WASHINGTON (CNS) — The president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and the primate of the Greek Orthodox Church in America welcomed the 25 May meeting between Pope Francis and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew in Jerusalem.
Pope Francis’ 24-26 May trip to Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian territories will commemorate the January 1964 visit of Pope Paul VI to the Holy Land and his visit with Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras of Constantinople.
The 1964 meeting was a joyful occasion “that swept aside centuries of hostility and division” and “has born good fruit,” said Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville, Kentucky, who is USCCB president, and Greek Orthodox Archbishop Demetrios, who also is chairman of the Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops of the United States.
In a joint statement released on 15 May in Washington, the two archbishops pointed to a growing closeness between Catholic and Orthodox Christians over the last 50 years that has allowed them “to speak with one voice” on issues facing society.
“We commit ourselves to increased cooperation in these areas, including social, economic and ethical dilemmas,” they said.
With their statement, Archbishop Kurtz and Archbishop Demetrious said they reaffirmed “the dialogue of love initiated” by the 1964 meeting and would “continue to strive to remove that which separates us.”
They also called the faithful of both their churches to pray for the success of the meeting of the pope and patriarch “for the glory of God and the promotion of Christianity in our wounded world.”
The 1964 meeting was the first to take place between Latin Catholic and Orthodox leaders in almost 1,000 years.
“The pope’s gift of a chalice to the patriarch and the patriarch’s gift of an encolpion — an episcopal pectoral medallion with an icon of Christ — to the pope showed that they were determined to work for the victory of love over enmity, of communion over division,” the two prelates said.
As fruits of the initial Jerusalem meeting 50 years ago, Archbishop Kurtz and Archbishop Demetrios highlighted the lifting of the mutual 1054 excommunications between Rome and Constantinople in 1965; the establishment of ongoing national and international Catholic-Orthodox dialogues; and the ongoing work to remove divisions between their churches.
After 1964, pope-patriarch meetings and other contact between the two churches became more common, they said, leading to the establishment of an international theological dialogue in 1980. The dialogue between the two churches continues today.
In the United States, Catholic and Greek Orthodox leaders set up a national theological dialogue in 1965, at the initiative of the late Archbishop Iakovos, primate of the Greek Orthodox Church in the Americas from 1959 to 1996.
According to the archbishops’ joint statement, the dialogue has continued uninterrupted since its founding. In 1997, the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops joined the Catholic side. The consultation 30 agreed statements over the years, “carefully examining the issues that still divide us and proposing ways to resolve them.”