POSSIBLE PAPAL TRIP TO GREECE?

POSSIBLE PAPAL TRIP TO GREECE?

A Vatican statement today said the Orthodox Church of Greece on Tuesday said it would welcome a visit of Pope Francis to the island of Lesbos to meet with migrants and refugees arriving across the Mediterranean sea. A statement from the Holy Synod, or ruling body of the Orthodox Church in Athens, said the Pope had expressed a desire to visit one of the islands in order to draw attention to the humanitarian problems of the migrants, as well as the need for “an immediate cessation of hostilities in the wider Mediterranean region”.

The head of the Holy See Press Office, Fr. Federico Lombardi, said there have been discussions about a possible papal visit, but he could not confirm any dates or details. The statement from the Orthodox Church proposed a visit to the island of Lesbos, where hundreds of thousands of migrants and refugees have arrived in recent months. Many of them are fleeing from conflicts or persecution in the Middle East and Africa, while many so-called economic migrants are seeking better living conditions in Europe or other Western countries.

A communique from the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople on Tuesday confirmed he would also be visiting the island of Lesbos to highlight the plight of the refugees and migrants throughout the region.

AP HAD THIS:

Discussions are underway about a possible trip by Pope Francis to Greece as early as next week as the country begins deporting migrants back to Turkey.

Vatican spokesman the Rev. Federico Lombardi said Tuesday that no decision had been made but in an email to The Associated Press he said “I don’t deny that there are contacts about a possible trip.”

A Greek ecclesiastic website, Dogma, reported Tuesday that Francis was planning to visit refugees on the Greek island of Lesbos on April 15 along with Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew and Archbishop of Athens Ieronymos. The Holy Synod of the Church of Greece, the decision-making body of the Greek church, said Francis had asked to come and the request had been accepted as it was a humanitarian visit of just a few hours.

A controversial European Union plan to stem the flow of refugees began Monday with more than 200 people deported from Lesbos and Chios back to Turkey. Human rights organizations have denounced the deportations as the undoing of Europe’s obligations to protect refugees.

Francis, the son of Italian immigrants to Argentina, has been outspoken about the need for Europe and other countries to open their doors and hearts to people fleeing persecution and poverty.

In his first trip outside Rome, he visited the Italian island of Lampedusa, which has seen thousands of migrants arriving on smugglers’ boats from Libya. And recently he celebrated a Mass at the U.S.-Mexico border to pray for Central and South American migrants who died trying to reach the United States.

The Church of Greece said Tuesday that Francis had proposed visiting Greece to raise awareness about the plight of refugees “searching for a better future in the European continent.”

It said it had extended an invitation to Bartholomew, the spiritual leader of the world’s Orthodox Christians, to visit at the same time. It said the visit of the leaders of the Catholic and Orthodox churches would send a “very strong signal” about the need to help refugees and protect Christians “who are cruelly suffering” in the Middle East.

VATICAN INSIDER PRESENTS JULIANA BIONDO AND “PATRUM” – POPE FRANCIS ATTENDS FIRST LENTEN SERMON – CATHOLICS AND ORTHODOX, YESTERDAY AND TODAY: PART TWO

I was just about to post this column when I got a news alert that Harper Lee, the author of the beloved Pulitzer Prize-winning book “To Kill a Mockingbird,” has died at age 89, according to officials in her hometown of Monroeville, Alabama. I got the chills because a few years ago, through a mutual priest friend, I met a family from Alabama as they visited Rome, and invited them to my home. Their gift to me: an autographed copy of “To Kill a Mockingbird.”

Spread the word: Here again is the link to the entire press conference that Pope Francis held aboard the papal flight en route back to Rome after his 6-day trip to Mexico: www.catholicnewsagency.com/news/full-text-of-pope-francis-in-flight-interview-from-mexico-to-rome-85821/

VATICAN INSIDER PRESENTS JULIANA BIONDO AND “PATRUM”

A technical problem in both my computer and my recorder caused the deletion of a number of programs (including backup), including the interview I had scheduled for this weekend with Cris Gangemi and her work with the Kairos Foundation and the Pontifical Council for Culture.

