What I want to offer today is a look at Catholic-Orthodox relations as both sides struggle for full Christian unity. How did that disunity come about?  On what points is there agreement? Disagreement?

Oceans of ink have been used over the centuries to write about Catholic-Orthodox relations since the East-West (Constantinople-Rome) schism of 1054, so it is not my intention to give a full, historical review here. I do hope, however, to help you understand some of the issues involved in this split.

In two parts, I will offer Pope Francis’ words during his trip to Istanbul in late November 2014, Pope Benedict’s words during his 2006 visit to Istanbul, some background research I did for Benedict’s visit and excerpts from a lengthy interview I had in 2006 in Istanbul (Phanar) with Archbishop Demetrios, primate of the Greek Orthodox Church in America, spiritual leader of some 1.5 million Greek Orthodox Christians, and exarch of the Ecumenical Patriarchate to the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.

Excerpts from my interview with Archbishop Demetrios will appear here tomorrow (ecumenism in doses!).


Pope Francis travelled to Istanbul from November 28 to 30, 2014 principally to participate in celebrations marking the feast of St. Andrew, patron of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople. The Holy See and the Patriarchate exchange regular annual visits and send delegations for the feast days of their respective patrons. The Vatican celebrates the June 29 feast of Sts.Peter and Paul, Apostles and the Orthodox patriarchate marks the November 30 feast of St. Andrew. Roman Catholics believe St. Peter was given the mandate by Christ to lead the church and was thus the first Pope. The Orthodox believe that mandate was given to Peter’s brother, Andrew.

St. George Church, where Patriarch Bartholomew I celebrated a Divine Liturgy in the presence of Pope Francis to mark the patronal feast day, is located in the Fanar neighborhood (also spelled Phanar, the more traditional spelling) of Istanbul. The name is the Turkish transliteration of the original Greek word meaning a lighting lantern, a streetlight, a lightpost with a lantern. The name is also linked to the classical phanárion and the modern fanári meaning “lantern.”

Rooms in Phanar residence of Ecumenical Patriarch

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The Phanar neighborhood became home to many Greeks as well as to the Patriarchate of Constantinople after the fall of Constantinople in 1453, 400 years after the Great Schism. Today a complex known as Phanar houses the offices of the patriarchate and the residence of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I. Just as the term Vatican – Vatican City State – is used the describe the heart of the Catholic Church, the Holy See, Phanar is often shorthand for the Ecumenical Pariarchate.

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Pope Francis, speaking Sunday, November 30 at the conclusion of the Divine Liturgy in the Orthodox Church of St. George in Istanbul, said, “the one thing that the Catholic Church desires and that I seek as Bishop of Rome…is communion with the Orthodox Churches.”

“By happy coincidence,” he said, “my visit falls a few days after the fiftieth anniversary of the promulgation of Unitatis Redintegratio, the Second Vatican Council’s Decree on Christian Unity.  This is a fundamental document which opened new avenues for encounter between Catholics and their brothers and sisters of other Churches and ecclesial communities.

“In particular,” explained the Holy Father, “in that Decree the Catholic Church acknowledges that the Orthodox Churches “possess true sacraments, above all – by apostolic succession – the priesthood and the Eucharist, whereby they are still joined to us in closest intimacy” (15).  The Decree goes on to state that in order to guard faithfully the fullness of the Christian tradition and to bring to fulfilment the reconciliation of Eastern and Western Christians, it is of the greatest importance  to preserve and support the rich patrimony of the Eastern Churches.  This regards not only their liturgical and spiritual traditions, but also their canonical disciplines, sanctioned as they are by the Fathers and by Councils, which regulate the lives of these Churches (cf. 15-16).

Pope Francis said at that time he believes “that it is important to reaffirm respect for this principle as an essential condition, accepted by both, for the restoration of full communion, which does not signify the submission of one to the other, or assimilation.   Rather, it means welcoming all the gifts that God has given to each, thus demonstrating to the entire world the great mystery of salvation accomplished by Christ the Lord through the Holy Spirit.  I want to assure each one of you here that, to reach the desired goal of full unity, the Catholic Church does not intend to impose any conditions except that of the shared profession of faith.  Further, I would add that we are ready to seek together, in light of Scriptural teaching and the experience of the first millennium, the ways in which we can guarantee the needed unity of the Church in the present circumstances.  The one thing that the Catholic Church desires, and that I seek as Bishop of Rome, “the Church which presides in charity”, is communion with the Orthodox Churches.  Such communion will always be the fruit of that love which “has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us” (cf. Rom 5:5), a fraternal love which expresses the spiritual and transcendent bond which unites us as disciples of the Lord.”


