Pope Meets With Orthodox Leaders

FREIBURG, Germany (CNS) — Meeting a dozen Orthodox bishops in Germany, Pope Benedict XVI continued his appeal for people of faith to work together to bring God and moral values back to German society.

In a climate in which some people would like “to ‘liberate’ public life from God,” the Christian churches promote understanding and solidarity “on the basis of their faith in the one God and father of all,” the pope said Sept. 24. The meeting in the Freiburg seminary was attended by Russian, Greek, Serbian, Romanian, Coptic, Syrian, Armenian and Ethiopian Orthodox bishops. The red-sashed cardinals in the pope’s entourage sat across from the black-robed Orthodox bishops wearing a variety of flat, rounded or pointed black hats.

Germany’s Orthodox population, estimated at 1.6 million, is made up of Russians who arrived after the 1917 Russian Revolution, Greeks and Serbs who arrived during the economic boom of the 1960s and Romanians and other East Europeans who came after the fall of communism.

In 2009, their bishops formed an episcopal conference to coordinate their work and their relations with other Christians, particularly with the Catholic Church.

Pope Benedict congratulated them on their commitment to working together and prayed that their experience would help strengthen the bonds between Orthodox churches elsewhere, hastening “the progress of efforts to establish a pan-Orthodox council.” Efforts to hold a pan-Orthodox council have been stalled for decades by internal tensions, including disputes over leadership.

Of all Christians, he said, Catholic and Orthodox are theologically the closest and their churches have the same basic structure, “so we may hope that the day is not too far away when we may once again celebrate the Eucharist together.”

However, he said, some theologically thorny issues — including the question of the primacy of the pope — have to be resolved before that can happen.

In the meantime, he said, Catholics and Orthodox must give witness together to their faith in Jesus Christ and to the dignity of the human person.

Catholics and Orthodox should speak out together “for the protection of human life from conception to natural death” and for “the uniqueness of marriage between one man and one woman,” he said.

Working together, Catholics and Orthodox will contribute “to building up a society equipped for the future, in which the human person is given the respect which is his due,” the pope said.

Greek Orthodox Metropolitan Augoustinos of Germany, president of the Orthodox bishops’ conference, thanked the pope for taking time to meet with them during a busy trip and he assured the pope that, with the new Orthodox bishops’ council, relations with the Catholic Church will grow even more solid.

The metropolitan noted that the pope’s earlier meetings with German Protestants, Jews and Muslims had included women, but their encounter with the pope was all men.

The fact, however, that the Catholic and Orthodox bishops have such a strong devotion to Mary — and the Orthodox bishops wear an “encolpion,” or medallion, of Mary close to their hearts — is proof that “it is not misogyny that our meeting today, in contrast to the ecumenical encounters of the last days, is a meeting of men only,” the metropolitan said.

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