VATICAN CITY, DEC. 14, 2006 (Zenit.org).- A first visit of an Orthodox archbishop of Athens and All Greece to a Pope at the Vatican marked an important step in overcoming the division between Orthodox and Catholics.
Today’s historic meeting between Archbishop Christodoulos and Benedict XVI ended with the signing of a joint declaration by the two religious leaders to reaffirm the collaboration of Orthodox and Catholics, particularly in the defense of life and the recovery of Europe’s Christian roots.
This was not the Greek archbishop’s first visit to the Vatican, though it was his first to the Pope. Archbishop Christodoulos had met Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, then dean of the College of Cardinals, on the occasion of Pope John Paul II’s funeral on April 8, 2005.
After their private meeting today, the members of the Orthodox archbishop’s entourage entered the Pope’s private library to hear both addresses.
Benedict XVI spoke first, attesting that “today, our relations resumed slowly but profoundly and with a concern of authenticity.”
“It offers us the opportunity to discover a whole new range of spiritual expressions full of meaning and a mutual commitment. We thank God,” the Pope said.
Toward the future
After recalling the important steps that have been taken in the relationship between Catholics and Greek Orthodox, as a result of John Paul II’s visit to that country in May 2001, Benedict XVI invited his guest to turn “our gaze towards the future,” to address “an enormous field in which our mutual and pastoral collaboration will be able to grow.”
“Catholics and Orthodox are called to offer their cultural and, above all, their spiritual contribution,” the Holy Father said. “They have the duty to defend the Christian roots of the Continent, which have forged it in the course of the centuries, and thus allow Christian tradition to continue manifesting itself and operating with all its forces to safeguard the dignity of the human person, respect of minorities, being careful to avoid a cultural uniformity that would run the risk of losing immense riches of civilization.”
Benedict XVI went on to note: “It is necessary to work to safeguard the rights of man, which include the principle of individual liberty, in particular, religious liberty. These rights must be promoted and defended in the European Union and in every member country.”
In his speech, Archbishop Christodoulos addressed virtually the same topics raised by the Pope.
“We come,” the Orthodox leader said, “to visit the eminent theologian and university professor, the assiduous researcher of ancient Greek thought and of the Greek Fathers of the East; but also the visionary of Christian unity and cooperation of religions to ensure the peace of the whole world.”
The archbishop said his visit offered the opportunity “to undertake a new stage on the common path of our Churches to address the problems of the present-day world.”
Journey of unity
Archbishop Christodoulos spoke of his commitment to “overcome the dogmatic obstacles that hinder the journey of unity in faith” until Orthodox and Catholics attain “full unity,” and can “commune in the precious Body and Blood of the Lord in the same Chalice of Life.”
In this connection, the archbishop of Athens was confident about the work of the mixed international commission that is entrusted with the dialogue between the Orthodox and Catholic Church. The commission met last September in Belgrade, putting an end to years of stagnation.
Prior to the audience with the Pope, Archbishop Christodoulos visited St. Peter’s Basilica and prayed at the tomb of John Paul II and other Popes.
In the afternoon, he took part in a solemn celebration in the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls, in which he received as a gift from the Church of Rome two links of the chain with which, according to tradition, the Apostle Paul was made prisoner.
The gift was prepared at the request of John Paul II for this visit, which the Orthodox representative was unable to undertake because of the Polish Pontiff’s deteriorating health.