Eight years earlier, Benedict XVI and Bartholomew I celebrated a Byzantine liturgy in the church of St. George in Istanbul on the November 30 feast of St. Andrew. In his talk that day, Pope Benedict said, “the divisions that exist among Christians are a scandal to the world and an obstacle to the proclamation of the Gospel.”

One of the principal reasons for the thousand-year old split between Catholics and Orthodox is the Petrine ministry – Petrine referring to St. Peter – and the Petrine ministry being the office of the Pope.

Benedict made reference to that as well in his talk. He said that Christ gave Peter and Andrew the task of being “fishers of men,” but entrusted that task to each in different ways. Peter, said the Pope, was called “the rock upon which the Church was to be built and entrusted him with the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven.” Peter traveled from Jerusalem to Antioch to Rome “so that in that city he might exercise a universal responsibility.”

“The issue of the universal service of Peter and his Successors,” said Benedict XVI, “has unfortunately given rise to our differences of opinion, which we hope to overcome.”

During that trip Pope Benedict showed concern not only for Christian unity but for the legal and juridical status of all minority religions in Turkey, including the Orthodox. He reiterated that concern two months later when, on January 19, 2007 he welcomed Turkey’s new ambassador to the Holy See, Muammer Dogan Akdurm. The Pope called on Turkey to give the Catholic Church legal status as a recognized religious institution: “While enjoying the religious freedom guaranteed to all believers by the Turkish Constitution,” he said, “the Catholic Church wishes to benefit from a recognized juridical statute, and to see the start of official dialogue between the episcopal conference and the State authorities in order to resolve any problems that may arise and to maintain good relations between both sides. I do not doubt that the government will do everything in its power to progress in this direction.”

Some historical background on the East-West split:

What has come to be known as the East-West Schism occurred in 1054 when Patriarch Michael Cerularius of Constantinople, leader of the Eastern Christian Churches, and Pope Leo IX, leader of the Western Church, excommunicated each other. The mutual excommunications were lifted only in 1965 when Pope Paul VI and Patriarch Athenagoras, following an historic encounter in Jerusalem a year earlier, presided over simultaneous ceremonies that revoked the excommunication decrees.

Differences between the two Churches had been growing for years on issues such as papal primacy, liturgical matters and conflicting claims of jurisdiction. The split almost a millennium ago occurred along doctrinal, theological, linguistic, political, and geographic lines and the two Churches have been seeking unity ever since.

The Petrine ministry – the primacy of the Pope – was specifically mentioned vis-a-vis the Orthodox Church in the document from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith entitled “Responses to Some Questions on Certain Aspects of the Doctrine of the Church,” dated June 29, 2007. Pope Francis quoted this document – specifically the fourth question – in his talk during the Divine Liturgy. (This 1,200-word document, excluding footnotes, with five questions and five answers is eminently readable: http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/congregations/cfaith/documents/rc_con_cfaith_doc_20070629_responsa-quaestiones_en.html)


Within the Orthodox Church there are 15 separate churches that are autocephalous, autonomous and hierarchical, distinct in terms of administration and local culture, but for the most part in communion with one another (Russian Orthodox Church, Bulgarian Orthodox Church, Georgian Orthodox Church, etc). Each of these churches has its own leader, called either a primate or a patriarch, such as the Patriarch of Moscow, the one that interests us now for the papal encounter with Patriarch Kirill.

While there are over one billion Catholics in the world, there are only about 300 million Orthodox The Moscow Patriarchate oversees just over half, that is, about 160 million people.

Notwithstanding the very warm and personal relations between Ecumenical Patriarchs such as Bartholomew I and recent Popes, relations between Moscow and the Vatican, the Roman Catholic Church, over the years have been fraught with difficulties, not the least of which is the patriarchate’s close ties with the Russian government. The Orthodox Church is viewed more than favorably by the government whereas Catholic priests are viewed suspiciously if they meet with Orthodox Christians, especially if such meetings seem like proseltyzing.

The Petrine ministry, as I said earlier, is another obstacle on the path to unity.

One of the greatest dreams of St. John Paul, the first Slavic Pope, was reconciliation with the Orthodox Church. Repeated attempts were made to set up meetings and establish a closer relationship but they were always ignored or rejected by Moscow.

