Bari, Italy, May 29 - June 7, 1986



The Joint International Commission for theo￾logical dialogue between the Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church held its fourth plenary session in Bari from May 29th, to June 7th, 1986. Under the co-presidency of His Eminence Cardinal Willebrands, President of the Secretariat for Promoting Christian Unity and His Eminence Stylianos, Greek Orthodox Archbishop of Australia, the members of the Commission met at the Oasi Santa Maria, Cassano Murge as guests of Archbishop Mariano Magrassi and the clergy and people of the Archdiocese of Bari.

Attending this plenary session were twenty four Roman Catholic and nineteen Orthodox prelates and experts in various areas of theological studies. Among the Catholics were officials of the Roman Curia, diocesan bishops and clerical and lay scholars. Similar persons represented the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople, the Orthodox Patriarchates of Alexandria, Antioch, Serbia, Romania, Bulgaria, the Churches of Cyprus, Poland, Czechoslovakia and Finland.

The session continued work already begun during the third session at Crete on the subject of “Faith, Sacraments and the Unity of the Church”. A common document on this theme was carefully reviewed and it was agreed that it will now be sent to the members of the commission who were not present at Bari. In addition, the commission had an extended discussion on “The Sacrament of order in the sacramental structure of the Church”. This discussion will be continued at the next meeting of the commission with the ultimate objective of producing a statement which will be of help towards a deeper understanding of a question which is connected with the subject of the nature and exercise of authority in the Church. This subject touches one of the sources of doctrinal and canonical differences between the two Churches. The members of the Commission also gave extensive consideration to a number of questions which had seriously affected the work at Bari. The representatives of the Patriarchates of Moscow and Georgia were not present for reasons of a technical nature. The Church of Greece, and that of Jerusalem were not represented; certain other Orthodox members left in the course of the session. The reasons for this were communicated to the Commission and explained by other Orthodox members. Certain actions by the Vatican seemed to give the impression to Orthodox that the Roman Catholic Church had recognized the autocephaly of a group of dioceses of the Patriarchate of Serbia which have declared their autocephaly by an unilateral act of their own; this has been recognized by no Orthodox Church. The Church of Greece which is particularly affected for both ecclesiastical and national reasons, reacted by not sending its representatives to Bari. The representatives of the other Orthodox Churches, present in Bari, in expressing their solidarity with the Church of Greece requested that the Catholic authorities present make every effort to clarify what had occured and do whatever might be necessary to avoid such problems in the future. They also expressed their concern about what is perceived as proselytism by Catholics among Orthodox and by the question of the existence and activity of Catholic Churches of Eastern Rite in full communion with the Church of Rome.

The Catholic co-president of the Commission made it very clear that there was absolutely no question of interfering in any internal matter of the Orthodox Church, such as schisms or conflicts between Orthodox Churches, and renewed the assurances that the Holy See did not recognize the autocephaly of the Orthodox Church in question. The Catholic members share the pain of the fact of the schism in any part of the Church, for one of the fruits of the ecumenical movement is that the sufferings of one part of the Church become the sufferings of all.

It was proposed that both the question of proselytism and that of the Catholics of Eastern Rite, under their theological and practical aspects become an object of eventual study by the commission since they cause serious divergences between the two Churches. It was furthermore recommended that structures be set up to handle practical problems of real or apparent proselytism. It was felt that a theological commission may not be the proper place in which to treat these problems and that a body more immediately connected with the authorities of both Churches would be in a better position to handle them if they should arise in the future.

The deliberations of the session were accom￾panied by a series of celebrations which demonstrated the vitality of the Christian life of the local Church of Bari and served as a strong spiritual support to the Commission. On May 30th they assisted at a service of prayer led by the members of the parish church of Cassano Murge, and were given a festive reception by the civil officials and population. Saturday evening, in the Cathedral Basilica of Bari, the Catholic members of the commission concelebrated Mass with Archbishop Magrassi during which the three sacraments of Christian initiation were conferred upon six young catechumens. The Orthodox members were present in places of honor in the sanctuary. The next morning, the Orthodox members under the leadership of Archbishop Stylianos concelebrated the Orthodox Eucharistic Liturgy in the Basilica of St Nicholas in the presence of the Catholic members, and all articipants later venerated the relics of the Saint who is so popular in the Eastern and Western Churches. The Commission's members were guests at a reception and lunch offered by the civil authorities of the city, province and region at which a representative of the Italian Government, the honorable Oscar Luigi Scalfaro, Minister of the Interior, participated. They also participated in a concert of sacred music and reception offered by the Dominican Fathers, custodians of the Basilica of St Nicholas. On the eve of their departure, they were present at a ceremony of thanksgiving offered by the parishioners of Cassano in the church of Santa Maria degli Angeli.

It is expected that another plenary session of the Commission will be held within a year. During that session, the work accomplished at Bari will be accepted and, it is hoped, will be ready for publication.

All the participants have expressed their heartfelt thanks to Archbishop Magrassi, to the priests, sisters and lay people, and to the civil authorities, who by their prayers or extraordinary services in many ways contributed in a concrete way to the work of this plenary session.










[Information Service 62 (1986/IV) 200-201]