia.

That papal trip helped to identify ways to surmount the millennium-old schism that has separated the Orthodox Churches from Rome.

Some observers consider Bulgaria a «bridge» because its close historical relations with the Orthodox Patriarchate of Moscow.

«It would seem that distances have been shortened; our brother is better known,» the Pope said, when emphasizing the importance of fraternal relations to overcome divisions among Christians. «The right context is created in which reciprocal trust grows, the prior condition for understanding, peaceful coexistence and communion.»

«Our meeting today truly calls us to hope,» John Paul II said. «We feel a growing desire for a more profound communion among us, and we perceive with greater clarity the path we must follow.»

«An experience of fraternal participation and reciprocal respect of our legitimate differences might serve as encouragement to get to know one another better and also to collaborate in other contexts and circumstances, every time an occasion presents itself,» the Pope clarified.

Thus, there can be progress toward «the goal to which we must tend so that Eastern and Western Christians might meet fully and make the fullness of the catholicity of the Church shine,» he added.

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