VATICAN CITY, JUNE 29, 2004 (Zenit.org).- John Paul II expressed his desire for “a leap forward in the dialogue and consolidation of mutual fraternal relations” between Orthodox and Catholics, when he met Orthodox Patriarch Bartholomew I.
The Orthodox ecumenical patriarch was in the Vatican today as part of the exchange of visits that the Holy See and the Patriarchate of Constantinople carry out each year, on the feasts of their respective patrons.
On today’s solemnity of the Apostles Peter and Paul, John Paul II mentioned the 40th anniversary of the meeting in Jerusalem between Pope Paul VI and Patriarch Athenagoras I.
“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 providential meeting “for the life of the Church,” John Paul II said when he received the Orthodox patriarch.
Paul VI and Patriarch Athenagoras I, in “rediscovering themselves brothers, … 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,” John Paul II added.
John Paul II mentioned shortly afterward, when praying the Angelus with pilgrims in St. Peter’s Square, that the embrace that Paul VI and Athenagoras shared “became a symbol of the desired reconciliation between the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Churches, as well as a prophecy of hope on the path toward full unity among all Christians.”
Over the past four decades, John Paul II said, the Catholic and Orthodox Churches “have experienced important occasions of contact which have fostered the spirit of reciprocal reconciliation.”
Those occasions, he said, include “the exchange of visits between Pope Paul VI and Patriarch Athenagoras I in 1967,” John Paul II’s own 1979 visit to Fanar (the area in Constantinople — modern-day Istanbul, Turkey — that is the location of the ecumenical patriarchate), Demetrios I’s visit to Rome in 1987, and that of Bartholomew I in 1995.
All of these, John Paul II said, are “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!'” The phrase — “that they may all be one” — is from Chapter 17 of the Gospel according to John.
The Pope also mentioned the weight in this journey toward unity of “the memories of painful events” of the past, especially in April 1204 when 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.”
Sharing “the indignation and pain” caused by that incident, John Paul II suggested that such events be analyzed while both sides pray “together so that the Lord of history will purify our memories of every prejudice and resentment, and grant us to proceed freely on the path of unity.”
“To this we are invited also by the example left by Patriarch Athenagoras I and Pope Paul VI,” John Paul II said. “May the memory of that meeting foster a leap forward in the dialogue and consolidation of mutual fraternal relations.”
Convinced of the urgency, the Pontiff expressed the desire that the theological dialogue of the Catholic and Orthodox mixed commission “be reactivated as soon as possible.”
For his part, Patriarch Bartholomew I affirmed the need to reinforce dialogue between the two Churches, which fluctuates because of the accumulated difficulties given the long history of division, Vatican Radio reported.
At the conclusion of their meeting, Patriarch Bartholomew I gave John Paul II some gifts, including a silver cross. In turn, the Pope gave the patriarch a commemorative medal of the meeting in Jerusalem representing the embrace between Paul VI and Athenagoras I.
The patriarch then went to St. Peter’s Basilica and visited the Vatican Grottos. He paused there to pray at the tomb of Paul VI.
Later, the patriarch attended the Mass presided over by John Paul II in St. Peter’s Square. Both delivered the homily and pronounced the common profession of faith.
During the Mass the Pope bestowed the pallium, a woolen band, on the metropolitan archbishops appointed during the past year as a sign of communion between Rome and the Churches spread throughout the world.