.- Cardinal Walter Kasper, President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, said at a Vatican press briefing today that the current state of ecumenism is positive and offered a briefing on the Church’s relations with the Orthodox Churches, in addition to touching on Catholic-Protestant relations. The event was timed to coincide with the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, being held from January 18 to 25.
Cardinal Kasper affirmed that last year had been particularly fruitful in ecumenical terms, with the Pope's trip to Turkey, during which he signed a joint declaration with the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople; and the resumption of work of the Joint International Commission for Theological Dialogue between Catholics and Orthodox.
The Vatican ecumenism chief said that currently, one of the main themes of Catholic-Orthodox dialogue is the primacy of Peter, with all the theological, canonical, and even emotional problems it brings. "It is necessary to continue to pray and be patient to ensure progress in this area," said the cardinal. "For now, replies have been received from various Churches, and these are being analyzed and discussed."
On the subject of a possible meeting between Benedict XVI and Alexis II, patriarch of Moscow and all the Russias, Cardinal Kasper indicated that "for the moment nothing concrete has been decided." Relations with the Russian Orthodox Church are improving, close collaboration also exists with various dicasteries of the Roman Curia and various dioceses.
Kasper denied that the Holy See has abandoned relations with Protestant communities, describing such rumors as "groundless insinuations." He pointed out that various ecumenical delegations have been received by the Holy Father and have participated in the Wednesday general audiences.
As for forthcoming ecumenical events, the Cardinal mentioned September’s European ecumenical meeting, due to be held in Sibiu, Romania; the plenary session of the Joint International Commission for Theological Dialogue between Catholics and Orthodox, due to be held in Ravenna, Italy in 2007; and the second ecumenical congress of communities and movements, "Together for Europe," to be held in Stuttgart, Germany. Kasper also mentioned the possibility of Pope Benedict’s presence at the Ravenna meeting.
At the end of his briefing, Cardinal Kasper presented his new book entitled "A Handbook of Spiritual Ecumenism, guidelines for its implementation," which has just been published in Italian, English, and French. It contains practical and pastoral suggestions to strengthen spiritual ecumenism, "which is," the introduction reads, "the soul of the entire ecumenical movement." The book is addressed to everyone involved in ecumenical activities in various dioceses and parishes, although each and every member of the Church is called to make their own contribution, above all through prayer.
The meeting, held in the Holy See Press Office, was also attended by Bishop Brian Farrell L.C. and Msgr, Eleuterio F. Fortino, respectively secretary and under-secretary of the Pontifical Council for Christian Unity.