VATICAN CITY (EWTN News/CNA) — Pope Benedict XVI is encouraging Catholic and Orthodox Christians to work together in re-evangelizing traditionally Christian countries.
“For a renewed proclamation of the Gospel in the modern world we need evangelizers animated by the same apostolic zeal of (St.) Paul,” the Pope said in a letter to mark the close of the 12th Inter-Christian Symposium.
Over the past four days, the symposium has brought together both Catholic and Orthodox scholars in the Greek city of Thessaloniki to discuss the topic of “The Witness of the Church in the Modern World.”
The Pope described the theme as “very timely and central” to his “concerns and prayers” for a “New Evangelization” of traditionally Christian countries where the practice of the Christian faith has declined in recent times.
Pope Benedict noted that although the Church has never ceased to “proclaim the salvific mystery of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ,” the regions in need of re-evangelization are “currently experiencing the effects of a secularization capable of impoverishing the most profound aspects of man.”
People living in these regions seem to give a “contradictory” response to the Christian Gospel, the Pope said.
On the one hand, “there is widespread disinterest, even a lack of sensibility” towards transcendent things, and on the other hand, there seems to be “a profound nostalgia for God” that “persists in the hearts of many, expressing itself in various ways.”
Christianity was brought to the city of Thessaloniki by St. Paul in the first century. The Pope asked for his intercession that the talks between the Orthodox and Catholic Churches encourage “a climate of fraternal charity” and observed that the “mutual understanding of our traditions and true friendship are already in themselves a contribution to the cause of Christian unity.”
Instead of divisions, these challenges should call forth Christian evangelizers who are “mature in faith and capable of finding a meeting point beyond the real tensions,” he said, quoting Pope Paul VI.
The Inter-Christian Symposium is co-organized by the Franciscan Institute of Spirituality at Rome’s Pontifical Antonianum University and the Orthodox faculty of theology at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki. The initiative hopes to help heal the rift between the Catholic and Orthodox Churches which has persisted since the 11th century.
Pope Benedict also pointed out that the current cultural, social and economic environment “presents the same challenges to both Catholics and Orthodox.”