Senior Greek Orthodox patriarch calls for unity
Orthodox Christianity's most significant bishop told Pope Benedict XVI that the Year of Faith should spur greater prayer, hope and effort towards the unity of their two Churches.
"We join in the hope that the barrier dividing the Eastern Church and the Western Church will be removed, and that - at last - there may be but the one dwelling, firmly established on Christ Jesus, the cornerstone, who will make both one," said the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople.
The patriarch made his remarks in an address at the opening ceremony of the Year of Faith, which was inaugurated with Mass in St Peter's Square on 11 October.
The 72-year-old Greek cleric ranks as the "primus inter pares" or "first among equals" in the Eastern Orthodox communion which has over 300 million followers worldwide.
Patriarch Bartholomew recalled how the opening of the Second Vatican Council 50 years ago paved the way for a thawing of relations between Catholicism and Orthodoxy after generations of division dating back to the 11th century.
"Over the last five decades, the achievements of this assembly have been diverse as evidenced through the series of important and influential constitutions, declarations, and decrees," he told the Pope and over 400 of his fellow Catholic bishops in the shadow of St Peter's Basilica.
Amongst the fruits, said Bartholomew I, the warming relationship between the Churches since the mid-1960s has resulted in "the mutual rescinding of the excommunications of the year 1054, the exchange of greetings, returning of relics, entering into important dialogues, and visiting each other in our respective sees."
Pope Benedict XVI recalls Vatican II
The text of Pope Benedict XVI's recollections of the Second Vatican Council was published in L'Osservatore Romano on 10 October. The following are some edited extracts.
"It was a moment of extraordinary expectation. Great things were about to happen. The previous Councils had almost always been convoked for a precise question to which they were to provide an answer. This time there was no specific problem to resolve. But precisely because of this, a general sense of expectation hovered in the air: Christianity, which had built and formed the Western world, seemed more and more to be losing its power to shape society.
"So that it might once again be a force to shape the future, John XXIII had convoked the Council without indicating to it any specific problems or programs. This was the greatness and, at the same time, the difficulty of the task that was set before the ecclesial assembly.
"The various episcopates undoubtedly approached the great event with different ideas. Some of them arrived rather with an attitude of expectation regarding the program that was to be developed. It was the episcopates of Central Europe - Belgium, France and Germany - that came with the clearest ideas.
"A central aspect, especially for the German episcopate, was ecumenism: the shared experience of Nazi persecution had brought Protestant and Catholic Christians closer together so this now had to happen at the level of the whole Church, and to be developed further.
"For the French, the subject of the relationship between the Church and the modern world came increasingly to the fore - in other words the work of the so-called 'Schema XIII', from which the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World later emerged.
"The Declaration on Religious Liberty was urgently requested, and also drafted, by the American Bishops in particular. With developments in philosophical thought and in ways of understanding the modern State, the doctrine of tolerance, as worked out in detail by Pius XII, no longer seemed sufficient. At stake was the freedom to choose and practise religion and the freedom to change it, as fundamental human rights and freedoms.
"The Council Fathers neither could nor wished to create a new or different Church. This is why a hermeneutic of rupture is absurd and is contrary to the spirit and the will of the Council Fathers."