Friday, 14 February 2003


Your Beatitude,
Eminent Members of the Holy Synod,

I am especially pleased, with the blessing of Pope John Paul II, to carry out this mission to the Orthodox Church of Greece. I am delighted to reciprocate last year's visit made by a Delegation sent to Rome by Your Beatitude and the Holy Synod.

With joy and gratitude I recall Pope John Paul II's visit to Athens which, it seems to me, opened a new page in our relations and in our sometimes difficult history. Your Beatitude, I believe that our visit today draws attention to and stresses the commitment to Europe and to the world that you made most solemnly with Pope Paul II on the Areopagus of Athens on 4 May 2001: to start again with each other keeping in mind our responsibility for the Christian roots of Europe. This led to the exchange of Delegations between the Orthodox Church of Greece and the Holy See, that rapidly succeeded one another. Into this framework fit other events of the last few months which concern the Church of Rome and the venerable Orthodox Churches. I would like to mention a few of them: John Paul II's trip to Bulgaria; the visit to Rome of His Beatitude Teoctist, the Orthodox Patriarch of Romania; the visit of a Delegation of the Patriarch of the Orthodox Church of Serbia, which has just ended; the Declaration on the Safeguarding of Creation, signed by Pope John Paul II and the Ecumenical Patriarch, His Holiness Bartholomew I, and the now traditional, long established contacts through the visits of the Delegations from Rome and from Constantinople for the patronal feasts of Sts Peter and Paul and St Andrew; the meeting in Rome at the end of January of a preparatory committee to set up a dialogue with the ancient Churches of the East.

All these initiatives can only raise hopes. The first of these hopes concerns the importance that such an exchange can have in the process of our reconciliation. Indeed, the agreement to meet - with the baggage of our differences and our tormented history - serves to reawaken consciences, to measure the burden of a past that saw us indifferent and estranged from one another, and to intuit with greater clarity our responsibility as Christians. We seek solutions to the evils of today and, consequently, we must heal our own evil, that of our division, in order to act with greater authority and credibility.

The exchange of Delegations between the Orthodox Church of Greece and the Holy See is born of a double concern: to grow to know each other better and more deeply, and to reflect on the need to proclaim the Gospel on our continent of Europe. This gives rise to other hopes. For example, the hope that the evangelical call and the ecclesial task, lived in a different but parallel way by you and by us, may find (or rather, recover) a suitable context in which to give life to common projects and collaboration that will exert a real influence on the needs of Europe today. The Catholic Church in Greece also participates in this commitment, and I am certain that she is ready to make her contribution, at the proper level and according to her means.

From our meetings that are starting off so well, yet another hope derives. Indeed, noting the embrace in which we can establish collaboration to reaffirm globally the Christian roots of Europe, in every sphere - ecclesial witness, lifestyle, the social and political context, resolution in facing the great challenges of today - will enable us, with God's help, to plan concrete common projects.

Your Beatitude, personally, and as President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, I cannot but evoke among the hopes which this new meeting of ours raises that patient, at times unrewarding, but necessary research that should lead to re-establishing the theological dialogue. Avoidance of the thorny problems and difficulties that exist between us is a tactic that cannot do justice to the truth. The Joint International Commission for Theological Dialogue between the Catholic Church and the entire Orthodox Church is waiting a revival, a new thrust and, above all, a serene debate. Moreover, my Council is implementing every possible initiative to encourage that theological research which, if it is constructive, will present to the world the full measure of our will to act as Christians and as called by the same Lord ever to build, purify and renew his Church on earth. My initiative of convoking next May a strictly academic symposium open to the participation of Orthodox theologians, on the topic of the Primacy of Peter in some of its biblical, patristic and historical aspects, is a way that seemed to me to be suitable for making a contribution in accord with the needs of the times. In another key, and to support the theological dialogue, I consider of primary importance "the Catholic Committee for Cultural Collaboration" of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity. A propos of this organism, born 40 years ago from an intuition that is still valid today, I intend to guide its action so that it may become a more flexible instrument for our liaison with Orthodox Faculties and Institutions of formation.

Your Beatitude, I would like to tell you of another hope, addressing myself to you. The attitude of the Catholic Church is certainly not one that denies history. Indeed, on more than one occasion, the Bishop of Rome has solemnly made amends for a past in which the children of the Church have not always behaved in accord with the dictates of the Gospel. On the other hand, the situation inherited from the past cannot be cancelled, it can only be purified by acts that are possible today. The hope is that the Orthodox Church of Greece may be deeply conscious of the genuine commitment of the Catholic Church for a peaceful understanding and an exchange that does not imply any other intention than that of re-establishing fraternal contacts and that, in return, only desires the same sentiments and the same commitment.

Finally, Your Beatitude, I recall a hope of which Pope John Paul II has already spoken on official occasions. In the past 40 years, we have lived unwillingly or willingly, in this land which is common to us, the continent of Europe, seeking to pursue, by means of alternate events, a way of drawing closer, a way that we have already travelled. Indeed, much has been done, despite the obstacles and delays. Now it is time to find ways to realize more practical applications of our commitment.

We will need to consult each other more often and to structure better our collaboration. In today's world, one cannot do without "committees" or "coordinating groups", "planning sessions", and "boards of directors" that meet often. In the political and social order, this activity is a regular part of the agenda. I wonder whether we should try to organize between us a nucleus for operation and for liaison that would help with the regularity of contacts and collaboration, especially for all those issues that we must confront at the European level.

Your Beatitude, see that I have come to Athens with many hopes. May the Lord grant that they may be pleasing to the Orthodox Church of Greece, and that He may show us the way and the time to achieve them. The programme which Your Beatitude has prepared for the Delegation of the Holy See, among other things, will enable us, to meet the various synodal Commissions. I am delighted to have this opportunity that will improve my familiarity with the Orthodox Church of Greece and with her life.

As I convey to you the fraternal greeting and faithful remembrance in prayer of Pope John Paul II, I present to you the Message he gave me for you.