VATICAN CITY, JUNE 27, 2004 (Zenit.org).- John Paul II hopes that the imminent visit of the Orthodox patriarch of Constantinople this week will relaunch the commitment toward full union between divided Christians.
Bartholomew I, considered first among equals among Orthodox patriarchs, will participate in the Mass that the Pope will preside over in St. Peter’s Square on Tuesday, solemnity of the Apostles Peter and Paul.
Before praying the Angelus today with thousands of pilgrims gathered in the square, John Paul II clarified that with the forthcoming encounter “We want to commemorate together the historic encounter between our venerable predecessors Pope Paul VI and the Patriarch Athenagoras” 40 years ago.
During that 1964 meeting, the two “exchanged an unforgettable embrace of fraternity and peace in Jerusalem,” John Paul II added. “This occurred within the pilgrimage of the servant-of-God Paul VI in 1964, during the Second Vatican Council.”
Later, on Dec. 7, 1965, a day before closing the Council, Paul VI and Athenagoras I made a joint declaration in which they mutually deplored and lifted the excommunications that were pronounced in 1054 and that gave rise to the schism between the Churches of the East and the West.
John Paul II noted that the Council fathers approved the decree on ecumenism, “Unitatis Redintegratio,” in November 1964.
“In this decree,” he said, “it was solemnly affirmed that the promotion of unity between all Christians was one of the principal objectives of the Council, and that to achieve this all the institutions and ecclesial communities must direct their efforts toward achieving this objective.”
“During this period, in spite of the difficulties that remain even today, notable steps were taken toward ecumenism and within the People of God an ecumenical sensibility developed,” the Pope said. He gave two examples.
First is the week of prayer for the unity of Christians, which, he said, “has come to form a normal part of the liturgical-pastoral path of dioceses and parishes.”
Second is the “reciprocal knowledge and friendship among Christians of different confessions, such that more and more they are more united in works of solidarity, justice and peace,” the Pope said.
He expressed hope that “the embrace between Paul VI and Athenagoras I [would] renew the commitment to communion between Orthodox and Catholics.”
John Paul II appeared tired, and he skipped a paragraph in his Angelus address. Next month he will take a vacation in the Italian Alps.
On Thursday, he will turn over to the Orthodox archdiocese of Italy a restored Roman church, dedicated to the martyr Theodore. The church was a Jubilee year gift from John Paul II to the Orthodox. Bartholomew I will preside over the inauguration of the church.