Conference by Cardinal Kasper on Orthodoxy and the Catholic Church

Source: FSSPX News


Full text of Cardinal Kasper’s lecture

It is a joy for me to meet you here today in the cathedral of Maria Immaculata. This is already my fourth visit to this church. I can still remember the first one. It was in the 90’s; at that time I was bishop of the diocese of Rottenburg-Stuttgart in Germany. It was in a sorry state. The Communists had expropriated it and added some extra storeys to it; the foundations and the roof were in a bad state. I had spontaneously offered financial help from our diocese, in aid of restoration works. This evening I can see that it was worth it: it is now a very beautiful church, resplendent and welcoming.

I wish, first of all, to pass on to you the most cordial greetings from His Holiness Pope John Paul II. I can assure you that the Catholic Christians of Moscow, and of the whole of Russia, as well as all Russian people have a special place in the heart and the prayers of the Holy Father. It is physically impossible for him to come to you, but he is very close to you and with you in spirit. He has expressly asked me to send you his blessing.


This evening, I would like to speak to you about my sphere of activity in Rome, according to the mandate of the Holy Father, that is ecumenism. This subject takes on a particular topicality, on account of this year being exactly 40 years ago – it was actually in 1964 – that the Second Vatican Council passed the Decree on ecumenism and solemnly promulgated it. This Decree begins with the words: “To promote the restoration of unity among all Christians, this is one of the principle aims of the Holy Ecumenical Council of Vatican II. The one and only Church was instituted by Christ our Lord”(Unitatis redintegratio, 1).

I still remember very well the events of this period. I was 31, and had just been appointed professor at Munster in Westphalia. The decision of the Council filled us with enthusiasm. For us it was a breakthrough. During the Second World War, I had grown up in a village which was 80% Catholic. At the time, we had not even heard of the term “ecumenism”. On the other hand, “Luther” and “Calvin” were, to us, bad words, and I would never have set foot in an evangelical church. As for Russia,we knew it, unfortunately only through the war correspondents and the stories of Russian prisoners; no one spoke to us of the Orthodox Christians who lived there and who were so cruelly persecuted by Stalin. For us Orthodox Christianity was practically non-existent. It was only much later, at catechism and during theological studies that we heard of it; but Orthodoxy remained something very remote for us, very abstract and very theoretical.

What changes we lived through with Pope John XXIII and the Second Vatican Council! The Russian Orthodox Church has participated in the ecumenical movement from the beginning: her representatives were among the first observers at the Council and became our friends. Unfortunately, after 1990 our relations deteriorated. Regrettable misunderstandings and errors occurred on both sides, and ecumenism still has difficulty in asserting itself in this country. Nevertheless, I think you may consider my visit to Moscow as a sign that the spirit of reconciliation and friendship is once more gaining ground. The Russian Orthodox Church is not only numerically the most important of the Orthodox Churches, but through the spiritual and cultural richness of her tradition, she is also a “great” Church, which has a right to our esteem and respect. As Catholics, we want to live with her in peace and charity and work with her as good friends.

Meanwhile, in the West and almost everywhere in the world, and in spite of all the differences in faith, Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant Christians no longer consider one another as enemies or competitors; they know that what unites them is much greater than what separates them; they consider themselves brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ. They live together, work together and pray together. It is true at parish level, with the bishops and it is true in Rome, where the Pope regularly receives, almost as a matter of course, with great cordiality, Orthodox and Protestant visitors.

We must be grateful for this evolution. Since it is not the spirit of the times, nor that of relativism, indifferentism, or liberalism, which is behind this reconciliation, but, according to the words of the Second Vatican Council, it is the Holy Spirit (Unitatis redintegratio 1; 4), which is the spirit of unity and reconciliation. Jesus himself, on the eve of his Passion, prayed that they may all be one (John xvii, 21). He did not want several Churches, he wanted only One Church. The New Testament shows us the example of the first community in Jerusalem and tells us that all its members were united and shared all they had (Act ii, 44-47).

In our common Creed, we confess our faith in one God, one Lord Jesus Christ and in one Holy Spirit, one baptism, and equally in “the Church, one, holy, catholic and apostolic”. In his Epistle to the Ephesians, the apostle Paul writes: “There is one body and one Spirit… One Lord, one faith and one baptism. One God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in us all” (Eph iv, 4-5). To believe in one God, in one Lord Jesus Christ, in one Holy Spirit means affirming and wanting the unity and peace of the Church. It is the duty of every one of us.