As a result, I am going to re-air an earlier conversation I had with Juliana Biondo, creator of the app “PATRUM” for the Patrons of the Arts in the Vatican. A native of Baltimore, Juliana is a young, enthusiastic, dedicated member of the Patrons team with a great love for art and also for modern technology. A great conversation you don’t want to miss!

It is such fun to be around young people today! The ones I know – and now I add Juliana to that list! – are ultra-talented, intelligent, exuberant youths, far-sighted young people with a passion for life and all the newness it brings every day – and technology is certainly a part of that!  And you will see this when Juliana explains PATRUM and how the idea for this app came about and what she anticipates bringing to it on a daily basis.

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 ATTENDS FIRST LENTEN SERMON

This morning in the Redemptoris Mater Chapel, in the rpesence of Pope Francis, Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa, preacher to the papal household, offered the first Sermon for Lent 2016. (photo news.va)

FR CANTALAMESSA

Father Cantalamessa’s sermon continued his reflections on the Second Vatican Council, speaking on the theme, “The Second Vatican Council, 50 years later: A revisitation from a spiritual point of view.” After focusing during Advent on the Dogmatic Constitution Lumen gentium (on the Church), Fr Cantalamessa turned his thoughts to the Council’s Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, Sacrosanctum Concilium.

The next Lenten sermons will take place on Friday, February 26 and on these Fridays in March 4, 11 and 18.

CATHOLICS AND ORTHODOX, YESTERDAY AND TODAY: PART TWO

Last Friday, in this column, in anticipation of Pope Francis’ historic meeting with Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill that afternoon in Cuba, I posted Part One of what I called a two-part look at Catholic-Orthodox relations as both sides struggle for full Christian unity. I hoped to answer some questions: How did that disunity come about?  On what points is there agreement? Disagreement?

I noted that oceans of ink have been used over the centuries to write about Catholic-Orthodox relations since the East-West (Constantinople-Rome) schism of 1054, and explained that, while it was not my intention to give a full, historical review, it was my hope to help you understand some of the issues involved in this split.

In Part One, I offered Pope Francis’ words during his trip to Istanbul in late November 2014, Pope Benedict’s words during his 2006 visit to Istanbul, and some background research I did for Benedict’s visit.

I said that Part Two would be dedicated to 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, stating that that interview would be posted Saturday, February 13.

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In the midst of some unexpected events in my life last Saturday, I forgot to post that and do so today, hoping to further your understanding of the historic East-West split and the differences that today separate Orthodox and Catholics.

To briefly recap some history: 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 in that year. The excommunications were only lifted 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 occurred along doctrinal, theological, linguistic, political and geographic lines and the two Churches have been seeking unity ever since.

Here is the interview:

EWTN: Let’s talk about relations between the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Patriarchate: For you, the Orthodox, what is the bottom line to effect unity?

DEMETRIOS: The main thing is a very important, indelible one thousand years of history. That’s there. You can’t eradicate history, you can’t change history. It is the memory that is very strong – 1,000 years. The early church, the synods, the ecumenical synods accepted by both churches, a beautiful kind of common tradition developing parallel between East and West. So this is the basic thing that is there. Then you have 1,000 years of separation. Separation itself is something very traumatic, very dramatic and it causes results that might last. And during the centuries, changes happen, changes in dogmatic issues, items of faith, some more important, some less, and the question of primacy of the pope. And there are sometimes practical issues, for example, the existence of the Uniate Churches, something that stopped dialogue for several years. Dialogue resumed in September in Belgrade, though I must say we never stopped talking in America. But dialogue did stop in Europe. Basically there is this Uniate issue. Remember, you cannot talk just theological generalities when there is an historical matter that is a thorn in the flesh of the Church So we have the common experience (of 1,000 years) on the one hand, the very clear good will, the quality of the leaders of the Church, especially in the persons of Patriarch Bartholomew and Pope Benedict XVI, as his predecessor, John Paul II. You have people who are sensitive to human needs, they know how to handle different situations and they are well committed to advancing the cause of unity, in non-stop, constant reminders. So there is something there that we must do – and this is the strongest element helping us.

