Cardinal Walter Kasper, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, met last Saturday with the Bulgarian Orthodox community residing in Rome, which had gathered to celebrate Easter.
"You Orthodox and we Catholics do not have the same Easter date, but we have the same paschal faith," the cardinal told them.
The community was celebrating its first Easter in the church of Sts. Vincent and Anastasius. The church was given to the Bulgarian community in Rome last year by John Paul II, coinciding with his trip to Sofia.
Present at the celebration, which was presided over by Archimandrite Thion, vicar of the Orthodox Diaspora for Western Europe, were the ambassadors of Bulgaria to the Vatican and to Italy, as well as the ambassadors to the Vatican of Serbia-Montenegro and Macedonia.
New impetus will be given to Catholic-Orthodox relations on May 24, the feast of Sts. Cyril and Methodius, when two Bulgarian delegations will visit Rome. One delegation will be headed by King Simeon and the Prime Minister, and the other by officials of the Bulgarian Holy Synod.
Relations between the Roman Catholic Church and the Bulgarian Orthodox Church had a "difficult beginning because the latter was closed for a long time during the Communist period," Cardinal Kasper told Vatican Radio. It was a Church "closed in on itself," he said.
The cardinal said that John Paul II's visit greatly improved this situation. The Holy Father "had the charism of initiating new progress and new steps," he said.
"After the Pope's visit, I returned to Bulgaria," Cardinal Kasper said. "I visited monasteries, parishes, and we made friendships. For me, friendship and trust are at the base of theological dialogue."
Cardinal Kasper also referred to the role of Bulgarian Orthodox in Europe, a continent united by a Christian spirit: "The Holy Father always says that the Church, but also Europe, must breathe with two lungs."
"Bulgarians have much to give, because they have a spiritual richness, especially in St. Cyril and St. Methodius, who come from Bulgaria and represent all the Slav peoples," the cardinal explained.
He added: "We must collaborate, because we Westerners, who are secularized, need this spirituality, but they likewise have need of our help."