The division in the Church is contrary to the will of God; it is a sin and a scandal in the eyes of the world. Disputes are not what men expect from Christians; there are already enough of them in the world. What is expected of us is evidence of unity and reconciliation. We have to be witnesses and instruments of peace.

The ecumenical movement set in motion a campaign which opposes divisions between the East and West, and those which have occurred in the West since the sixteenth century. The ecumenical movement is one of the rare gleams of hope of the twentieth century, whose two totalitarian systems, disdainful of humanity and two world wars with millions of dead, have made it a somber and bloody century. The Russian people and the Germans have lived through particularly painful experiences. We also have a special responsibility towards peace in the world and the Church.


Since the turning of the years 1989/1990, a new situation has been created in the world, and in Europe in particular. Thank goodness, the division of the world into two blocs no longer exists. The Berlin Wall has fallen. Russia and Europe are drawing closer once again. And the Churches too, find themselves faced with new tasks and new challenges. In the process of unification, they must not stand in the rearguard; they must not thwart the process; they have to be in the vanguard and forge ahead courageously. They must leave neither the dawning European unity, nor the collaboration between Russia and Europe, in other hands; it should be us, we Christians, who actively prepare for the future. But we cannot do it independently, we can only do it together.

For centuries, the culture of both our countries has been imbued with the spirit of Christianity and with Christian values; after the death of ideologies and atheist dictatorships, our culture must be renewed. Together and in a responsible way, we must see to it that the East and the West do not lose their Christian soul. This will only be possible if, after having overcome the political and military divisions in Europe, we succeed in defeating the division of the Church between the East and the West, as well. The West needs Russia, which has often proved itself a bastion of Europe; and Russia needs the West, she needs Rome, if she does not want to remain isolated.

The division in the Churches has deep roots, which go far back in history. It is often placed in 1054. That year, the papal legate, Humberto da Silva Candida, and the Greek Patriarch Kerullarios, reciprocally excommunicated each other. However, this antecedent, painful as it was, has a purely symbolic significance. Prior to this event, the East and the West had already taken different roads. They had become strangers to one another, and they no longer understood each other. As the Second Vatican Council said, the heritage transmitted through the apostles was received in different ways from the very origins of the Church (Unitatis redintegratio, 14). Moreover, they spoke different languages and had a different culture and mentality.

In spite of these distinctions, the East and the West have lived for centuries in fraternal communion. The two apostles of the Slavonic people, Cyril and Methodius, carried out their missionary work with the blessing of Rome and Constantinople. Even the baptism of the Russ of Kiev in the year 988, under Prince Vladimir, took place in an era of accord in the Church. Thus, East and West, Latin Church and Slavonic Orthodox Churches, with all their differences, have a common root and a rich common heritage, which Pope John Paul II expressly recalled in the encyclical “Slavorum Apostoli”(1985).

It is a lack of understanding and of charity which has led to the separation. The division in the Church has had humiliating consequences for Christians. I will cite only the crusades which – contrary to their original intention – were carried out not only against Islam, but against Orthodoxy as well, so well that in the final analysis, it was not only Byzantium but all Christendom which found itself weakened in its defense against Islam. Moreover, quarrels occurred with the Teutonic Order and Poland. In Russia these quarrels were interpreted as a continuation of the Crusades, and an attempt aimed at subjugating the Russian Orthodox Church to Rome. It was thus that the distrust of the East towards Latin West and towards Rome, grew until it became love-hate.

In the final analysis, the split resulted in the weakening of both parties. Everyone lost something of their Catholicity and positive universality. In a certain way it was an injury just as much to one side as the other. Today the Christians of the two Churches fervently desire to learn once again something of each other. I will cite just one example: for some time, the respect and veneration of icons has become widespread in the West in a remarkable way. Ecumenism means giving and receiving, it is an exchange of gifts (Ut unum sint, 28; 57). In the East, as in the West, the Church must start breathing again with two lungs (ibid., 54).

