VATICAN CITY, FEB. 26, 2009 (Zenit.org).- The cardinal in charge of Vatican efforts to seek Christian unity expressed satisfaction at a meeting with a Greek Orthodox leader, even though he recognized that the path to full unity with that Church is still long.
Cardinal Walter Kasper, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, expressed this to Vatican Radio after his visit this week to Ieronymos II, leader of the Greek Orthodox Church. The cardinal and archbishop had not met personally.
The Holy Synod of the Greek Orthodox Church elected Metropolitan Ieronymos of Thebes and Livadia a year ago to succeed Archbishop Christodoulos of Athens and All Greece, who died in January of 2008.
“I wanted to meet him and wanted to continue with the dialogue currently in progress,” the cardinal said. “He is a truly humble and modest man. Our meeting has certainly been a beautiful one, and also those with his collaborators.”
The cardinal said his conversations with the Greek Orthodox archbishop centered on practical issues, “since theological dialogue is carried out together with all the Orthodox Churches.”
He explained: “In all the European countries, the same challenges show up, such as immigration — which is very strong — or the economic crisis. In this realm, there can be collaboration. They are very interested in learning from our experience and this is very important.”
Cardinal Kasper particularly noted the situation of minority Latin-rite Catholics and Greek Catholics, whose number is growing due to immigration. “Now they are being taken into account. Up to now, this had not been the case on the part of the Orthodox Church. I have asked them not to ignore [the Catholics] and they have promised me this.”
Regarding ecumenical dialogue under way, the Vatican official noted that there is still a lot of “resistance” with the Greek Orthodox.
“The Church of Greece has a long and rich tradition, but they still have bad memories of the past, in particular in that which pertains to the Crusades,” he explained.
Cardinal Kasper contended that Pope John Paul II’s gesture in asking forgiveness for the abuses committed during the Crusades was “very important.” But, he continued, despite that, “there is still a strong resistance toward an ecumenical growing closer and because of that our steps must be prudent.”
“With the new archbishop and with his collaborators, we want to continue taking these steps,” he said, adding that in this regard he was content with his visit. “I did not have very high expectations: It would not be possible to resolve every problem in just one day, but it was important to establish personal contact.”
Ieronymos II’s predecessor, Christodoulos, was the archbishop that received John Paul II during the Pontiff’s historical visit to Greece in 2000.
Benedict XVI described Christodoulos in his message of condolence at the archbishop’s death as the artisan of a “new era of cordial cooperation” between the two Churches.
The archbishop was supported in this effort by other Greek Orthodox prelates, including Ieronymos himself.