Patriarch of Constantinople Evaluates His Visit to Rome

Interview With Bartholomew I

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VATICAN CITY, JULY 2, 2004 ( Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople expressed his satisfaction about his visit and meetings John Paul II.

The patriarch’s four-day visit, on the occasion of the solemnity of the Apostles Peter and Paul, served to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the meeting between Athenagoras I and Paul VI in Jerusalem, which gave a boost to dialogue between Orthodox and Catholics. The visit also helped to relaunch theological dialogue between these Churches.

Before leaving Rome today, Bartholomew I made this evaluation of his visit on Vatican Radio.

Q: What sentiments do you have after your meetings with John Paul II?

Bartholomew I: Optimal. This time I have met with His Holiness the Pope for a third time — after 1995, when I made my official visit, and after 2002, when I came for the World Day of Prayer in Assisi. I can say, without underestimating my two previous visits, that this meeting has been more moving, more human and more fraternal.

I felt it especially on the conclusive day, when we met with the Pope again and signed the joint declaration and then had lunch together — we had an agape together.

I was able to invite him to visit us in Istanbul: for him it would be the second occasion, after 1979, when he visited my predecessor, Patriarch Dimitrios I.

The Pope seemed very happy, according to the impression he gave me, to accept this invitation.

Of course, he has to speak with his collaborators, but his first reaction was positive. He was very joyful, very happy, and I even more so by the possibility to welcome him among us in Constantinople, first see of Orthodoxy, and be able to plan together our steps toward the future of our relations.

In regard to the content of our third meeting, I can say that it has been more of a spiritual than of a formal nature. I have this impression and, as I said in my homily in St. Peter’s Square, at this time, at this stage, unity, efforts toward unity are a spiritual event, a prayer event.

This meeting between the Pope and my humble person has taken place in this atmosphere, in this spirit. Because of this, I return to my see very moved and happy and optimistic about the future of our relations.

Q: How do you see today, Holiness, the relations between Catholics and Orthodox, and what are your hopes for the future?

Bartholomew I: The known difficulties still exist, but, without a doubt, on both sides there is the good will to go forward, to continue with the dialogue. There is the will not to interrupt the dialogue.

During our conversation with the Pope and during our conversations with the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, we have again stressed our decision to find ways and means to renew the theological dialogue, which has gone through a crisis, so to speak, after the meeting in Baltimore.

Now we have spoken with Cardinal Walter Kasper, president of the Council for Christian Unity, and with his collaborators, and we have established some points, some methods to be able to come out of the present difficulties and continue with the dialogue.

Dialogue is the only possibility that is given to us to be able to resolve the problems that still exist between us. There is friendship, fraternity, as well as the decision to go forward and to improve relations.

It is necessary to discuss in-depth on the primacy of the Bishop of Rome, infallibility, the position of the Bishop of Rome in the structure of the Christian Church in its ensemble, as the most difficult points in our relations are there, which continue to impede full communion, participation in the same chalice.

Q: Of what significance was the inauguration of the Church of St. Theodore for the Orthodox community of Rome?

Bartholomew I: As His Holiness the Pope said during our luncheon, it has been a concrete gesture of friendship and fraternity between our Churches. Naturally, I give thanks, to him and to the venerated Church of Rome.

I told him that gestures of this nature are an essential contribution to our dialogue, as they show that we don’t limit ourselves to words but that we also proceed with courageous, symbolic acts full of meaning and importance.

When we “inaugurated” — so to speak — officially the Church of St. Theodore on the Palatine Hill, the people, that is to say, the Orthodox — but also the Catholics who were participating in the ceremony — were enthusiastic.

Two cardinals were present, together with other Catholic prelates. And they shared our joy. I thanked His Holiness the Pope officially and the Church of Rome.

In the future, the sacred Greek-Orthodox Archdiocese here in Italy, which will have at its disposal this church as symbol of friendship and fraternity, will be witness of this spiritual bond that unites us in a particular way here in the Eternal City.

I think this gesture of His Holiness the Pope will be very appreciated beyond the ecumenical patriarchate and this archdiocese. It will be appreciated by the whole of Orthodoxy and be an example to imitate in ecumenical relations, as it manifests concretely good will and fraternity “in nomine Domini.”

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