Today, thank goodness, the centuries of darkness and waiting are over. It is exactly 40 years ago that Pope Paul VI and the ecumenical Patriarch Athénagoras met and embraced in Jerusalem. They exchanged letters which have gone down in history as “Tomos agapis”, the “Book of love” (Rome – Istanbul 1971), and at the conclusion of the Second Vatican Council, they effaced from the memory of the Church, the grievous excommunication of 1054. A new beginning was thus established. Since then, we call each other Sister Churches.

The Second Vatican Council recognized the rich heritage of the oriental Churches (Orientalium ecclesiarium, 1; Unitatis redintegratio, 17) and thus put an end to the former politics of latinization of the Orient, which had aroused so much mistrust. Pope John Paul II begins his Apostolic Letter “Orientale Lumen”(1995) with these words: Actually, Christianity was born in the East; it is there that the first Councils were held, which are common to all of us: the Eastern Churches have brought to the Universal Church a rich patrimony of spiritual and theological wisdom, art and culture. This is why from the introduction, the Pope declared the tradition of the Eastern Churches venerable”.

In the ecumenical encyclical “Ut unum sint” (1995), the Pope adds another argument, even more topical. He writes: “The courageous witness of many martyrs of this century, including those who are members of other Churches and other Ecclesial Communities which are not in full communion with the Catholic Church, gives a new force to the conciliar appeal; it reminds us of our obligation to welcome its exhortation, and to put it into practice”(n° 1). In all the Churches, none of the preceding centuries has seen so many martyrs for the Christian faith, than in the course of the twentieth century which has just come to an end. If what Tertullian, the Church historian, said during the persecution of the Christians during the third century is true, that the blood of martyrs is the seed of new Christians, then we can say that the blood of many martyrs of all the Churches, Orthodox and Catholic, is the seed of the unity of the Catholic and Orthodox Churches.

Today we are discovering again, that in spite of the separation, the essential elements of unity have been preserved: we are united as before in the same apostolic faith of the first century, as the Church Fathers, who are mutual to us both, bear witness. We celebrate the same sacraments, although with differing rites, in particular the Eucharist, which is the center and summit of the life of the Church; in a word, we are united by the same episcopal ministry in the apostolic succession; together we venerate the saints, in particular Mary, the Mother of God, and we both of us, have the same esteem for the monastic life.

Our divisions, therefore, do not go back to the deepest foundations and neither do they rise up to the sky. God is greater than our differences and the Holy Spirit of God is at work – as the Second Vatican Council said – equally in our separated brothers and sisters (Unitatis redintegratio, 3). That is why, today, the Eastern and Western Churches recognize each other once again as Sister Churches (ibid., 14). They no longer consider each other – or rather: they should no longer consider each other as rivals, even less as enemies, but as brothers and sisters. Also, it’s high time we turned the page in relations between the Russian Orthodox Church and the Catholic Church, and put these relations on a new footing.


Before tackling more specific questions, I would like to say something on the subject of the model we have in front of us concerning the unity of the Church.When we speak of unity in the theological sense, we must not base it on a temporal and political unity. That is to say, it is not about creating a unity endowed with an imperial power, neither a gigantic administrative unity. We have to start from the ideal image of unity, which is that of the Trinity. In our common faith, we confess and venerate one God in three divine persons (hypostasis), Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and we confess the three Divine Persons in one God. This Unity in the Trinity and thus Trinity in Unity is the archetype and measure of the unity of the Church. We have to imagine the Church as an image, a kind of icon of the Trinitarian Unity of God. This is what the Fathers of the Church did in the East as in the West – Cyprian, Augustine, Damascene, etc. The Second Vatican Council has made the ideas of the Church Fathers its watchword (Lumen gentium, 4; Unitatis redintegatio, 3).

This means that just as the unity in God is a communion-unity of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, the unity of the Church must no longer be considered a rigid uniformity either, but as a living communion, a unity in diversity and a diversity in unity. The unity of the Church does not mean a unitarian Church. The apostle Paul speaks of the interior richness, and the diversity of the Church when he says: “Now there are diversities of graces, but the same spirit; and there are diversities of ministries, but the same Lord; and there are diversities of operations, but the same God, who worketh all in all” (1 Cor xii, 4-6). The Church is a harmony and a divine symphony, says Origen (Commentary on the Gospel according to Matthew, ch. 14, 1-2).

