January 26, 2001
volume 12, no. 26
Pope pushes for Ecumenism, Suggests Common Calendar

Announces Syria Trip and receives informal invite from President of Greece

    VATICAN, Jan. 25, 01 ( -- 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 basilica.

    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 that voyage.

    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 energetically.

January 26, 2001
volume 12, no. 26
News from Rome

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