I’d need to write almost the entire week to cover just the Moscow-Rome history but that is not my intention today.

If we look back at the fall of the Berlin Wall and collapse of communism, we realize that the stage was ripe for that to happen given the leaders at the time – Pope John Paul, Ronald Reagan, and Mikhail Gorbachov.

Perhaps this now a moment in history when two other leaders, spiritual leaders – Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill – are also destined to make history. Actually, by the mere fact of meeting, they will make history.

Part II of my interview with Archbishop Demetrios will appear tomorrow in “Joan’s Rome.” This is the part where we talk specifically about the relations between the Catholic Church and the Orthodox. I will not present Part I of that conversation as it dealt specifically with problems the Orthodox encounter in Turkey (where the interview took place).



This weekend I offer a fairly unusual version of Vatican Insider. The news segment will be abbreviated because of my guest and there will be no Q&A. In fact, my guest this week for almost the entire program is EWTN’s own Fr. John Paul who, in his time in Rome, received the mandate from Pope Francis to be a Missionary of Mercy during the Jubilee Year of Mercy. We will talk about the themes that emerged during this intense week in which papal Masses, audiences and speeches focused mainly on mercy, the Sacrament of Penance or confession and reconciliation.


In Rome for the canonization of his namesake –


As you know, in the United States, you can listen to Vatican Insider on a Catholic radio station near you (there is a list of U.S. stations at www.ewtn.com) or on Sirius-XM satellite radio. If you live outside the U.S., you can listen to EWTN radio on our website home page by clicking on the right side where you see “LISTEN TO EWTN.” Vatican Insider airs Saturday mornings at 9:30 am (Eastern time) and re-airs Sundays at 4:30 pm (ET). Check for your time zone. Past shows are found in Vatican Insider archives: http://www.ewtn.com/vondemand/audio/file_index.asp?SeriesId=7096&pgnu=


Pope Francis left Rome early this morning (but not without a delay as seen in the tweets from journalists aboard the papal plane!) for a six-day apostolic trip to Mexico, making a stopover in Cuba for several hours for a history-making meeting with Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia, the first meeting since the great schism of 1054 when Eastern Christianity split from Western Christianity. Francis is the first Latin American Pope to visit Mexico.

Because of the added stop in Cuba for the meeting between Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill, the Rome departure time was moved up by nearly five hours so that the papal schedule in Mexico will not be greatly affected. However, the delayed departure of the papal plane this morning from Rome’s Fiumicino airport will probably have some effect on the schedule, unless the pilot can make up some time, although traveling west, one usually encounters head winds.

The delay was due to an emergency landing at Fiumicino of an EasyJet plane that had left Naples for Venice but encountered a technical problem and requested emergency landing. The airport started the usual emergency procedures which include not allowing other planes to leave. The papal plane was due to leave at 7:45. The EasyJet landed at 7:53.

En route to Cuba and Mexico, the Pope sent telegrams to the heads of State whose nations the papal plane flew over, including Italy, France, Spain, and Portugal.

In a separate column, I will offer give some background on this millennia-old separation between Orthodox Christians and Roman Catholics.

In case you are interested in his day-by-day agenda, the papal schedule is below:



7:45 Departure from Rome’s Fiumicino airport for Havana (Cuba) Greeting to journalists during the flight Rome-Havana [Italian]  
14:00 Arrival at “José Martí” International Airport of Havana  
14:15 Private meeting with H.H. Kirill, Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia  
16:30 Signing of the Joint Declaration [Arabic, English, French, German, Italian, Polish, Portuguese, Spanish]  
17:10 Farewell between His Holiness Kirill and the Holy Father  
17:30 Departure from the International Airport of Havana for Mexico City  
19:30 Arrival at the “Benito Juárez” International Airport of Mexico City  
  Official welcome  


9:30 Welcoming ceremony at the National Palace  
  Courtesy visit with the President of the Republic  
10:15 Meeting with authorities, representatives of civil society and the diplomatic corps [Arabic, English, French, German, Italian, Polish, Portuguese, Spanish]  
11:30 Meeting with the Bishops of Mexico gathered in the Cathedral [Arabic, English, French, German, Italian, Polish, Portuguese, Spanish]  
17:00 Holy Mass in the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe [Arabic, English, French, German, Italian, Polish, Portuguese, Spanish]  