One of the encouraging results of ecumenical dialogue, is that almost all the documents on dialogue indicate that the unity of the Church is understood as a unity of communion, according to the prototype of the Trinitarian unity. This consensus appeared the most clearly in the documents which came out of the international theological dialogue between the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Churches. The first of these documents (1982) has already, a significant title: “ The mystery of the Church and the Eucharist in the light of the mystery of the Trinity”.

From this shared understanding of the Church as communion, on the model of the Trinity, important consequences follow, the principal one being: the unity of the Church is not a question of organization or administration. Neither is it about the aggregation of different Churches in a single Church. These are temporal, political and sociological ideas. For us, unity is a gift and the action of the Holy Spirit. It is about the communion (koinonia) that we have with the Father, through Jesus Christ in the Holy Spirit. It is about the communion with the life of the Triune God (1 John I, 3) and communion with the Divine Nature (2 Peter I, 4).

Secondly: if we understand the unity of the Church as a spiritual unity, that does not mean that it is an invisible unity. The Church is the Body of Christ; she must therefore, in the image of Jesus Christ, Son of God made man, be understood as a divine-human unity. The spirit of God uses visible signs which we call sacraments, and which in Eastern theological language, are called mysteries.

The fundamental sacrament, through which we are taken into the communion (koinonia) with God the Father through Jesus Christ in the Holy Ghost, is baptism. Through it – as the apostle Paul says – we are incorporated into the Body of Christ (1 Cor. xii, 13). Even if we belong to different ecclesial communities, through baptism we are already in deep spiritual communion, though still imperfect. This communion, men cannot destroy; it is stronger than the power of sin. In spite of our divisions, we are already brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ (Lumen gentium, 15; Unitatis redintegratio, 3).

The culminating point in the sacramental life of the Church is the celebration of the Eucharist (Lumen gentium, 11). It is from this that the Church draws life. The Church is everywhere where the Eucharist is celebrated. And above all, because we recognize the validity of the Eucharistic celebrations of the Orthodox Churches (Unitatis redintegratio, 15), so we recognize them as true Churches and esteem them as Sister Churches (ibid., 14).

Thirdly: The sacramental visibility of the Church is expressed finally in the apostolic ministry of the bishop. The latter is, through his consecration, part of the apostolic succession. Through this sacramental consecration, the Spirit of the Lord confers on the bishop, not merely a simple legal mandate, but a sacramental power which allows him to speak and act in the name of Jesus Christ in the Holy Spirit (Luke x, 16; 2 Cor. v, 20). The Orthodox bishops, therefore, have a right to our respect and consideration. They were established, through the power of the Holy Spirit, as guardians of their flocks. (Acts xx, 28).

These common points are mentioned in several documents of the International Commission for Theological Dialogue. I have already mentioned the first of these documents, which dates from 1982, and carries the title of “The mystery of the Church and the Eucharist in the light of the mystery of the Holy Trinity”. I will add two others: “Faith, sacraments and the unity of the Church” (1987) and “The sacrament of Holy Orders in the sacramental structure of the Church, in particular the importance of the apostolic succession for the sanctification and the unity of the people of God” (1988).

These essential common points do not exclude the differences. In this connection, we must make a distinction between the differences which divide the Churches, and the legitimate diversities, in the form of liturgical, spiritual and theological expression. Such a diversity is not an obstacle to unity; on the contrary, it enriches it. Among the different traditions, the Council brings to the fore, the statement that “since their origins, the Churches of the East have followed specific rules sanctioned by the Holy Fathers and the Councils, even ecumenical ones” (Unitatis redintegratio, 16). In order to exclude all possible doubt, the Council solemnly declares that the Eastern Churches, in the framework of the necessary unity of the Church, “have the power to govern according to their own laws, more in keeping with the character of their faithful, and more capable of promoting the good of souls”. It particularly emphasizes the importance of the patriarchal Churches, which had been founded “through the grace of divine Providence” (Lumen gentium, 23; Orientalium ecclesiarum, 5; Unitatis redintegratio, 16).

