Historic Embrace of Paul VI and Patriarch Remembered in Book

Cardinal Poupard Says Francis’ Repeat of Historic Moment in Holy Land Can Help Unify Church

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«The world has opened our eyes to a totally unexpected event,» a retired senior Vatican official and close collaborator to both Pope Paul VI and John XXIII has said.

During a presentation Tuesday at the Vatican Radio headquarters in Vatican City of the book, «L’abbraccio di Gerusalemme» («The ‘Embrace’ of Jerusalem – Fifty Years Ago, the historic meeting between Pope Paul VI and Athenagoras»), written by Valeria Martano and published by Paulist Press, Cardinal Paul Poupard, president emeritus of the Pontifical Councils for Culture and for Interreligious Dialogue, stressed the decisive roles of Paul VI and John XXIII.

Through the meeting of Pope Francis and Patriarch Bartholomew, respective successors to Paul VI and Patriarch Athenagoras, they will commemorate the historic moment of the “embrace” 50 years ago in Jerusalem.

Francis, Cardinal Poupard added, shows us “the need to leave Jerusalem where everything was started, by the Gospel, to return to the undivided Church.»  

The text, written by Valeria Martano, traces the historical turning point in the history of the Church, through the faces of the protagonists of the time and is looking forward to the next visit of Pope Francis in the Holy Land.

“In my book, I try to draw the history, the path of this hug of the two people, and I think, from that moment, a greater hope was born in Christians,” she said.

The author told ZENIT: “When Paul VI and Athenagoras met in 1964, it was a great event because it was the first the first time a Catholic Pope of Rome and an Orthodox patriarch of Constantinople met together on the level of equality and fraternity.”

She added: “It was such a long time, centuries and centuries, in which there was division and hostility among Christians.” For this reason, she said her «personal hope, the hope of all those Christians, Orthodox, and of all those who are facing so much violence and persecutions of Christians, is that from the embrace between Pope Francis and Patriarch Bartholomew in Jerusalem, during the three day visit, will start a new spring for the Church.”

Antonio Ferrari, editor of the Italian publication La Corriere della Sera, and one of the speakers at the book presentation, told ZENIT the book is interesting «not because it’s ideological,” but rather because “it’s just a story of the necessity to emphasize a symbol, the symbol of being brothers, simply. Not to be enemies, but brothers separated with a need to approach each other again.”

He added that when there are more or less a thousand years of schismatic break and little to no discussion between two sides, but two men have hope that the approach can be achieved.

He also stressed “the role of John XXIII because he was the one who started the process with the Second Vatican Council.” John XXIII and the patriarch, in spite of their differences, he said, concentrated “all their moves were toward this objective, to try to find a way to be together.”

He added, “John XXIII passed away but his legacy was taken by Paul VI, and, in fact, this fantastic meeting between the two was the real turning point of the church of the dialogue, and the capacity to build a big bridge … not just between Catholics, Orthodox and others, but between Christians, Muslims, Jews in order to create, as Sant’Egidio has been emphasizing, a new culture of bridges. Let’s build bridges.” 

He added: “In a world that is globalized like this, he said, “if you don’t build bridges, you die. We don’t want to die.”

Though panelists agreed the historical situation is «very different” today, as noted Vaticanista Andrea Tornielli, correspondent of La Stampa and the website Vatican Insider. Tornielli and the other speakers agreed that Francis is helping to open doors and form friendships.

“The fact that the Pope lives at Santa Marta,” Tornielli said, shows Francis’ desire “to introduce and to welcome others,” by not only meeting visitors at Masses and official meetings, but also sharing “life in common.»

“This availability,” he said, could be the seed from which a “profound friendship” is born.

Marco Impagliazzo, the president of the Community of Sant’Egidio in Rome, pointed out that “when the two heads of the Church met,” it was significant because it was simply “recognition” and a welcome, not an encounter that was especially planned or strategized.

The “double recognition,” he said, referring to how both Catholics and Orthodox both understand the system of the other, is important, for “the greatness of those two men,” which opened dialogue and established friendships between these religions. This has been a great motive for this upcoming meeting, he said.

Paulist Press’s Romano Cappelleto, moderator of the event, told ZENIT that this book of Valeria Martano is “fundamental” because “in this trip, which Francis will make, he will repeat the historical embrace with Patriarch Bartholomew.

«These gestures of Pope Francis,» he said, «truly can open up these doors and dialogue.»

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Deborah Castellano Lubov

Deborah Castellano Lubov is Senior Vatican & Rome Correspondent for ZENIT; author of 'The Other Francis' ('L'Altro Francesco') featuring interviews with those closest to the Pope and preface by Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Parolin (currently published in 5 languages); Deborah is also NBC & MSNBC Vatican Analyst. She often covers the Pope's travels abroad, often from the Papal Flight (including for historic trips such as to Abu Dhabi and Japan & Thailand), and has also asked him questions on the return-flight press conference on behalf of the English-speaking press present. Lubov has done much TV & radio commentary, including for NBC, Sky, EWTN, BBC, Vatican Radio, AP, Reuters and more. She also has contributed to various books on the Pope and has written for various Catholic publications. For 'The Other Francis': http://www.gracewing.co.uk/page219.html or https://www.amazon.com/Other-Francis-Everything-They-about/dp/0852449348/

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