Pope and Patriarch: onwards towards full unity
Istanbul (AsiaNews) – A climate of brotherhood marked the feast of St Andrei patron of the Ecumenical Patriarchate one year on from Benedict’s visit and a month from the Ravenna meeting. The spirit of the two encounters left an indelible mark upon celebrations, a sign of the march towards full unity between the sister Churches, as Benedict XVI said one year ago here in Istanbul, of “Christianity’s two lungs” as John Paul II said. This was the festive climate between the large delegation sent by the Holy See, led by Cardinal Kasper, including Bishop Brian Farrel, Apostolic Nuncio Antonio Lucibello and Apostolic Vicar Msgr. Luigi Padovese, and the Patriarchate in the presence of various diplomatic representatives.
This spirit of unity pervaded the Patriarch’s homily as well as the message sent by the Pope. Benedict XVI’s gift was also a symbol of this spirit, the first copy of his encyclical Spe Salvi signed, not by chance, on the feast of the Apostle Andrew.
In his homily, the Ecumenical Patriarch recalled his recent visit to Naples, during which he was donated relics belonging to St Andrew, and of his fruitful and brotherly meeting with Benedict XVI. We continue to believe, he added, that the peaceful coexistence of Christians in a spirit of unity and agreement must be the fundamental basis for all of us. Because we share the same emotions, the same intentions, in agreement with our common declaration signed here a year ago with the Holy Father. In an era, continued Bartholomew, in which we see the resurgence of secularism, relativism, and nihilism, we need to be inspired by the example of the Apostle Andrew. Because the fracturing of our unity was the cause of tragic consequences for humanity with the birth of ideas and practices based on atheism and totalitarianism. We must not, underlined Bartholomew, reduce life to a humanistic ethic, thus loosing the true meaning of God’s mystery. Everyday we must rediscover our Christian roots in the sacramental and doctrinal spirit, just as it was before the schism. The teachings of the Apostle Andrew, concluded Bartholomew, must be a revitalising force against this culture of consensus and the many forms of exploitation, of the poor, of migrants, of women and children. Our common action is to preserve respect for the rights of every individual, because he is created in the image and likeness of God.
Before reading the Pope’s message, in his address Cardinal Kasper recalled how last year’s image of the joined, raised hands of the Pope and the Patriarch has remained impressed upon history, a sign of common will towards unity, confirmed by the Ravenna document, which has defined a solid basis for the III millennium, signed in the city which is a symbol of unity between the east and the west.
In his message Benedict XVI recalled his participation in celebrations a year ago. That encounter, he said, just as the presence of the Pontifical delegation in Istanbul for the feast of St Andrew and the Constantinople delegation in Rome for the feast of Sts. Peter and Paul, represent our two Churches authentic commitment to an ever deeper communion, strengthened by cordial relations of prayer and dialogue of love and of truth.
The Pope thanked God, in particular for the Ravenna meeting. Though it was not without difficulties, Benedict XVI sincerely prays that these are soon resolved, so that there may be full participation in the next plenary session due to take place in 2009.
In this regards and referring to the decision by the Moscow Patriarchate to abandon the Ravenna working session, an Orthodox member of the joint commission on condition of anonymity spoke to AsiaNews about the problems that may be created by the Russians non participation. He explained that the Russian Church has entered a phase of post communist transition and that an internal battle for succession has begun. All external statements are subject to internal use to further different positions. In his view, there is a need for caution, and optimism, because no-one [within the Russian Orthodox Church] will dare go against the dynamics of history. Moreover the decision to withdraw from Ravenna was not shared by many Russian prelates.
Father Dositheos, head of the Patriarchate press office, told us that “and yet we are moving towards unity at lot faster than we imagined not too long ago”.
It also must be highlighted, in conclusion, that the Turkish Bishop’s Conference has proposed a joint celebration of the 2000 years since the birth of the Apostle Paul in Tarso, Turkey. The date being put forward is between the 20 and 22nd June 2008. A sign of how even in Turkey, things can change. (NT)