These differences are not in opposition to each other, but complementary (Unitatis redintegatio, 17). In the opinion of many theologians, this holds true equally for the question of the “Filioque”, that is to say, of the Latin expression, added to the Creed, indicating that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father “and the Son” (filioque). In the general opinion of modern Western theologians, and of some Russian Orthodox theologians (B. Bolotov and S. Bulgakov among others), it does not concern a difference which would cause division between the Churches, but is a complementary declaration. The Catechism of the Catholic Church has come round to this opinion (n° 248).

Thus, the Council was able to declare that this entire patrimony, spiritual and liturgical, disciplinary and theological, in its diverse traditions, belongs fully to the catholicity and apostolicity of the Church (Unitatis redintegatio, 17). This is our common patrimony. This is why the Council wished that the identity of the Eastern Churches, which has developed in the course of history, be preserved, and that where it is in danger of being lost, it may be renewed.

The really difficult, and the only, question, basically, which is really crucial, is the question of the petrine ministry. It is not possible to examine it in the present context. We may, however, note that the Pope himself, in his ecumenical encyclical, “Ut unum sint” invited the Eastern Churches to a fraternal dialogue on the future practice of the petrine ministry (n° 95). This invitation stirred up an animated debate. Last May, a symposium was held in Rome with representatives of the Orthodox Churches, in which – to our great regret – the Russian Orthodox Church did not participate. It clearly appeared that openings exist on both sides; but a consensus is not yet in sight. We hope that the International Commission will soon be able to resume the examination of this question.

Many eminent Catholic theologians are of the opinion that the full communion of the Eastern Churches with the Apostolic See of Rome, would not change very much in these Churches. In a union with Rome, the Eastern Churches would preserve and develop their rich spiritual, liturgical, disciplinary and theological tradition. In the encyclical “Slavorum apostoli”, the Pope has said that it is a question of a full communion which is “neither an absorption nor a fusion” but unity in the truth and love (n° 27). This orientation had already been indicated by the great Russian philosopher and theologian, V. Solovjev in his brilliant work “Russia and the Universal Church” (1889). He showed how the two wisdoms, Eastern and Western, can meet together fruitfully and be mutually enriched.


With what has just been said, we have cast an eye to the future. In the eyes of some people, these proposals may have seemed utopian or theoretical. In fact, as far as we may humanly judge it, the road to full ecclesial communion will still be laborious. In the last part we want also to consider several possible intermediate steps. We want to ask ourselves: What can we do in concrete terms from this moment, in order to attain this objective? I do not intend to map out a complete program; I will content myself to indicate five points. Even like this, some things will still seem a little remote from the uncertain reality. But what I will say is the result of experiences gained elsewhere. Why, with good will on the part of everyone, would it not also be possible, mutatis mutandis, here? The mandate of Christ urges us to try once again.

Firstly: we must overcome our prejudice and renounce polemic. Strong prejudice and clichés exist everywhere; in Catholics and in Orthodox, in Russians and in Poles. They are peddled incessantly through thoughtless remarks, publications and books. Examined at close quarters they do not stand up to reality. According to the old examination of conscience in preparation for Confession, one must ask oneself: have I spoken ill of others? The question must equally be asked when we are talking of other Churches. On both sides, ecclesial leaders should, in their own interests, forbid all publication which is a sin against the eighth commandment.

It is natural that problems, tensions and misunderstandings arise between the Churches, just as they do in “normal” life. As we are all sinners, we are always committing errors, one side as much as the other. The Catholics and the Vatican are not without faults either. But if we stir up a public argument each time the other person commits an offence, we render service and give pleasure to nobody but journalists, who could not care less about the Church and think only of selling their articles. As for the Church herself, she has nothing to gain and everything to lose. In fact this controversy damages the public image of both Churches, and what is more, it creates confusion in the hearts of the faithful. We can no longer solve the problems if we break off the dialogue each time the other does something wrong. It is precisely when problems arise that we should talk to each other. Refusing to talk never resolves any problem.

On the occasion of the visit of Patriarch Theotist of Rumania in 2002, Pope John Paul II urged reflection on the opportunity and possibility of creating permanent institutional structures between the Churches, which would allow them to have a regular exchange of information and consultations. During the first century, an apocrisiary, a kind of plenipotentiary, was established for that purpose between Rome and Constantinople. There should be something similar today too, a kind of “hotline” to which one could have quick and easy access, in order to avoid useless misunderstandings and promptly deal with those which might arise.

