.- Following the celebration of the Divine Liturgy for the Feast of St. Andrew, Apostle and Patron of the Church of Constantinople, Pope Benedict XVI and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I signed a common declaration on the relationship between the Catholic and Orthodox Churches. The two gave thanks to God, who by His work has given them the gift of this “fraternal encounter.”
“We give thanks to the Author of all that is good, who allows us once again, in prayer and in dialogue, to express the joy we feel as brothers and to renew our commitment to move towards full communion,” the two prelates said. “This commitment comes from the Lord’s will and from our responsibility as Pastors in the Church of Christ. May our meeting be a sign and an encouragement to us to share the same sentiments and the same attitudes of fraternity, cooperation and communion in charity and truth.”
The Pope and Patriarch then began their declaration by first recognizing, as they have several times in the last two days, the important steps already taken by their predecessors in the path of returning to full communion.
The two specifically mentioned the monumental act by which Pope Paul VI and Patriarch Athenagoras I retracted the medieval declarations of excommunication made against each other’s Churches. Benedict and Bartholomew lamented that, “we have not yet drawn from this act all the positive consequences which can flow from it in our progress towards full unity,” and exhorted the faithful of their two Churches, “to take an active part,” in the process of achieving full unity, “through prayer and through significant gestures.”
The document notes the importance of the resumption of theological dialogue by the mixed Commission, which occurred recently in Belgrade, Serbia. “We expressed our profound joy at the resumption of the theological dialogue,” the declaration said, noting that the Commission had been interrupted for several years.
“In treating the topic ‘Conciliarity and Authority in the Church’ at local, regional and universal levels, the Commission undertook a phase of study on the ecclesiological and canonical consequences of the sacramental nature of the Church,” the two leaders said. “This will permit us to address some of the principal questions that are still unresolved. We are committed to offer unceasing support, as in the past, to the work entrusted to this Commission and we accompany its members with our prayers.”
The two prelates reaffirmed their joint mission to proclaim the gospel and combat, “the increase of secularization, relativism, even nihilism, especially in the Western world.”
“All this,” they said, “calls for a renewed and powerful proclamation of the Gospel, adapted to the cultures of our time.”
Benedict and Bartholomew praised the formation of the European Union and urged the furthering of basic human rights to all people, specifically mentioning religious freedom, which they called, “a witness and guarantor of respect for all other freedoms.”
The two noted that although Europe must remain open to other religions and their cultural contributions, “In Europe, while remaining open to other religions and to their cultural contributions, we must unite our efforts to preserve Christian roots, traditions, and values, to ensure respect for history, and thus to contribute to the European culture of the future and to the quality of human relations at every level.”
Mentioning other rights of mankind, the Pope and Patriarch called for the, “respect for the rights of every human being, created in the image and likeness of God,” and urged further work, “to foster economic, social, and cultural development.”
“Our theological and ethical traditions can offer a solid basis for a united approach in preaching and action,” the statement said.
“Above all, we wish to affirm that killing innocent people in God’s name is an offence against him and against human dignity. We must all commit ourselves to the renewed service of humanity and the defense of human life, every human life.”
Making mention of the Holy Land, the two declared their fervent hope, “that peace will be re-established in that region, that respectful coexistence will be strengthened between the different peoples that live there, between the Churches and between the different religions found there.” The document especially urges Christians to work for unity with one another and to enter into an, “authentic and honest interreligious dialogue, with a view to combating every form of violence and discrimination.”
The declaration even turned to environmental issues, as the two offered their encouragement and, “support all efforts made to protect God’s creation, and to bequeath to future generations a world in which they will be able to live.”
The two prelates concluded by greeting the faithful of their two Churches and offering their prayers and blessings.