.- This morning, the Holy Father received His Beatitude Christodoulos, Archbishop of Athens and of all Greece, who is making an historic official visit to the Vatican. Pope Benedict XVI recounted the strong relationship between the Roman and Greek worlds since the beginning of Christianity and called for a renewed effort to deepen relations between the Catholic and Orthodox Christians.
The archbishop’s trip, which will run from Thursday to Sunday, is the first official visit ever by a prelate of the Church of Greece to the Vatican.
In his address, the Holy Father recalled how "following the advent of Christianity, Greece and Rome intensified their relations" and how "this gave rise to very different forms of Christian communities and traditions in the regions of the world that today correspond to Eastern Europe and Western Europe. These intense relations helped to create a kind of osmosis in the formation of ecclesial institutions. And this osmosis - in safeguarding the disciplinary, liturgical, theological and spiritual peculiarities of the Roman and Greek traditions - made the Church's evangelizing activity and the inculturation of the Christian faith fruitful."
Pope Benedict highlighted how "our relations continue today, slowly but deeply and with a desire for authenticity." This has made it possible "to discover a new range of spiritual expressions, rich in significance and joint commitment." He also recalled John Paul II's "memorable visit" to Athens in 2001, "a defining point in the progressive intensification of our contacts and collaboration."
Catholics and Orthodox, said Benedict XVI, are called "to make a cultural and, above all, a spiritual contribution. They have the duty to defend the Christian roots of Europe, which have formed the continent down the centuries, and to enable the Christian tradition to continue to manifest itself and work with all its strength in favor of the defense of human dignity, the respect of minorities, avoiding that cultural uniformity which could lead to the loss of the immense riches of civilization. At the same time, it is necessary to work to safeguard human rights, which include the principle of individual freedom, and in particular of religious freedom. These rights must be promoted and defended in the European Union and in each member State.”
"At the same time," he added, "we must increase collaboration among Christians in all European countries in order to face the new risks that challenge the Christian faith: growing secularization, relativism and nihilism, which open the way to forms of behavior and laws that damage the inalienable dignity of man and threaten such fundamental institutions as marriage. It is vital to undertake joint pastoral activity, as a joint testimony to our contemporaries and an expression of our hope."
Prior to his audience with the Pope, the archbishop visited St. Peter's Basilica where he prayed at the tomb of John Paul II.
Archbishop Christodoulos also took part in a press conference upon his arrival in Rome yesterday. The archbishop told reporters that the visit for the discussion of dogmatic issues, but "the reinforcement of ties and cooperation in mutual love between the two Churches and the encouragement of our efforts for peace and the unity among us, because the world is asking from our Christian churches to cooperate for consolidating peace, justice and love among human societies."
"We are certain that our contacts at the Vatican will contribute to the cementing of our common wish for more love and cooperation in sectors that touch on contemporary social needs and problems," he added.
"Throughout humanity today there is talk for the need of cooperation between religions and not only between Christian churches,” said Archbishop Christodoulos. “And this, because we must, in every possible way, safeguard peace in the world which is threatened many times by certain fanatical people who hide behind and act under the guise of religion."
In remarks Wednesday before his departure, Archbishop Christodoulos referred to "the scandal of the division of Christians" and spoke of a continuing, 25-year "dialogue that has as its aim to break the ice between the Churches and collaboration on other levels not related to our doctrines," reported The Associated Press.
Relations between Orthodox and Catholic Churches have improved significantly in recent years.