Pope to Orthodox: Catholics Are Committed to Unity

VATICAN CITY—The Catholic Church is committed to doing everything possible to promote Christian unity, Pope John Paul II told the world's Orthodox Christians in two recent messages.

“The Catholic Church is prepared to do everything possible to remove the obstacles, to support the dialogue and to collaborate in every initiative aimed at making progress toward full communion in faith and in witness,” the Pope wrote to Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople.

The papal message, released Nov. 30 at the Vatican, was delivered to the patriarch's headquarters in Istanbul, Turkey, by a Vatican delegation led by Cardinal Edward Cassidy, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity. The delegation also participated in the patriarchate's celebration of the feast of St. Andrew.

The Byzantine tradition venerates St. Andrew as protocletos, the first disciple called by Jesus. As the Gospel narrative relates, Andrew and another disciple, traditionally identified as John, were disciples of John the Baptist until they were called by Jesus.

It was Andrew who went to his brother Simon and told him, “We have found the Messiah.”

In his message, the Pope said that as a new millennium begins, working for Christian unity has become a more urgent obligation requiring increased efforts to heal “the painful wounds” of division.

Christians cannot help but feel sadness when they think of what they ought to have done so that the world would see the true face of Christ and the true face of his Church, the Pope said.

While Pope John Paul praised “the numerous ecumenical initiatives undertaken with generosity and determination,” he also said the official Catholic-Orthodox dialogue must turn its attention back to theology and to finding agreement on doctrinal issues.

For several years the International Dialogue Commission focused on practical issues and tensions which arose in predominantly Orthodox countries of Eastern Europe when the Catholic Church was able to resume its full activity after the fall of communism.

The commission was scheduled to resume theological discussions in 1999, but the meeting was postponed until June 2000 because of the war in Yugoslavia.

John Paul also sent a message through Cardinal Cassidy last month to an international conference in Moscow that included Orthodox, Catholic, Protestant participants. The meeting was organized by the Christian Interconfessional Consultative Committee.

The Pope expressed the hope that the meeting would be decisive for Christians of different confessions to “inspire all involved to bear an ever more convincing and effective witness to the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ ... who is the center of the Christian faith and of the truth which is his Church.”

He said the various churches, “through the incorporation of their members by baptism into Christ, already share a real, though yet imperfect, communion.”

The Pope underlined that the “rediscovery of this brotherhood in the Lord will make it possible for Christians to deepen their relations, intensify their cooperation, and strive towards that perfect unity in the faith.”

(From combined wire services)