Pope: Interpretation and capacity of the petrine ministry divides us from the orthodox

But many are the things which unite us, he said, turning to the delegation of the ecumenical patriarchate present in St Peter's for the feast of the prince of apostles.

Vatican City (AsiaNews) – "Interpretation and capacity" of the petrine ministry, that is the role and competence of the bishop of Rome, who is the pope, divide Catholics and Orthodox, but "we are together in the apostolic succession, we are deeply united with one another for the episcopal ministry and for the sacrament of the priesthood and we confess the same faith of the Apostles as it was given to us in Scripture and as it was interpreted by the great councils."

Today's words of Benedict XVI on the occasion of Mass for the feast of Saints Peter and Paul practically constituted a stand on ecumenical relations with the orthodox. As usual on this occasion, a delegation of the ecumenical patriarchate of Constantinople was present and they received a warm greeting from the pope. There is more which unites us than divides us, was basically what Benedict XVI said, although he did underline, both during the celebration as before the Angelus, that the "petrine ministry… cannot be renounced". He recalled that such has existed since the time of the martyrdom of Peter and Paul; that is when Christians did not know division.

The "petrine ministry", in the words read by the pope during Mass, is "an expression of our communion" which in essence has its "visible guarantee". "With unity, as well as with apostolicism, is linked the petrine ministry, which visibly unites the Church in all places and in all times, defending each of us in this way from slipping into false autonomies, which too easily become internal particularizations of the Church and could thus compromise its internal independence". Highlighting that at the end "the sense of all functions and ministries is that 'we all arrive at unity of faith and knowledge of the Son of God", Benedict XVI turned to the orthodox delegation sent by the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, to whom he extended a cordial greeting. Led by the Metropolitan Ioannis, the delegation came to our feast and participates in our celebration.

Even if we do not yet agree on the question of interpretation and full extent of the petrine ministry, we are however already together on the issue of apostolic succession, we are profoundly linked with one another on episcopal ministry and the sacrament of the priesthood and we confess the same faith in the Apostles as revealed to us in scripture and as interpreted for us by the great Councils. At this time, in a world full of skepticism and doubts, but also rich in the desire for God, we recognize once again our mission to testify together to Christ our Lord and on the basis of this unity, which is already given to us, to help the world to believe. And we ask the Lord with all our heart to lead us to full unity so that the splendour of the truth, which alone can create unity, will become once again visible in the world." On the day on which the Church of Rome remembers its patrons, even visibly through the statue of St Peter in the basilica, dressed in a tiara and with pontifical vestments and the "net of the fisherman", Benedict XVI told 20,000 people present for the Angelus that "the primacy of the Church which is in Rome and its bishop is a primacy of service to Catholic communion. Departing from the twofold event of the martyrdom of Saints Peter and Paul, all the Churches began to regard that of Rome as a central point of reference of doctrinal and pastoral unity".

The Pope then recalled that Vatican II confirmed that "in ecclesiastical communion, there are legitimately specific churches, with their own traditions, while however there is the primacy of the seat of Peter, which presides over universal communion of charity, safeguards legitimate differences and together keeps watch until that which is specific not only does not harm unity, but rather serves it". "May the Virgin Mary obtain for us that the petrine ministry of the Bishop of Rome is not seen as a stumbling block but as a support in the journey on the road to unity." (FP).