VATICAN, Jan. 25, 01 (CWNews.com) -- During an ecumenical service
in Rome on Thursday, Pope John Paul II proposed a concrete step
toward Christian unity: an effort to agree on a single date for the
celebration of Easter.
At a Liturgy of the Word ceremony at the basilica of St. Paul outside
the Wall, the Holy Father suggested the common Easter celebration as
a realistic step toward Church unity. The current year is a rare one,
in which the different liturgical calendars used by Christian
denominations all agree in marking April 15 as Easter Sunday. "This
should encourage us to find a consensus on a common date for this
feast," the Pope suggested, provoking hearty applause.
At St. Paul's basilica, the Pontiff was joined by 23 other Christian
leaders, representing Orthodox and Protestant groups, in a ceremony
closing the annual Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. In his
remarks, the Pope noted that there is "no ecclesial pride in the
Catholic Church." He said that the Catholic Church is totally committed
to ecumenical progress.
"Despite the misunderstandings and the many problems that still
prevent us from enjoying full unity, we can also see-- at the visible
frontiers of the Catholic Church-- important elements of
sanctification and of truth that the one Church of Christ is moving us
toward true union," the Pope said.
Church leaders should not see it as their goal to "diminish the
differences" that separate one body from another, the Pope
continued. Theological disagreements, he explained, should be seen
not as "obstacles to dialogue" but rather as "an invitation to a frank
and charitable exchange" that would ultimately serve the cause of
truth. "Real ecumenical work is not looking for compromise, and does
not make concessions that involve the truth," he said.
Renewing the call that he made at the start of the Jubilee year, the
Holy Father called for a "purification of memory" among all Christian
believers. "During the course of the second millennium, we opposed
each other, we were divided, we issued mutual condemnations," he
observed. Now, he challenged Christians to "forget the shadows and
scars of the past," and turn together to the task of restoring unity.
"Purification of memory also means building a spirituality of
communion," the Pope said. "We must live concretely the communion
which-- even if it is not full-- already exists among us." The
exchanges between representatives of different Christian groups, he
argued, should be marked by "signs of love" and a real willingness to
establish "reconciliation and peace among all Christians."
The ceremony at St. Paul's allowed representatives of different
religious bodies to read from the Epistles of St. Paul, in Greek, Syrian,
and Russian. After the ceremony, the Pope ate lunch with the other
Christian leaders, at the Benedictine Abbey that administers the
Pope John Paul II also
personally announced his plans to visit Syria.
The Pope's surprise announcement came at the ecumenical
celebration of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, held at the
basilica of St. Paul outside the Wall in Rome.
"I am eagerly awaiting the trips that will take me to Syria and to
Ukraine," the Pope said. "My hope is that they will contribute to
reconciliation and peace among Christians."
Although the dates of the Pope's trip to Ukraine have already been
announced-- June 23- 27-- there has been no official announcement
of the trip to Syria, and the Vatican has not released dates for that
visit. Father Roberto Tucci, the Jesuit priest who usually handles
advance work for papal trips (and who will become a cardinal in
February) is currently in Damascus discussing details of the plans for
Vatican insiders expect the Pope to travel Syria sometime in the
spring. There is also some speculation that he might stop on the
island of Malta on his return trip to Rome.
Also, President Constantinos
Stephanopoulos of Greece has issued an informal invitation for Pope
John Paul II to visit that country.
During a private meeting with the Pontiff on Wednesday, the Greek
president broached the possibility of a papal visit. Vatican
spokesmen indicated that they are awaiting a formal invitation.
Pope John Paul reportedly thanked Stephanopoulos for his
suggestion. He has in the past expressed his hope to visit Greece,
continuing in his personal pilgrimage, following the footsteps of St.
Paul. However, difficulties in relations with the Greek Orthodox
Church have deterred the Vatican from pursuing the idea