Ecumenism: Catholics and Orthodox Invited to “Create Unity”

Source: FSSPX News


In an interview granted to Radio Vatican, on May 29, 2008, after his visit to the Ukraine (May 23 to 26), Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, Secretary of State of the Holy See, emphasized how important it was for Catholics and Orthodox to “create unity, (…) to converge on common objectives.” It “is an indispensable premise for the new evangelization and for the efficacy of the testimony of the whole Church, of all the Christian confessions,” he added.

Concerning the relationships between the Catholic Church and Russian Orthodoxy, he declared: “Everybody is expecting the much talked-about meeting between the pope and the patriarch of Moscow which will take place in God’s own good time, and when all necessary conditions are met.” And he added: “Some European Orthodox officials are explicitly urging this meeting.”

The secretary of State of the Holy See also mentioned “positive elements”, in his opinion, like the translation into Russian of the documents of the Second Vatican Council, the Catechism of the Catholic Church and the Compendium of Social Christian Doctrine. “This is a positive fact which enables the two Churches to draw closer culturally speaking, and pacifically (…) and hence to know each other and share.”

For his part, Cardinal Walter Kasper, president of the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of Christian Unity, went to Moscow from May 21 to 31, 2008. On May 29, he met with the patriarch of Moscow, Alexis II. At the end of the meeting, the German prelate called “for the continuation of the dialogue” between Catholics and Orthodox, so that the Churches may speak “with one voice.” “I hope that the dialogue will continue for it is very important that the secular world hear only one voice coming from the Churches,” he wished.

During his meeting with Patriarch Alexis II, Cardinal Kasper handed a letter from the pope, written in English, and dated from May 19 last. Benedict XVI wrote therein that Cardinal Kasper’s visit to Russia was giving him the opportunity to restate his “appreciation for the [patriarch’s] commitment to fostering relations between Catholics and Orthodox.” “It is with joy that I reflect on the experience of growing closeness between us, accompanied by the shared desire to promote authentic Christian values and to witness to our Lord in ever deeper communion,” the pope wrote. Then Benedict XVI evoked the visit of the  Orthodox patriarch to France, (Paris, and Strasbourg) as well as the “warm welcome” given to the new Catholic Archbishop of Moscow, Paolo Pezzi.

In the letter, Benedict XVI also rejoiced over the signs of “fraternity and friendship” given by the Orthodox patriarchate on the occasion of the visit of the President of the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of Christian Unity to Russia. Mentioning more particularly Cardinal Kasper’s visit to Kazan (some 450 miles east of Moscow), the pope stated that the icon of the Virgin, which has been there since its restitution to the Orthodox Patriarch by John Paul II in 2004, “offers a powerful sign of the closeness which exists between us. It also offers an opportunity for encounter with Muslims, who show great respect for Mary, the Mother of Jesus.”

Upon his return from Russia, Cardinal Kasper granted two interviews, one to Radio Vatican, and the other to The Osservatore Romano. To the Vatican daily he declared: “Many things have changed for the best. There is no doubt about it. Orthodox are seeking cooperation concerning Christian values, the common roots of Europe, moral witness, and themes like the family, bioethics, human rights, which are an absolute priority.” “On this point, we have very similar positions.” “Patriarch Alexis II himself insisted upon this point, and said he was convinced of the necessity for a Catholic-Orthodox dialogue,” the cardinal added. “Alexis II expressed the hope that such a dialogue will foster the future development of contacts between the two Churches.”

On the airwaves of Radio Vatican, the president of the Pontifical Council for Christian Unity spoke of “the beginning of a new phase in our relations with the Russian Orthodox Church.” “I think they want to put aside the controversies of the past, -- which still remain, it is obvious, I am no utopian. But we must enter upon a new phase of cooperation between the two Churches,” he added.

Cardinal Kasper spoke of his “one-hour-and-a-quarter” long meeting with Patriarch Alexis II, who was “most kind, and quite at ease.” “As a whole, the atmosphere was positive and constructive,” the prelate added. “I had brought a letter from Benedict XVI, and he gave me a brief answer and a present for the pope.”

According to him, “there was no discussion about a possible meeting between the pope and the patriarch.” “I told him that if Providence allowed, we were hoping that this meeting would take place as soon as possible.” For Cardinal Kasper who said he was “optimistic”, “it was better not to hurry” things.

Concerning possible developments, Cardinal Kasper mentioned the continuation of the international theological dialogue after the Belgrade and Ravenna meetings. “There are serious problems between Constantinople and Moscow. We cannot intervene directly, because it is an issue between Orthodox, but we want to insist that they find a solution or a compromise, because it would be most difficult to continue the dialogue without the Russian Orthodox Church,” he explained. “The road will not be an easy one to travel, but it is not hopeless,” he added.

The Joint Commission for Theological Dialogue between the Catholic Church and the Orthodox was created at the end of 1979. But meetings were interrupted between the years 2000 and 2006, because of various disagreements between Catholics and Orthodox. The dialogue was resumed in 2006, but during the 10th Plenary Meeting of the Joint Commission in Ravenna, in October 2007, the delegation from the Orthodox Patriarchate of Moscow left the negotiating table because of a disagreement with the patriarchate of Constantinople. (Sources: AFP/Apic/Imedia/The Osservatore Romano/Radio Vatican)