10:15 Transfer by helicopter to Ecatepec  
11:30 Holy Mass at the Study Center of Ecatepec [Arabic, English, French, German, Italian, Polish, Portuguese, Spanish]  
  Angelus [Arabic, English, French, German, Italian, Polish, Portuguese, Spanish]  
14:00 Luncheon with the Papal Entourage at the Diocesan Seminary in Ecatepec  
16:45 Transfer by helicopter to Mexico City  
17:15 Arrival at Mexico City  
17:45 Visit to the “Federico Gómez” children’s hospital [Arabic, English, French, German, Italian, Polish, Portuguese, Spanish]  


7:30 Departure by plane for Tuxtla Gutiérrez  
9:15 Transfer by helicopter to San Cristóbal de Las Casas  
10:15 Holy Mass with representatives of the indigenous communities of Chiapas in the municipal sport center [Arabic, English, French, German, Italian, Polish, Portuguese, Spanish]  
13:00 Luncheon with representatives of the indigenous communities and the Papal Entourage  
15:00 Visit to the Cathedral of San Cristóbal de las Casas  
15:35 Transfer by helicopter to Tuxtla Gutiérrez  
16:15 Meeting with families in the “Víctor Manuel Reyna” stadium in Tuxtla Gutiérrez [Arabic, English, French, German, Italian, Polish, Portuguese, Spanish]  
18:10 Departure by plane for Mexico City  
20:00 Arrival at Mexico City airport  


7:50 Departure by plane for Morelia  
10:00 Holy Mass with priests, men and women religious, consecrated people and seminarians at “Venustiano Carranza” Stadium [Arabic, English, French, German, Italian, Polish, Portuguese, Spanish]  
15:20 Visit to the Cathedral  
16:30 Meeting with young people in the “José María Morelos y Pavón” stadium [Arabic, English, French, German, Italian, Polish, Portuguese, Spanish]  
18:30 Departure by plane for Mexico City  
19:35 Arrival at Mexico City airport  


8:35 Departure by plane for Ciudad Juarez  
10:00 Arrival at “Abraham González” International Airport of Ciudad Juarez  
10:30 Visit to the penitentiary (CeReSo n. 3) [Arabic, English, French, German, Italian, Polish, Portuguese, Spanish]  
12:00 Meeting with the world of labour at the Bachilleres College in the state of Chihuahua [Arabic, English, French, German, Italian, Polish, Portuguese, Spanish]  
16:00 Holy Mass at the Ciudad Juárez fairgrounds [Arabic, English, French, German, Italian, Polish, Portuguese, Spanish]  
19:00 Farewell ceremony at the International Airport of Ciudad Juárez  
19:15 Departure for Rome/Ciampino  


14:45 Arrival at Ciampino Airport in Rome


(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis greeted the reporters who joined him on the plane Friday for his apostolic journey to Havana – for a brief meeting with Russian Patriarch Kirill – and Mexico.

The Director of the Holy See Press Office, Father Federico Lombardi, SJ, said the Holy Father had a “beautiful meeting” with the journalists, and called the journey “very important.”

Father Lombardi said the Pope noted it was the final apostolic trip of Alberto Gasbarri, the coordinator of papal journeys, and thanked him for his 47 years of service to the Vatican.

The dean of the Holy See Press Corps, Valentina Alazraki of Mexico’s “Televisa”, gave Pope Francis a sombrero to celebrate his journey to her native country. The Holy Father also revealed to the journalists she gave him some films starring the Mexican comedian Cantinflas earlier in the week to help him prepare for his trip, which Pope Francis said were a “good laugh.”


“My deepest desire is to pause before Our Lady of Guadalupe, this mystery that is studied, and studied, and studied, and there is no human explanation,” Pope Francis said on the plane, adding even scientists say the image is “a thing of God.”

Wall Street Journal correspondent Francis X. Rocca sent a Facebook message from the plane describing an “unusual” and “moving” encounter, with Noel Diaz of ESNE Catholic television in Los Angeles.

“As a child in his native Tijuana, Mexico, Diaz shined shoes for money. So today he knelt down in the aisle and shined the pope’s shoes, then gave him a custom-made shoeshine kit,” Rocca writes. “Diaz told the pope he intended these presents as reminders of the unheralded struggles of ordinary, honest people across Mexico and among immigrants to the U.S.”

Responding to press reports of a papal visit to Colombia, Pope Francis said he could visit the country in 2017 if peace talks between the government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) continue to go forward.