At noon today, Pope Benedict XVI met with a group of priests and seminarians visiting as representatives of the Orthodox Church of Greece. He told them that as the culture of Europe and the world become increasingly hostile to the Christian faith, Catholics and Orthodox must work together to spread the Gospel message.
The papal visitors came from the Theological College of "Apostoliki Diakonia", as well as the University of Athens.
Following a brief personal meeting, the Pope consigned a written message to the group, in which, he laments that "For we Christians of both East and West, at the beginning of the second millennium the forces of evil acted in the divisions that still persist between us today.”
Nonetheless, he wrote, “over the last 40 years many consoling and hopeful signs have caused us to see a new dawn, that of the day on which we will fully understand that being rooted and founded in Christ's charity means truly finding a way to overcome our divisions through personal and community conversion, listening to others and common prayer for our unity."
Recalling these hopeful signs in building positive relations between the Catholic and Greek Orthodox Churches, the Pope specifically called to mind the historic 2001 meeting between John Paul II and His Beatitude Christodoulos, archbishop of Athens and of all Greece.
The meeting, which took place at the Greek Areopagus was followed, Benedict wrote, by "initiatives aimed at closer mutual knowledge and at educating the younger generations."
Likewise, he expressed his certainty "that reciprocal charity will nourish our inventiveness and bring us to start down new paths.”
Both Churches, he said, “face the challenges that threaten the faith, cultivate the spiritual 'humus' that has nourished Europe for centuries.” To this, he challenged the churchmen to “reaffirm Christian values, promote peace and encounter even in the most difficult conditions, and strengthen those elements of faith and ecclesial life that can lead us to the goals of full communion in truth and charity.”
He especially stressed the importance of this challenge now, “as official theological dialogue between the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church as a whole begins again with renewed vigor."