As the Eastern Orthodox Church today celebrates the Feast of its patron St. Andrew, Pope Benedict took the opportunity to encourage further reconciliation between the separated faithful and show his appreciation for recent strides for communion.
Cardinal Walter Kasper, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, is currently heading a Holy See delegation which is in Istanbul, Turkey for the celebration.
Traditionally, just as a Vatican delegation travels yearly to Istanbul for the November 30th feast, the ecumenical patriarchate annually sends a delegation to Rome on June 29th, for the feast of Sts. Peter and Paul.
The Feast of St. Andrew is commemorated by both the eastern and western churches.
Earlier today, the Vatican delegation attended a solemn liturgy presided by His Holiness Bartholomew I in the Church of St. George in Fanar. Following the ceremony, Cardinal Kasper delivered a special message to the ecumenical patriarch from Benedict XVI.
In the message, the Pope recalled that "This year we commemorate the fortieth anniversary of December 8, 1965, that day on which Pope Paul VI and Patriarch Athenagoras, dissatisfied with what had occurred in 1054, decided together at Rome and Constantinople 'to cancel from the Church's memory the sentence of ex-communication which had been pronounced.'“
“That momentous event”, he said, “became the basis of a renewed relationship marked by reciprocal respect and reconciliation."
Benedict said that the occasion marked the beginning “of a new season of ecclesial life, a season of dialogue, which has seen significant progress yet remains challenged to continue the rigorous pursuit of its much cherished goals.”
The Holy Father expressed his “great satisfaction…that after a pause of some years our theological dialogue begins once again.”
“I pray, he said, that “it will indeed be fruitful and am confident that no effort will be spared to make it so. He who puts his hand to the plough must not turn back. Rather, he must persevere and bring his work to completion, sowing the seed and awaiting the abundant harvest that God in His goodness will provide."
Pope Benedict concluded his message to Patriarch Bartholomew, along with the Holy Synod and all the Orthodox Churches, by saying that "the Catholic Church remains irrevocably committed to promoting all suitable and helpful initiatives to strengthen charity, solidarity and theological dialogue between us."
According to a Vatican communiqué, members of the Holy See delegation will meet with members of the synodal commission for relations with the Catholic Church.
Likewise, Cardinal Kasper is scheduled to visit with leaders of the Christian communities in Turkey, particularly the Armenian patriarch and the Syro-Orthodox patriarch, as well as representatives of the local Catholic community and the chief rabbi of Istanbul.
The Vatican said that the talks "are particularly important because they focus above all on preparations for the visit by Benedict XVI to the Church of St. George in Fanar."
Other discussions during the visit are slated to include: "the progress of Catholic - Orthodox relations, questions concerning the life and pastoral care of Orthodox faithful in Italy and, above all, following a break of five years, the resumption of official theological dialogue, as decided last September during a pan-Orthodox meeting held at the Fanar and presided by the Patriarch Bartholomew I."