Pope Benedict XVI greeted members of the Greek Episcopal Conference today at the Vatican. The Holy Father told the bishops, who were visiting as part of their “ad Limina” visit, to increase their prayers that one day the Greek Orthodox Church, which makes up the majority of the Greek population will one day be reunited with the Catholic Church.
The Pope told his brother bishops that there is a need, "to intensify prayer so as to accelerate the coming of that blessed day when it will be granted us to break the Bread together, and drink together from the same Chalice." On this subject, he expressed his hope for the opening of "ever greater prospects of constructive dialogue between the Greek Orthodox Church and the Catholic Church," and for an increase in "shared spiritual, cultural and practical initiatives.”
“Moreover,” the Holy Father continued, “it is my pleasure to send my best wishes to His Beatitude Christodoulos, archbishop of Athens and of all Greece," and through him "to the Holy Synod of the Greek Orthodox Church and to all the faithful."
The Pope also encouraged and affirmed the Greek Catholic bishops in their desire to finally receive a “recognized juridical status,” in Greece. The Greek government currently only recognizes the Greek Orthodox Church, and there remain tensions between many Greek Orthodox and the minority of Greek Catholics who are present in their communities.
“Dialogue on this question is underway," the Holy Father offered, "a dialogue in which the Apostolic See is not the main player."
"Apart from dialogue, this question also requires perseverance,” the Pope said. “It is unnecessary to add that the Catholic Church seeks no privileges, but only asks for her identity and mission to be recognized, in such a way as to be able effectively to make her contribution to the overall wellbeing of the noble Greek people, of which you are an integral part. With patience and respect for legitimate procedures it will be possible, with everyone's commitment, to achieve the desired agreement."
As it is, the Pope noted, there is an “abundant influx” of Catholic immigrants to Greece who face the Greek bishops and clergy with, “"new requirements of ministerial service that are not easy to meet."
Bearing in mind the diversity of languages and rites of the faithful, said Pope Benedict, "I believe the development of constructive dialogue with other episcopates is more than ever appropriate." From this, he added, will emerge "prudent decisions" on how to find the ministers and resources necessary. "Obviously, respect for specific identities must be borne in mind, but without sacrificing ... the life and plans of the Churches that Christ entrusted to you."
The Holy Father called upon the prelates "to continue your efforts to encourage vocational pastoral care;" on the one hand "carefully cultivating the seeds of vocation," and on the other, "inviting Christian communities to pray more intensely" for a greater number of priestly and religious vocations, He also emphasized "the spiritual needs of so many immigrants who have found a dignified and cordial welcome in your country. This," he added, "is the style typical of your people."
The Holy Father concluded his talk by recalling the distress felt by many communities “at the internal displacement of their faithful. Many of them are scattered over the territory and this leads to difficulties in their relationships with their respective pastors. It is also phenomena such as this that reveal the importance of affective and effective unity among you bishops through greater internal coordination.”