VATICAN (CWN) -- Pope John Paul II today conveyed his Christmas greetings to the Eastern Christian churches, who celebrate the feast today. He called again for greater progress toward Christian unity. The Orthodox churches, which still follow the Julian calendar, observe Christmas today.

      The Holy Father called for the intercession of the Virgin Mary, asking her help as he mentioned his "particular thought for our brothers in the Eastern churches, many of whom celebrate the Nativity of the Lord today. To them, I offer my sincere hope for a blessed Christmas."

      The Pope added his prayer: "that the Holy Mother of God will help us along the route toward full communion among all Christ's disciples, so that the proclamation of the Gospel to the generations of the new millennium will be every more effective."

      The Pope's appeal, at the beginning of 1997, comes after the conclusion of a year marred by difficulties in ecumenical relations. There were several minor diplomatic disagreements between the Holy See and the Patriarch of Constantinople, while the Patriarch of Moscow -- the head of the largest Eastern church-- was much more public in his rejection of a meeting with the Pontiff, which had been scheduled to take place in Vienna in June.

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January 7, 1998 volume 9, no. 5          DAILY CATHOLIC