Pope's Address to Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople

“So Many Signs of the Common Commitment to Continue on the Path”

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VATICAN CITY, JUNE 29, 2004 (Zenit.org).- Here is a translation of the address John Paul II gave this morning when he received in audience Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople and his entourage.

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Venerable and Beloved Brothers of the Ecumenical Patriarchate!

1. Welcome in the name of the Lord! To him we express our gratitude for the gift of our meeting on the feast of Sts. Peter and Paul, venerated also in the Orthodox liturgy as “Protothroni,” that is, those who sit on the first thrones.

We thank God, moreover, commemorating together the blessed meeting that took place 40 years ago between my venerable predecessor Pope Paul VI and the venerable Patriarch Athenagoras I. This occurred in Jerusalem, where Jesus was raised on the cross to redeem humanity and gather it in unity. How providential for the life of the Church was that meeting, courageous and glorious at the same time! Driven by confidence and love of God, our enlightened predecessors were able to overcome centuries-old prejudices and misunderstandings, and offered a wonderful example of pastors and leaders of the People of God. In rediscovering themselves brothers, they experienced a feeling of profound joy, which drove them to take up again with confidence the relations between the Church of Rome and the Church of Constantinople. May God recompense them in his Kingdom!

2. Holiness, I welcome you with great affection, truly happy to be able to receive you in this house in which the memory of the holy apostles is alive. Together with you, I greet those who accompany you and, in particular, the metropolitans and the delegation of the patriarchate; I also greet the group of faithful of the Greek-Orthodox archdioceses of America, and the group of professors and students of the Orthodox Institute of Theology of Higher Studies of Chambesy, led by Bishop Makarios. I am grateful to all for their cordial presence.

In these 40 years our Churches have experienced in their relations important occasions of contact, which have fostered the spirit of reciprocal reconciliation. We cannot forget, for example, the exchange of visits between Pope Paul VI and Patriarch Athenagoras in 1967. I have a vivid memory of my visit to Fanar in 1979 and of the announcement, with Patriarch Dimitrios I, of the beginning of the theological dialogue. I recall, moreover, Patriarch Dimitrios I’s visit to Rome in 1987, and that of Your Holiness in 1995, which was followed by other significant occasions of meeting. They are so many signs of the common commitment to continue to journey on the path undertaken, so that the will of Christ will be realized as soon as possible: “ut unum sint!”

3. In the course of this path the memories of painful events of the past have certainly weighed us down. In particular, in this circumstance, we cannot forget what happened in the month of April 1204. An army that departed to recover the Holy Land for Christianity, went to Constantinople to capture and sack it, shedding the blood of brothers in the faith. How can we not also share, eight centuries later, the indignation and pain that, upon hearing the news of all that happened, Pope Innocent III manifested immediately? After such a long time, we can analyze the events of that time with greater objectivity, though well aware of how difficult it is to find out the full historical truth.

We are helped, in this respect, by the admonition of the Apostle Paul: “Therefore do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart” (1 Corinthians 4:5). Let us pray, then, together so that the Lord of history will purify our memory of every prejudice and resentment, and grant us to proceed freely on the path of unity.

4. To this we are invited also by the example left by Patriarch Athenagoras I and Pope Paul VI, whom we commemorate today. May the memory of that meeting foster a leap forward in the dialogue and consolidation of mutual fraternal relations. May the theological dialogue, through the Mixed Commission, remain to this end an important instrument. Because of this I desire that it be reactivated as soon as possible. I am convinced, in fact, of this urgency, and it is my will and that of my collaborators to make use of every means to foster the spirit of reciprocal acceptance and understanding, in fidelity to the Gospel and to the common apostolic Tradition. May we be stimulated on this path by the old and always new commandment of love, which the Apostle Paul echoed in the famous words: “love one another with brotherly affection; outdo one another in showing honor” (Romans 12:10).

5. I entrust these intentions of reconciliation and of full communion to the holy apostles whom we remember today. We invoke them with confidence, so that their heavenly intercession will strengthen us in the faith and make us perseverant in seeking to carry out as soon as possible the will of Christ. May this gift be obtained for us by Mary, Mother of him who calls all to full unity in his love.

With such sentiments I renew to you, Holiness, and to all of you, my kind guests, the most cordial welcome.

[Translation by ZENIT]

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