VATICAN CITY—In one of the more emotional and moving moments of the European synod, a Romanian Orthodox bishop apologized for his church's complicity in the repression of the Eastern Catholic Church in Romania.

Archbishop Iosif, the Romanian patriarchate's representative at the synod, asked forgiveness for “the evil endured” by Eastern Catholics whom the communist government tried to forcibly unite with the Orthodox in the mid-1940s.

The Christian churches of Europe must forgive each other for the hurts of the past and unite for the good of the continent, the archbishop told the synod Oct. 9.

The orthodox prelate was greeted with sustained applause — the longest ovation given anyone during the synod to date.

Turning to the future, Archbishop Iosif said, “the greatest sign of love for today's men and women, for Europe and for the world would be to rediscover the unity of the church.”

The archbishop, who ministers to Romanian Orthodox in Western and Southern Europe, said Christian unity would be a powerful incentive for people's conversion “toward a true and authentic unity which overcomes cultural, linguistic and all other differences.

“For this, we all need to mutually forgive each other, to climb up the cross of forgiveness so that with our own experience we catch sight of the kind of hope whose source is the Lord,” the archbishop said.

Irina Ilovaisky Giorgi Alberti, the Catholic editor of a France-based journal on Russian affairs, said Russian Christians “know that we need unity in the Eucharist to be truly Christian.

“The evangelization of Russia is a task whose difficulty far surpasses what one could imagine.” Churchgoing Christians in Russia account for only about 3% of the population.

“The Russian Orthodox Church did not expect the fall of communism and was not ready to respond to the questions and the needs facing it,” said Alberti.

The Orthodox Church “still is not ready and … is prey to the terrible temptation, especially in its upper echelons, of letting itself be used as an ideology to replace Marxism-Leninism, leading [the Orthodox Church] to isolation from and, perhaps, hostility [to] the Western Christian world,” she told the synod.

Alberti said some Orthodox refuse to pursue real efforts at Christian unity, claiming that Catholics and other Christians are proselytizing among the Orthodox, a violation of ecumenical principles.

“I can testify that this does not exist,” she said.

“This rejection of unity is a matter of politics and not religion, the refusal to open the doors to brothers and sisters of the Christian West, and first of all to the Holy Father.”

In an address to the general assembly, Cardinal Edward Cassidy, President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, called for greater attention to ecumenism.

He said many are convinced that separation weakens the common witness to the faith. “But the number of those who are still not convinced represents an obstacle to ultimate progress.”

Because of this, Cardinal Cassidy requested that “the dialogue of truth be accompanied everywhere by the dialogue of love.” Yet, the latter needs the former, “if it is to make a truly positive contribution to the quest for unity and not generate confusion.”