EWTN: What do the Orthodox perceive as the bottom line for Catholics to effect unity?

DEMETRIOS. If I have to be direct, there is an expectation of some steps that will show in practice, in action, the willingness. Let me give you an example. I was at a meeting in Rome in the Vatican, in 1982, I think, organized by the seven universities of Rome on the occasion of the 1,600 years, I think it was, of the second ecumenical council that established the dogma and articles on the Holy Spirit. Cardinal Ratzinger was there and Pope John Paul gave a lecture there. There were a number of prominent theologians and one of them, Father Yves Congar, said let’s be specific and really show how willing we are. In the liturgical books that will be printed from now on, next to the page that has the creed with the filioque, let’s have a page with the creed without the filioque and allow the priest to chose what he wants. Now that’s a step. There are other things but that is one specific thing

EWTN. Yesterday in his speech, Pope Benedict spoke of the petrine ministry. He noted that Our Lord chose Peter and Andrew as fishers of men and yet he gave each a specifically different task (See ADDENDUM below). Do you see a complementarity of ministries in those remarks?

DEMETRIOS: Absolutely. And if I may expand your phrase of complementarity and differentiation – which is an enriching, not a diminishing or dividing, factor. St. Paul was clear – we have a variety of charisms, the gifts of the Holy Spirit, in order to have the full program of the church in helping the edification of the church as a whole body. It would be boring, allow me to say, if all was the same. With differentiation you have this beauty of variety – imagine a world where everything was white or black – we need shades. So the distinction between the petrine (Peter) and the Andrean (Andrew) kind of ministry is a very nice sign of the variety and richness of the gifts of God.

EWTN: In Istanbul, the Pope said precisely that, “The issue of the universal service of Peter and his Successors has unfortunately given rise to our differences of opinion, which we hope to overcome.” He quoted Pope John Paul’s “invitation to enter into a fraternal dialogue aimed at identifying ways in which the petrine ministry might be exercised today, while respecting its nature and essence,” and said, “It is my desire today to recall and renew this invitation.” If the Pope today were to exercise the petrine ministry as he did during the first millennium, could this bring the Church closer to unity?

DEMETRIOS: That’s a very good way you put it. In essence, when we deal with the petrine ministry we are dealing with primacy, with a universal kind of authority. If we go backwards we can see this kind of thing developing to what it is today. That was not the case in the first centuries. Nor was it when Constantine transferred the capital from Rome to the new Rome, Constantinople. At that time you had the five patriarchates – Alexandria, Constantinople, Antioch, Jerusalem and Rome – and Rome was clearly recognized as “presiding in love.” It was the Pope of Rome, the bishop of Rome who was primus inter pares, first among equals.

The more you go back, the more you find a level of common acceptance. There was no problem. The problems developed in the way there was an increase in the authority – or, to use a contemporary expression – at the expense of the others. Therefore, a study to have a proper understanding should go as far back as possible. The suggestion you mention will be very fruitful. I dare not interpret Pope Benedict XVI but knowing him as a scholar, because I am an academic person myself, I can see him as an academic saying, “let’s go back and check.” It is he who insists there is no real dialogue without real data. And the data regards not only this moment but going back in history.

EWTN: Having studied the history and relations between Orthodox and Catholics, it is my impression that the Orthodox want more collegiality.

DEMETRIOS: Absolutely. I don’t like simplified statements because they can often do injustice, but if we had to make a simplified statement you might say the central issue is collegiality versus the absolute authority of one person. This is reducing the whole thing in a very simple way.

