Thursday, November 30, 2006

Catholic World News : Pope, Orthodox Patriarch join for Divine Liturgy

Nov. 30, 2006 ( - Pope Benedict XVI (bio - news) joined Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I in celebrating the Divine Liturgy on November 30, the promise that had brought him on his 4-day visit to Turkey.

Although the papal voyage has taken on a high public profile because of controversy over Islam and Christianity, and the Turkish government's bid for membership in the European Union, the original purpose of the trip was to join the Orthodox Patriarch in celebrating the feast of St. Andrew, the patron of the Constantinople see. The Holy Father had accepted an invitation from the Patriarch, issued shortly after his election, to travel to Turkey, in response to the Patriarch's own visits to Rome.

Pope Benedict was greeted at the patriarchal church of St. George, in the ancient Phanar section of Istanbul, with the ringing of the church's bells. He then joined the Patriarch in the Byzantine liturgy, with each prelate delivering a homily. After the ceremony, the Pope and the Patriarch joined in signing a joint declaration, affirming their commitment to the pursuit of full Christian unity. [See today's separate CWN headline story for a fuller account of the joint statement.]

In his homily during the Thursday service, Pope Benedict carefully expressed his deference toward the Constantinople patriarchate. He began by noting that St. Andrew, whose was being celebrated, was the apostle who brought his brother Simon to Jesus. And is referred to Rome and Constantinople as "sister churches." Still, later in his homily the Pope defended the primacy of Rome, observing that St. Peter traveled from Jerusalem to Antioch and then to Rome, "so that in that city he might exercise a universal responsibility."

The Pontiff acknowledged that the subject of papal primacy "has unfortunately given rise to our difference of opinion, which we hope to overcome." He recalled that Pope John Paul II (bio - news) had asked other Christian churches to suggest how the Petrine ministry should be exercised today, in a way that would ease the concerns of the Eastern churches without neglecting the papal responsibility for unity within the universal Church. Pope Benedict renewed that invitation.

"I can assure you that the Catholic Church is willing to do everything possible to overcome obstacles" to full Christian unity, the Pope said. He added: "The divisions which exist among Christians are a scandal to the world and an obstacle to the proclamation of the Gospel."

Turning to the prospects for immediate cooperation, the Pontiff observed that Rome and Constantinople can work together today to revive the Christian cultural roots of European society. "The process of secularization has weakened the hold of that tradition," he said; "indeed it is being called into question and even rejected." All Christians, the Pope said, share a responsibility "to renew Europe's awareness of its Christian roots, traditions, and values, giving them new vitality."

As he reached the conclusion of his homily, Pope Benedict offered a revealing meditation on the Gospel reference to the grain of wheat that dies in the ground in order to bear fruit in the long term. The Church in both Rome and Constantinople have "experienced the lesson of the grain of wheat," the Pope observed. He referred directly to the martyrs who died for the faith. But his reference might also have applied to the small Christian community in Istanbul, struggling to survive in a hostile community; or it could have applied to the Church of Rome, battling to preserve Christian culture in a steadily more secularized Europe.

Patriarch Bartholomew, in his own homily, did not directly address the practical questions of ecumenism, although he referred to the Pontiff as "our brother and bishop of the elder Rome." Instead the Orthodox prelate centered his remarks on the Divine Liturgy, and the lessons to be learned from the ceremony. "The Liturgy," he said, "teaches us to broaden our horizon and vision, to speak the language of love and communion, but also to learn that we must be with one another in spite of our differences and even divisions."

The Divine Liturgy, the Patriarch observed, points the Christian community in three directions: "toward the kingdom of heaven where the angels celebrate; toward the celebration of the liturgy through the centuries; and toward the heavenly kingdom to come." In this "overwhelming continuity with heaven as well as with history," he said, the Church finds the principle on which Christian unity must be based.

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