Vatican City (AsiaNews) - The hope for Christian unity marked today's general audience, characterised by the presence, beside the pope, of the head of the Armenian Church, the "catholikos" Karekin II, who is paying a visit to the Holy See.
The entire audience thus bore a strongly ecumenical imprint. The pope welcomed Karekin with an embrace in front of the basilica, and wanted him beside him for the entire duration of the audience, which began with an exchange of greetings between Benedict XVI and Karekin. The prayer for Christian unity thus resounded in the words of Benedict XVI and of the catholikos. The pope in particular emphasised the "excellent relations" between the two Churches, and said that he is sure that "the spirit of John Paul II is praying for unity".
The presence of the catholikos of the Armenians, who was accompanied by 18 bishops and by a group of the faithful, is situated in fact in the context of a progressive reconciliation between the two Churches, which began at the start of the Vatican Council and received a strong impulse during the pontificate of John Paul II, who visited the country in 2001. Karekin recalled this, emphasising "common prayers" to the Holy Spirit so that "the steps" toward full unity may continue. "We are all children of the one Father, and we are all brothers and sisters". Making a reference to the theological differences between Catholics and Armenians, Karekin added that "intolerance and conflicts cannot be permitted within our Churches". Incomprehension and terrorism, he continued, sow distress in the world, especially in the Middle East. Recalling the genocide of the Armenians and the sufferings of his people, he concluded by maintaining that in truth and in the unity of Christians, there is hope for peace. Another embrace with the pope and a heartrending Armenian song concluded this first part of the audience.
Repeating what he had said in his greeting to Karekin, Benedict XVI, addressing the 40,000 people present in Saint Peter's Square, spoke of his "joy" at the possibility of welcoming the head of the Armenian Church. "His presence", he continued, "revives within us our hope for the unity of all Christians". The pope then recalled "the unforgettable visit made" by Karekin to Rome in 2000, immediately after his election. "In meeting with him, John Paul II gave him an extraordinary relic of Saint John the Illuminator", a "father" of that Church whose "commitment to dialogue" he emphasised. Benedict XVI said that he is "certain that the current visit will contribute to intensifying the relations that exist between our Churches", and to "advancing hope along the road of ecumenism". The Lord, he added, "never abandons us on our journey", and in our "efforts to overcome every laceration in the living fabric of the Church".
Benedict XVI then gave thanks "for the accomplishments reached in this journey that leads to the full communion of all the disciples of Christ", and he finally repeated his exhortation to prayer for unity that he addressed to Catholics during his recent visit to the United States.
The pope's schedule today, which was marked this morning by a step along the journey for Christian unity, will in a certain sense have a follow-through this evening. For the first time, and orchestra of the People's Republic of China, the China Philharmonic Orchestra of Beijing, will hold a concert in the Vatican, in the presence of Benedict XVI himself.
It is an event whose true impact is difficult to evaluate, and which the political and press office of the Chinese embassy in Rome has described in this way: "this performance is an initiative of cultural exchange, we hope to express with music the enthusiasm and expectation of the Chinese people for the Olympics of Beijing, we hope that music may constitute a bridge of mutual understanding and communication between the East and West. It will be our pleasure if this performance may contribute a positive influence to the improvement of China-Vatican relations".
At the end of the audience, the pope finally renewed his appeal before the "cry of suffering and for help from the dear population of Myanmar", renewing his exhortation "to open [our] heart to pity, and to generosity "toward those who can alleviate the sufferings" of the population.