DAILY CATHOLIC     WEDNESDAY     June 16, 1999     vol. 10, no. 116

from a CATHOLIC perspective

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Pope to enter confines of former Soviet Union while waiting for Holy Synod in Romania to determine dates of Patriarch's visit

          VATICAN CITY, JUN 15 (ZENIT).- On Friday morning, June 18, the Pope will fly to Erevan, the capital of Armenia. He will be there for only three hours, primarily to visit the head of the Armenian Church and his personal friend, Catholicos Karekin I, who is gravely ill with throat cancer and unable to speak. John Paul II will also meet Robert Hotcharian, president of Armenia. That night, he will return to Rome. With this unscheduled visit to Erevan, the Pope's 87th international trip will became the longest of his pontificate -- fourteen days away from the Vatican.

          Until now, a Roman Pontiff never prolonged an official trip, adding an unscheduled stage in another country. It is also totally unconventional for a Pope to visit a foreign state, other than Italy, without an official agenda being previously arranged. The trip to Armenia has special value for John Paul II, however. The Pontiff will enter the confines of the former Soviet Union, and come close to Moscow and the Patriarchy of All Russia, which continues to be his great hope in terms of a visit.

          Catholicos Karekin I is a figure of great moral authority in Eastern Christianity. The Armenian Church has close to 4 million faithful in the world. Christianity became the State religion in Armenia in 301, anticipating the Roman Empire in this respect by almost a decade. Patriarch Karekin I is 66 years old and an energetic supporter of dialogue among the Christian Churches. In 1997 he accepted John Paul II's invitation to write the Stations of the Cross for Good Friday. Last March 25, when he came to Rome to inaugurate an exhibition on Christianity in Armenia, he invited the Pope to visit him in Armenia.

          The date for that historic trip was fixed for July 2, but on June 11 Karekin I sent an envoy to Warsaw to postpone the visit. The Patriarch is now gravely ill. The Vatican fears that his successor will not be as well disposed toward the Catholic Church and ecumenism.

          Meanwhile in Bucharest, the Romanian Orthodox Church's Holy Synod will meet on June 16 and 17 to decide, among other issues, the dates of Patriarch Teoctist's visit to Rome. During his visit to Bucharest, from May 7-11, John Paul II personally invited the Romanian Orthodox Patriarch. An official invitation has now been extended to the Patriarch through the offices of Cardinal Paul Poupard, President of the Pontifical Council for Culture, who is visiting the Romanian capital.

          The Pope's trip to Romania, the first to a country with an Orthodox majority, has opened new horizons in the relations between the two Churches. "The Holy Father's invitation to Patriarch Teoctist of Romania to visit Rome reveals that John Paul II's trip was not just an occasion for celebration, but an opportunity to change hearts, attitudes and wills," Petros Marep told the international agency, "Fides." Marep is national director of the Pontifical Missionary Works in Romania; he was speaking exactly one month after John Paul II's visit.

          In Romania, the Catholic Church is extended over 11 dioceses, six of the Latin rite and five of Eastern Rites. It has 2.5 million faithful. The Pope's visit, according to Marep, revealed a Church that is "young, and full of vigor and hope."

          During the last papal event, there was a single cry from all the people: Unity. This call represents "the essence of the Holy Father's three-day visit to Romania," Marep concluded. This new youthfulness of the Catholic Church, which has overcome the trial of 40 years of Communism and follows 10 years of liberty, confirms Tertullian's affirmation -- "the blood of martyrs is the seed of Christians." ZE99061507 and ZE99061502

Articles provided through Catholic World News and Church News at Noticias Eclesiales and International Dossiers, Daily Dispatches and Features at ZENIT International News Agency. CWN, NE and ZENIT are not affiliated with the Daily CATHOLIC but provide this service via e-mail to the Daily CATHOLIC Monday through Friday.

June 16, 1999       volume 10, no. 116


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