Secondly: it is not only about eliminating misunderstandings and prejudices, but establishing in a positive way, mutual understanding. We do not know each other well enough. In the course of a long historic process, the Eastern and Western Churches have grown more and more distant from each other; today they have to learn once again to live together, and to build up understanding and mutual consideration. For that, we need not only an ecumenism of “conversations at the top” and colloquia between experts, but an “ecumenism of life” at the very heart of the community. We must learn to know, understand and consider each other better. That can only happen by meeting each other, reaching out to each other and looking into the other person’s eyes.

The progress already accomplished is significant. In his encyclical “Ut unum sint”, Pope John Paul II has said that the genuine fruit of ecumenical dialogue is the rediscovery of the brotherhood of all Christians (n° 42). Today, without contravening our conscience or infringing any rule of canon law, we are already able to do more together than we usually do. Beginning with very simple things: exchange of greetings, and visits and invitations to celebrations; witnesses of participation at the time of deaths and accidents, but equally on the occasion of happy events; support during difficult situations. It is enough to show a creative spirit, and charity is creative.

In the “higher spheres”, we have reestablished important forms of ecclesial communion as existed in the first century, such as the regular exchange of visits and messages of sympathy between the Pope and the Patriarchs. These are not merely diplomatic gestures of courtesy. They are important ecclesial acts.

I would like to mention besides, the meetings and exchanges between monasteries and centers of spiritual life: it is not without reason that Pope John Paul II, in “Orientale lumen” (1995), n°s. 9-16, emphasized the importance of the monastic life for the Oriental Churches. Fortunately, such exchanges have already taken place. I will cite only the names of Grottaferrata, Chèvetogne, Bose, Niederaltaich, and notably Bari, with the tomb of Saint Nicholas.

It concerns ensuring the reception of what has already been achieved and translating that in to everyday life. This is the case, in particular, with the declarations of the Second Vatican Council, the numerous declarations by the Holy Father on ecumenism and the results of the International Joint Commission. It is amazing to see how little of all that has been achieved, has entered into the life of the Churches. We must embark upon a process of reception in catechesis, preaching, formation of adults, theological formation and proficiency courses for the clergy.

Thirdly: the unity of the Church is a unity in the truth; full communion can not come about, without a clarification of dogmatic questions which live on between us, above all the question of the petrine ministry. It is necessary, therefore that international theological dialogue be resumed as soon as possible. The exchanges and collaboration between the faculties, academies and theological institutes are also important. In recent years, the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of Unity of Christians has stressed the importance of the latter. In the meantime, excellent contacts have taken place with Minsk and Kiev, Belgrade and Sofia, and, much more discreetly, with Moscow too.

There is still also a lot to be done, from the historic point of view. Our Churches still retain the memory of painful events of the past, which weigh on our present relations and hinder them. We recount continually all the bad things that “the others” have done to us. It is often true; we must ask forgiveness for it, as the Pope has done publicly on several occasions. But sometimes they are legends, which do not stand up to an historic scrutiny. In such cases, a “purification of memory” is necessary. Often the fault is on both sides. We should therefore re-examine our school books and ask ourselves if they reflect objectively and correctly the history and the doctrine of the other. The commandment of the Lord tells us that, as Christians, we must forgive reciprocally, and believe in the power of forgiveness. Forgiveness opens the way towards a common future.

Fourthly: from the recognition of the Orthodox Churches as Sister Churches, certain important rules of reciprocal behavior follow. They had already been formulated in 1992 by the Pontifical Commission Pro Russia, and confirmed publicly a few months later by Pope John Paul II in his sermon which concluded the Week of Prayer for the Unity of Christians. These directives have the title, “General principles and practical norms for coordinating the evangelization and ecumenical engagement of the Catholic Church in Russia and in other countries of the Community of Independent States”. It is therefore about the coordination or, according to each individual case, a just balance between the missionary mandate and the ecumenical mandate of the Church. There cannot be a contradiction between the two, as they belong, the one and the other, to the will of God and the unique mission of the Church.