EWTN: Before closing, may I ask your impression of the Muslim reaction to Pope Benedict, given the anger on their part and the fears for the Pope’s safety before he undertook this trip (because of his speech last September in Regensburg, Germany)?

DEMETRIOS: It is a complex issue here but the first impression is that the spiritual condition of the people vis-a-vis the Pope is not the same today as it was five days ago. The visit gave a different picture of someone who was not what the media projected. He is a gentle man who spoke clearly and with respect for Islam and Muslims. My first estimate: it was very positive in terms of changing things.

 

UNDERSTANDING CATHOLIC-ORTHODOX RELATIONS: YESTERDAY AND TODAY

UNDERSTANDING CATHOLIC-ORTHODOX RELATIONS: YESTERDAY AND TODAY

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

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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TURKEY-2006-BXVI 123

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.”

POPE BENEDICT XVI

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)

THE ORTHODOX CHURCHES

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).

A CONVERSATION WITH ORTHODOX ARCHBISHOP DEMETRIOS: A PAPAL TRIP, CHRISTIANS IN TURKEY, CHRISTIAN UNITY

Yesterday, in Part One of my overview of the papal visit to Turkey, I looked at Catholic-Orthodox relations, at the history of Christian unity and then disunity, as both sides struggle for full Christian unity. I asked: How did that disunity come about? On what points is there agreement? Disagreement?

In Part Two today, I bring you 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. The interview came at the end of Pope Benedict’s visit to Ankara, Ephesus and Istanbul where he met with Muslims as well as with the Orthodox, with whom he celebrated their November 30th patronal feast day of St. Andrew.

Hopefully this conversation will help you understand some of the differences between Catholics and Orthodox, where we have been and where we are going. In particular, many of the issues the Orthodox face in Turkey that Archbishop Demetrios mentions in this conversation remain today, and Pope Francis would have heard almost the same words from Patriarch Bartholomew.

Notwithstanding the original reason for Pope Benedict’s 2006 trip to Turkey – to create closer ties with the Orthodox on the path to Christian unity and to encourage the small Catholic community – it took on new meaning after the Pope’s September 12 lecture in Regensburg that angered Muslims throughout the world who accused him of being anti-Islam.

The Pope’s focus for his trip to Turkey in a post-Regensburg climate became fence-mending, or as I prefer, bridge-building. In fact, his title “Pontifex Maximus” – Supreme Pontiff – is from the Latin for “great bridge builder.”

Benedict spent weeks trying to build bridges following his lecture in Regensburg, expressing sorrow to Muslims for the anger generated by his remarks (remarks from which he totally disassociated himself ) by meeting with ambassadors from Muslim countries and with leading exponents of Islam in Italy, and by meeting with Muslim scholars and intellectuals at the Vatican.

Patriarch Demetrios talks about Benedict specifically and about Catholic-Orthodox relations in general.

A CONVERSATION WITH ORTHODOX ARCHBISHOP DEMETRIOS: A PAPAL TRIP, CHRISTIANS IN TURKEY, CHRISTIAN UNITY

PART I

EWTN: Editors and journalists write headlines every single day for news stories. If you had to write a headline describing the visit of Pope Benedict to Patriarch Bartholomew, what would it be?

DEMETRIOS: A visit of love and truth.

EWTN: What were the expectations at the patriarchate before Benedict XVI came to Istanbul?

DEMETRIOS: The expectations based on the experience of previous visits and the continuous contacts between the patriarchate and the Vatican in terms of the leaders of both Churches, were very strong and very positive. The expectations were that we would have a visit that would promote efforts towards unity, that would promote a climate of love and understanding and that would also promote a common work, that is, establishing peace and helping to overcome problems of poverty and disease and the work of saving the environment. In other words, a visit that would promote inter-ecclesial, inter-church progress but also give a witness and contribution to alleviating the pains and problems of the contemporary world

EWTN: Looking back then at the Pope’s visit these past few days, would you say those expectations have been met?

