Ecumenical Patriarch Welcomes Pope's Call
- Ecumenical Patriarch Welcomes Pope's Call
By JAMES C. HELICKE
Associated Press Writer
3:42 AM PDT, June 17, 2005
ANKARA, Turkey � The spiritual leader of the world's 200 million Orthodox
Christians welcomed Pope Benedict XVI's pledge to end a schism between the
Catholic and Orthodox churches, calling it a mutual "obligation to God.
Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I's statement to The Associated Press was
his first response to the new pope's call to heal the 1,000- year rift and
reflected the difficult task of trying to reconcile
differences between the two churches. He warned that the path to unity would
be "slow and painful."
"Such rapprochement -- what Pope Benedict XVI called 'spiritual ecumenism'_
is our obligation to God and our commitment to the world," Bartholomew said
in a written response given Thursday to
questions from The AP. "At the same time, we must be realistic about the
cost and the time involved in this process."
Bartholomew said that efforts toward reconciliation wouldn't be easy and
would require the churches to examine theological differences and "the
errors of the past."
"The genuine work of unity is slow and painful, and it must be treated with
sensitivity to theological truths, honesty before historical events, and
realism in the face of cultural distinctions.
This is why reconciliation can only blossom when there is sincerity and
continuity in this delicate process of healing," Bartholomew wrote.
Bartholomew was responding to Benedict's May 29 pledge in the Adriatic port
of Bari, home to the relics of St. Nicholas of Myra, a fourth-century saint
popular among both Roman Catholics and Orthodox Christians, that Christian
unity would be a "fundamental commitment" of his new papacy.
On Thursday, Benedict affirmed that would be his "primary task" as pope,
saying "the commitment of the Catholic Church to the search for Christian
unity is irreversible."
Orthodox churches are largely autonomous, but Bartholomew is considered
"first among equals" of the world's Orthodox patriarchs and directly
controls several churches, including the Greek Orthodox
Archdiocese of America.
Orthodox and Catholic churches have been split since 1054 in large part
because of disagreements over the power of the pope.
Also complicating efforts toward reconciliation are painful historical
memories, such as the 1204 sacking of Constantinople -- the historical
center of Orthodox Christianity that is today's
Istanbul -- by Catholic Crusaders. The city was captured by Muslim Turks in
In November, the Vatican returned the relics of two important Orthodox
saints to Istanbul in a gesture aimed at healing those wounds.
But fundamental differences remain, such as the status of Eastern Rite
churches, which follow many Orthodox traditions but remain loyal to the
Vatican. Orthodox leaders have claimed the churches are part of expansionist
attempts by Roman Catholics.
Reconciliation with the Orthodox was also a fundamental goal of the late
Pope John Paul II, who was never able to fulfill his dream of traveling to
"The pope's call is indeed a reflection and continuation of the
reconciliatory works of his illustrious predecessors," Bartholomew said.
But he added reconciliation would require the churches to carefully examine
differences in doctrine and mistakes of the past.
"Reconciliation is a process of repentance," Bartholomew said Thursday. "If
we are to move forward in a journey of reconciliation, then we must
truthfully acknowledge the errors of the past. If we
cannot yet stand united in the theological doctrines that divide us, we can
at least kneel in earnest repentance over the disgraceful prejudices that
were the cause of suffering in the past."