I can give here only a brief resumé of the essentials of the directives of the Commission Pro Russia. By its nature the Church is missionary (Ad gentes, 2). The manner in which she carries out this missionary mandate depends obviously on actual conditions. Russia is not a pagan country, far from it; in Russia, the Catholic Church is confronted with a situation, marked for centuries by the presence of the Orthodox Church. The latter has permeated the culture of this country and we can only wish that after the end of the totalitarian domination of atheistic communism, she will be able to do much more. In that, our task is to do our utmost to help them. Our missionary action must therefore be carried out in an ecumenical spirit: not in competition with the Russian Orthodox Church, but with respect for her and in collaboration with her. Pro Russia states clearly that the missionary mandate of the Church in a country with an ancient Orthodox tradition is substantially different from the missio ad gentes, a mission in a pagan country.

In the countries of Eastern Europe which are mainly Orthodox, the Catholic Church has the right to exist and accomplish her mission. She is present there, not from today, but for centuries. However, her pastoral and charitable activity must be marked by an ecumenical spirit. She has, in the first place, to look after the pastoral needs of her own faithful. That does not exclude individual conversions, in cases where Orthodox Christians wish to convert for reasons of conscience (Unitatis redintegratio, 4). In such cases, religious liberty and liberty of conscience must be respected on both sides. But the respect for a decision taken in conscience by an individual is quite different from missionary activity expressly carried out among Orthodox Christians. Given that we recognize the Orthodox Church as a true Church, and her sacraments as true sacraments, there can be neither “policies” nor “strategies” of evangelization with Orthodox Christians.

The declaration Pro Russia adopts a similar position to that taken later, in what is known as the Balamand Statement (1993) of the Joint International Commission for theological dialogue. This position has been expressly confirmed in item n° 60 of the encyclical “Ut unum sint” (1995). The Balamand Statement rejects what is called, in the language of the Orthodox Church, uniatism and proselytism, in other words, missionary activity among members of the Orthodox Church, as a present or future method. This activity, where it was exercised in the past, was the expression of an exclusivist ecclesiology, which did not recognize the existence of authentic sacraments, therefore authentic instruments of salvation, in the Orthodox Churches. This exclusivist ecclesiology was put aside by the Second Vatican Council. The basis of our present relations must be our reciprocal recognition as sister Churches, and a dialogue in truth and charity.

With good will on both sides, it should be possible, from the actual principles and norms established in the directives of the Pontifical Commission Pro Russia, to achieve agreements and regulations of an obligatory nature. Why not set up a commission responsible for drafting a kind of “code of behavior”?

Fifthly: the most important point is spiritual ecumenism; it is the soul of the ecumenical movement. For sure, we cannot “bring about” the unity of the Church, which is the gift of the Holy Spirit; a new Pentecost is necessary. In order to obtain it, we can do no more than pray. Therefore we need, in a way, to do what Mary and the disciples did, after the Ascension of Our Lord. They retired to the room of the Last Supper and prayed fervently for the coming of the Holy Spirit (Acts I, 13). The prayer for unity, if possible the joint prayer for unity, and the celebration of the annual Week of Prayer for the Unity of Christians, must be at the heart of ecumenical activity. Spiritual ecumenism consists moreover, in the awareness that the unity of the Church is not possible without conversion and personal penitence, without personal sanctification and renewal of the Church. To live according to the Gospel is the best ecumenism (Unitatis redintegratio, 6-8; Ut unum sint, 15 s; 21-27).

Quantum est nobis via? “What distance separates us from the blessed day?” John Paul II wonders, in his encyclical Ut unum sint (77). This we do not know. It is not we who write the history books. Time is in the hands of God alone. That is why the unity of the Church will not let itself be controlled or anticipated. But there is no reason to give up. The Council has reaffirmed that the movement which aspires to the full unity of the Church is encouraged and sustained by the Holy Spirit (Unitatis redintegratio, 1; 4). God is faithful; we can put our trust in Him, and the Holy Spirit always has some surprises for us.

Also, we have the right to hope that if we do our utmost, the Spirit of God will accomplish the work He began, and that the unity which existed during the first millennium, and which was broken during the second, will be reestablished in the course of this third millennium, which has just begun. It is only thus that Europe can once again to be a spiritual and moral force. It is only thus that we will be able to present ourselves before God and the annals of history. It is my hope and wish that my visit may bring to it a modest contribution.