DEMETRIOS: I would say ‘yes’. I had the great honor of being in all the meetings during the whole time the Pope and the patriarch were together, and I would say that in a way the reality was better than the expectations. It was better in the sense that everything that happened, happened in a spirit of cordiality, sincerity, an honest encounter. We did not have extensive theological discussions because that was not the purpose. But you had an encounter of high quality, high human quality and that was really a tremendous achievement.

EWTN: Before he was elected pope I had interviewed Cardinal Ratzinger on a few occasions, as did EWTN a year before his election in an hour-long televised interview in English. I have always come away from meetings with him with the impression that he is a gentleman and a gentle man.

DEMETRIOS: I knew him before (this visit). I was a representative of the patriarch in 2003 in Rome for the (June 29th) feast of St. Peter and Paul’s – which was a Sunday. On Monday we had a beautiful meeting in his office with Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger for over an hour. At that time I had the opportunity to see a man with a brilliant mind, with sharp sensitivity about what happens on the spiritual and cultural level in the world, but specifically Europe. He spoke about his cherished ideas on secularization, relativization, and so forth. So I had this same kind of impression as you and I like this beautiful English way of describing him – a gentleman and a gentle man.

EWTN: Can you give me a picture of the Orthodox Church in America?

DEMETRIOS: There are between 5 and 6 million Orthodox, and this depends on their country of origin. There are 1.5 to 2 million Greek Orthodox and all the rest are Russian Orthodox, Bulgarian Orthodox, Serbian, Romanian, Ukrainian, Albanian and Antiochean – from the patriarchate of Antioch which is Syria, Lebanon, Palestine and Jordan. As Greek Orthodox we have an archdiocese with 540 parishes and 700 priests. We are divided into 9 districts and have 8 metropolitans – the 9th is myself.

EWTN: At the November 27 press conference in Istanbul the day before Pope Benedict’s arrival, you and Bishop Brian Farrell (secretary of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity), spoke of some of the problems here in Turkey for non-Muslims religions. We know that 99 percent of Turks are Muslim. Would you review those problems for us today?

DEMETRIOS: Let me limit myself in the first place to the patriarchate as I know exactly what the problems are. We have four major problems – or conditions of difficulty.

First: the title ‘ecumenical’ for the patriarchate is denied by the state and accepted by the rest of the world. It is paradoxical to have the president of the United States, the prime minister of England, the president of France, even the president of Iran, addressing the patriarch as “ecumenical” and here in Turkey there is no recognition.

Problem number two: the patriarchate and other minority religions – and here I am expanding the term – has no official legal status. That prevents them from doing a lot of transactions.

Third: the question of the very, very extensive confiscation of properties. This also happened with other communities but with the patriarchate it is quite extensive and that is explainable because historically the patriarchate has been the Church here in Byzantium, therefore we have had churches and monasteries and so on, so we are talking originally about thousands of specific properties but today this is reduced to very small number. And this is on ongoing thing.

The fourth major issue is the continued closing of the theological school of Halki (ed. closed by the Turkish government in 1971) that is the school for preparing clergy for the patriarchate. If you don’t have a seminary, how do you train clergy? For the government the closing is the justification of the ruling that there can be no universities except state universities. The answer is that this was not a university, it was a professional school, preparing priests, which is a profession. So this is not fully justified – not even partially justified. It has been 35 years – a full generation. So you lose one generation and that is a serious loss.

The other religious minorities to a certain degree share difficulties of this kind, except for the problem of the title “ecumenical.”

EWTN: Can you run regular grammar schools?

DEMETRIOS: We have some, yes. Theoretically, they could be all over Turkey, but practically they are in Constantinople, or Istanbul, and in the diocese of Chalcedon and the islands where there metropolitans, Invros and Tenedos (ed: the Turkish government only recognizes the patriarch’s authority as extending to the religious community in Istanbul. For them, he is the spiritual leader of the diocese of Istanbul, not the ecumenical patriarch and spiritual leader of some 300 million Orthodox).

