In conveying his “fraternal greetings,” the Pope said he appreciated the new steps taken on the “difficult yet promising [ecumenical] path”. He also reiterated his desire “of seeking together [with the Orthodox], inspired by the model of the first millennium [when the Church was united], the forms in which the ministry of the Bishop of Rome may accomplish a service of love recognized by one and all”.
Following an old tradition dating back to Pope Paul VI, the two Churches send delegations to celebrate their respective patron saints, an Orthodox delegation coming to Rome on the Feast Day of SS Peter and Paul (29 June), and a Vatican delegation travelling to the Phanar for the Feast Day of Saint Andrew (30 November).
Led by Card Walter Kasper, the Vatican delegation took part in the Divine Liturgy celebrated this morning in the Phanar by Bartholomew. At the end Cardinal Kasper, who chairs the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, handed the patriarch the papal message.
The theological dialogue between Catholics and Orthodox began again in Ravenna (October 2007) after years without important contacts. A month ago, a plenary session was held in Cyprus on the topic of “The Role of the Bishop of Rome in the Communion of the Church in the First Millennium”.
The session had to be interrupted on a number of occasions because of protests by some Orthodox priests who accused Metropolitan Archbishop Chrysostomos II of Cyprus of “selling out” the Orthodox Church to the Pope. Similar resistance is also found within the Catholic camp.
This is why the Pontiff said, “Our growing friendship and mutual respect, and our willingness to encounter one another and to recognize one another as brothers in Christ, should not be hindered by those who remain bound to the remembrance of historical differences, which impedes their openness to the Holy Spirit who guides the Church and is able to transform all human failings into opportunities for good.”
Referring directly to the incidents in Cyprus and the Petrine ministry exercised during the first millennium, the Holy Father wrote, “The Catholic Church understands the Petrine ministry as a gift of the Lord to His Church. This ministry should not be interpreted in the perspective of power, but within an ecclesiology of communion, as a service to unity in truth and charity. The Bishop of the Church of Rome, which presides in charity (Saint Ignatius of Antioch), is understood to be the Servus Servorum Dei (Saint Gregory the Great). Thus, as my venerable predecessor the Servant of God Pope John Paul II wrote and I reiterated on the occasion of my visit to the Phanar in November 2006, it is a question of seeking together, inspired by the model of the first millennium, the forms in which the ministry of the Bishop of Rome may accomplish a service of love recognized by one and all (cf Ut Unum Sint, 95). Let us therefore ask God to bless us and may the Holy Spirit guide us along this difficult yet promising path.”
In his message, Benedict XVI said that the two Churches bear common witness in many areas like the dignity of the human person. Both affirm fundamental ethical values, promote justice and peace, and respond to the suffering that continues to afflict our world, particularly hunger, poverty, illiteracy and the inequitable distribution of resources. They also share the same desire to safeguard creation.