The meeting of John-Paul II and Bartholomew I

Source: FSSPX News


John-Paul II and Bartholomew I met to mark the fortieth anniversary of the encounter between Paul VI and Athenagoras in Jerusalem. Recalling this historic occasion, John-Paul II called it “courageous and joyous”, but also “providential for the life of the Church”. According to him, the two men at that time “transcended prejudices and historic misunderstandings”. This encounter in Jerusalem preceded the lifting of the mutual excommunications that dated from 1054.

On the occasion of the visit of Bartholomew I, John-Paul II recalled that “this undertaking of the Catholic Church since the Second Vatican Council”, in favor of unity, was “irrevocable”. “Now, we cannot renounce it”, he added, inviting Christians to “intensify their efforts, each in their own sphere, in order to hasten the day when Christ’s desire ‘that they may all be one’ will be fully realized”. The pope explained that in his efforts toward unity he always let himself be guided “by the sure compass of the teaching of Vatican II”.

The encounter between John-Paul II and Bartholomew I took place after the vigorous reactions of the Orthodox to the plan to create a Catholic patriarchate in the Ukraine. After receiving a letter in the fall of 2003 from Cardinal Walter Kasper informing them of this plan, the Russian Orthodox Patriarch Alexis II immediately forwarded this news to Bartholomew I. The reaction of the Patriarch of Constantinople was violent. In a letter sent to John-Paul II in November 2003 and published before-hand in its Greek version on the website of his church, Bartholomew I threatened to halt relations with the Catholic Church if this patriarchate were created. At the Vatican, the tone of this letter was hardly appreciated. Since then, tensions have been partially relaxed, notably thanks to the decision to create a mixed Catholic-Orthodox commission – a decision taken during the visit of Cardinal Kasper to Moscow from February 18 to 23, 2004.

For the time being, the official theological dialogue between Catholics and the Orthodox has been suspended since the last session of the Mixed International Commission for Dialogue, which met in Baltimore in 2000. However, to mark the “cordiality of their relations and the importance of symbolic gestures of friendship”, John-Paul II decided to respond favorably to the request of the Orthodox of the Patriarchate of Constantinople by giving them a church in Rome. This church, Saint Theodore on the Palatine, recently renovated by the diocese of Rome, was dedicated by Bartholomew I on July 1 in the presence of a delegation of the Holy See.

At the end of his stay, the Patriarch of Constantinople declared to Avvenire in its July 2 issue: “I invited the pope to Constantinople. He was very pleased by this invitation. I got the impression that he might come this November 30, on the occasion of the feast of St. Andrew”. This visit to Turkey would take place two weeks from the opening of the European debate on the question of the entrance of Turkey into the European Union. The Patriarch expressed his opinion on this point, underscoring the “hoped-for” nature of this event toward which he is “completely favorable”. Finally, while remaining reserved, he hoped for the continuation of the theological dialogue “by the end of this year, or at the beginning of next year”.

Will the Greek-Catholic Ukrainians be the victims of this reopening of dialogue with the Orthodox? In an audience on June 3 2004 with the Cardinal and Major Archbishop of the Ukrainians, Lubomyr Husar, the Sovereign Pontiff underscored that the creation of a patriarchate could not happen without considering the position of the other Christian churches.

Passing through Rome on the occasion of Bartholomew I’s visit, Cardinal Marc Ouellet, Archbishop of Quebec and Primate of Canada, former secretary of the Pontifical Council for Christian Unity, said to the news agency APIC: “I think we need to rebuild friendship and brotherhood on broader foundations than theological dialogue”, specifying that it is necessary to rediscover “the things we have in common that are more fundamental than the dogmatic truths which separate us”. “If we could find a way to reopen the dialogue and exchanges starting from what we have in common in the life of faith, that would help us to construct this brotherhood”, proclaimed this cardinal whose motto is Ut unum sint.

In this light, he encouraged concrete starting-points such as the summit of May 8 2004 in Stuttgart, Germany, “an extraordinary event stressing communion between people of different confessions”. This first meeting took place under the leadership of the Sant’Egidio community and the Focolare movement. It’s theme, “Together for Europe” brought together various European Christian communities and movements.