EWTN: Can you publish, print books, a newspaper, church bulletin, etc?

DEMETRIOS. Bulletins and books, yes. The patriarchate used to have a publishing company but they are no longer allowed to have this. Liturgy booklets were printed for the Pope’s visit and books on the history of visits, books with speeches of the patriarch. We used to have a periodical newspaper (ed. Many Orthodox publications are published in the United States).

EWTN: Any signs of hope on the horizon for you and the other minority religions who live under these conditions?

DEMETRIOS: I am hesitant to use the terms “hope” or “hopeless.” What we do know is that it would be beneficial for Turkey to have minority communities. As I said in the press conference, if there was not the Ecumenical Patriarchate, they would have had to invent it. It is an outstanding propaganda item for Turkey.

Here comes the language of hope: If at some point Turkey could really see that there is nothing to be gained by having this type of pressure exerted on very little minorities. Turkey has 70 million people – what harm can 3,000 Orthodox do? So it would be very beneficial for them. Therefore our hope is that the people responsible for policies and decisions would see the good.

I want to add my experience from the States. There have been officials, even from the State Department who as ambassadors or consuls general or in some other way dealing with Turkey, have advocated at least the opening of Halki seminary on the basis that this would be a very good thing for Turkey, that Turkey has nothing to lose.

PART II

EWTN: Let’s talk about relations between the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Patriarchate: For you, the Orthodox, what is the bottom line to effect unity?

DEMETRIOS: The main thing is a very important, indelible one thousand years of history. That’s there. You can’t eradicate history, you can’t change history. It is the memory that is very strong – 1,000 years. The early church, the synods, the ecumenical synods accepted by both churches, a beautiful kind of common tradition developing parallel between East and West. So this is the basic thing that is there. Then you have 1,000 years of separation. Separation itself is something very traumatic, very dramatic and it causes results that might last. And during the centuries, changes happen, changes in dogmatic issues, items of faith, some more important, some less, and the question of primacy of the pope. And there are sometimes practical issues, for example, the existence of the Uniate Churches, something that stopped dialogue for several years. Dialogue resumed in September in Belgrade, though I must say we never stopped talking in America. But dialogue did stop in Europe. Basically there is this Uniate issue. Remember, you cannot talk just theological generalities when there is an historical matter that is a thorn in the flesh of the Church So we have the common experience (of 1,000 years) on the one hand, the very clear good will, the quality of the leaders of the Church, especially in the persons of Patriarch Bartholomew and Pope Benedict XVI, as his predecessor, John Paul II. You have people who are sensitive to human needs, they know how to handle different situations and they are well committed to advancing the cause of unity, in non-stop, constant reminders. So there is something there that we must do – and this is the strongest element helping us.

EWTN: What do the Orthodox perceive as the bottom line for Catholics to effect unity?

DEMETRIOS. If I have to be direct, there is an expectation of some steps that will show in practice, in action, the willingness. Let me give you an example. I was at a meeting in Rome in the Vatican, in 1982, I think, organized by the seven universities of Rome on the occasion of the 1,600 years, I think it was, of the second ecumenical council that established the dogma and articles on the Holy Spirit. Cardinal Ratzinger was there and Pope John Paul gave a lecture there. There were a number of prominent theologians and one of them, Father Yves Congar, said let’s be specific and really show how willing we are. In the liturgical books that will be printed from now on, next to the page that has the creed with the filioque, let’s have a page with the creed without the filioque and allow the priest to chose what he wants. Now that’s a step. There are other things but that is one specific thing

EWTN. Yesterday in his speech, Pope Benedict spoke of the petrine ministry. He noted that Our Lord chose Peter and Andrew as fishers of men and yet he gave each a specifically different task (See ADDENDUM below). Do you see a complementarity of ministries in those remarks?

