.- Pope John Paul II and the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, Bartholomew I delivered a shared homily expressing their respective commitments to Christian unity during Mass yesterday in St. Peter’s Square on the occasion of the Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul, in which the Pope also bestowed the Pallium on 44 archbishops from around the world.
The Pope and the Patriarch pronounced their homilies following the reading of the Gospel in both Latin and Greek. The Nicene-Constantinople Creed was then recited in Greek according to the liturgical use of the Byzantine Churches.
Pope John Paul intorduced the homily of Bartholomew, who spoke of the progress that had been made since the embrace 40 years ago between Paul VI and Patriarch Athengoras.
However, the Patriarch added that “it has not been possible to eliminate in these 40 years the opposition that has accumulated during over 900 years. ... We hope that what has not been possible up to now will be obtained in the future, a near future.”
“Our presence here today shows our sincere desire to remove all ecclesial obstacles which are not dogmatic or essential, so that our interest is concentrated on the study of the essential differences and the dogmatic truths that up to today have divided our Churches, as well as on the manner of living the Christian truth of the united Church,” said Bartholomew.
The ecumenical patriarch said that the unity of the Churches in not like that of a business or of States, “but is a spiritual search that aims at living together our spiritual communion with the person of Our Lord Jesus Christ.”
“In this delicate spiritual effort,” he continued, “difficulties emerge due to the fact that the greater part of us men most often present our own positions, opinions and evaluations as if they were expressions of the mind, of the love and, in general, of the spirit of Christ.”
“Since such personal opinions and evaluations ... do not coincide, either among themselves or with how Christ lived, discord emerges,” said Bartholomew, “What we must seek, he said, is not only external union, but union of spirit, in the spirit of Christ.”
In his homily, the Holy Father noted that the presence of Patriarch Bartholomew at this evening's liturgy marked the 40th anniversary of "the fraternal embrace" in 1964 between Pope Paul VI and then Patriarch Athenagoras which he called "not just a memory, but a challenge for us, indicating the path of reciprocal discovery and reconciliation."
Quoting his 1995 Encyclical “Ut Unum Sint,” the Holy Father said: “To believe in Christ means to desire unity; to desire unity means to desire the Church; to desire the Church means to desire the communion of grace which corresponds to the Father's plan from all eternity. Such is the meaning of Christ's prayer: ‘Ut unum sint’ (‘that they may be one’).”
He added that the commitment to communion “is not a question of a vague relationship of good neighbors but rather the indissoluble bond of theological faith for which we are destined to communion, not to separation.”
“Whatever, over time, has broken our bond of unity in Christ we find painful today,” said the Pope, “Thus, today's encounter is not just a gesture of courtesy but is an answer to the Lord's command.”
He stated that “The Church of Rome has moved with firm will and with great sincerity on the path of full reconciliation, through initiatives that have shown themselves to be, everytime, possible and useful.. ... We know that unity is above all a gift from God, ...but bringing about its realization depends also on us.”
The Holy Father told Patriarch Bartholomew that he has “always been guided on the path to unity by the sure compass of the teaching of Vatican Council II. ... I repeat today that the commitment undertaken by the Catholic Church with Vatican Council II is irrevocable. We cannot renounce this!”
In conclusion, the Holy Father addressed the archbishops about to receive the pallium, telling them that this “is a sign of the communion that unites you in a special way to the apostolic witness of Peter and Paul. It links you to the Bishop of Rome, Successor of Peter, called to undertake a special ecclesial service with regard to the entire episcopal college.”