In a meeting with a delegation sent by His Holiness Bartholomew I, ecumenical patriarch of Constantinople, who are in Rome for the feast of Sts. Peter and Paul, Pope Benedict expressed his commitment to the continuing dialogue between the Catholic and Orthodox Churches, begun in earnest by his prediscessor, Pope John Paul II in 1980.
The group, who met with the Pope this morning, is part of an ecumenical delegation which annually visits Rome for the June 29th feast. Likewise, a delegation from Rome traditionally travels to Istanbul for the November 30th feast of St. Andrew, patron of the ecumenical patriarchate.
The Holy Father stressed the "dialogue of charity" between Catholics and Orthodox "begun on the Mount of Olives by Pope Paul VI and Patriarch Athenagoras, an experience which was not in vain. Many significant gestures have been made since then: I am thinking of the abrogation of the reciprocal condemnations of 1054, of the speeches, documents and encounters promoted by the Sees of Rome and Constantinople. These have marked the path of recent decades."
He recalled his predicessor John Paul's "fraternal embrace" in St. Peter's Basilica, months before his death, with Bartholomew I and noted that "our path is long, and not easy" but it has "seen hope grow for a solid 'dialogue of truth' and a process of theological and historical clarification, which has given appreciable fruits."
"There is need," Benedict continued, "to join forces, to spare no energy so that the official theological dialogue, which began in 1980 between the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Churches all together, will resume with vigor."
He also spoke of his "recognition to Patriarch Bartholomew who is working very hard to reactivate the work of the Mixed International Catholic-Orthodox Commission. I assure him that it is my firm will to support and encourage this action. Theological research, which must face complex questions and seek solutions that are not reductive, is a serious commitment that we cannot avoid."
"If it is true that the Lord calls with force His disciples to build unity in charity and truth;" he stressed, "if it is true that the ecumenical appeal is a pressing invitation to rebuild, in reconciliation and peace, the unity, seriously damaged, of all Christians; if we cannot ignore that division makes the holy cause of proclaiming the Gospel to every person less efficient, how can we avoid the duty of examining with clarity and good will our differences? ... The unity we seek is neither absorption nor fusion but respect for the multiform fullness of the Church which, conformed to the will of her founder Jesus Christ, must always be one, holy, catholic and apostolic."
In closing, Pope Benedict asked the delegation to convey his "intention to pursue with firm determination the search for full unity among all Christians" to Patriarch Bartholomew.