DEMETRIOS: Absolutely. And if I may expand your phrase of complementarity and differentiation – which is an enriching, not a diminishing or dividing, factor. St. Paul was clear – we have a variety of charisms, the gifts of the Holy Spirit, in order to have the full program of the church in helping the edification of the church as a whole body. It would be boring, allow me to say, if all was the same. With differentiation you have this beauty of variety – imagine a world where everything was white or black – we need shades. So the distinction between the petrine (Peter) and the Andrean (Andrew) kind of ministry is a very nice sign of the variety and richness of the gifts of God.

EWTN: In Istanbul, the Pope said precisely that, “The issue of the universal service of Peter and his Successors has unfortunately given rise to our differences of opinion, which we hope to overcome.” He quoted Pope John Paul’s “invitation to enter into a fraternal dialogue aimed at identifying ways in which the petrine ministry might be exercised today, while respecting its nature and essence,” and said, “It is my desire today to recall and renew this invitation.” If the Pope today were to exercise the petrine ministry as he did during the first millennium, could this bring the Church closer to unity?

DEMETRIOS: That’s a very good way you put it. In essence, when we deal with the petrine ministry we are dealing with primacy, with a universal kind of authority. If we go backwards we can see this kind of thing developing to what it is today. That was not the case in the first centuries. Nor was it when Constantine transferred the capital from Rome to the new Rome, Constantinople. At that time you had the five patriarchates – Alexandria, Constantinople, Antioch, Jerusalem and Rome – and Rome was clearly recognized as “presiding in love.” It was the Pope of Rome, the bishop of Rome who was primus inter pares, first among equals.

The more you go back, the more you find a level of common acceptance. There was no problem. The problems developed in the way there was an increase in the authority – or, to use a contemporary expression – at the expense of the others. Therefore, a study to have a proper understanding should go as far back as possible. The suggestion you mention will be very fruitful. I dare not interpret Pope Benedict XVI but knowing him as a scholar, because I am an academic person myself, I can see him as an academic saying, “let’s go back and check.” It is he who insists there is no real dialogue without real data. And the data regards not only this moment but going back in history.

EWTN: Having studied the history and relations between Orthodox and Catholics, it is my impression that the Orthodox want more collegiality.

DEMETRIOS: Absolutely. I don’t like simplified statements because they can often do injustice, but if we had to make a simplified statement you might say the central issue is collegiality versus the absolute authority of one person. This is reducing the whole thing in a very simple way.

EWTN: Before closing, may I ask your impression of the Muslim reaction to Pope Benedict, given the anger on their part and the fears for the Pope’s safety before he undertook this trip (because of his speech last September in Regensburg, Germany)?

DEMETRIOS: It is a complex issue here but the first impression is that the spiritual condition of the people vis-a-vis the Pope is not the same today as it was five days ago. The visit gave a different picture of someone who was not what the media projected. He is a gentle man who spoke clearly and with respect for Islam and Muslims. My first estimate: it was very positive in terms of changing things.

END OF PART II

ADDENDUM: Pope Benedict and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I celebrated a Byzantine liturgy in the church of St George in Istanbul on November 30, the feast of St. Andrew, patron saint of the patriarchate.

In his talk, 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 and the Pope made reference to that as well in his talk. He noted 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,” has unfortunately given rise to our differences of opinion, which we hope to overcome.” Citing Pope John Paul’s “invitation to enter into a fraternal dialogue aimed at identifying ways in which the petrine ministry might be exercised today, while respecting its nature and essence,” Benedict said, “It is my desire today to recall and renew this invitation.”

The Pope and Patriarch, both during the liturgy and afterwards in a joint declaration they signed, reaffirmed their commitment to pursue the goal of full unity between the two Churches and “to cooperate in proclaiming a Christian witness in a world marked by secularization, relativism even nihilism, especially in the West.”

To recap briefly: 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 in that year. The excommunications were only lifted 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 occurred along doctrinal, theological, linguistic, political and geographic lines and the two Churches have been seeking unity ever since.