A Vatican delegation, led by Cardinal Walter Kasper, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, delivered the letter to the Orthodox leader from the Pope today, on the feast of St. Andrew, patron of the ecumenical patriarch.
The aide also presented to the Orthodox patriarch a signed copy of the Pontiff's encyclical "Spe Salvi," and a reproduction of the "Mystical Lamb" from the dome of the Church of St. Vital of Ravenna, Italy.
The visit reciprocates the habitual exchange of delegations for the respective patronal feasts in which Bartholomew I sends a delegation to Rome on June 29, the feast of Sts. Peter and St. Paul, and the Pope sends a delegation to Istanbul on Nov. 30. Last year, the Holy Father led the delegation himself.
In the letter, Benedict XVI recalled his visit to Istanbul, and said that the practice of exchanging delegations represents an authentic sign "of the commitment of our Churches to an ever deeper communion, strengthened through cordial personal relations, prayer and the dialogue of charity and truth."
Referring to the 10th plenary session of the Joint International Commission for Theological Dialogue Between the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church, held in October in Ravenna, the Pope said that even though the meeting "was not without its difficulties, I pray earnestly that these may soon be clarified and resolved, so that there may be full participation in the 11th plenary session and in subsequent initiatives aimed at continuing the theological dialogue in mutual charity and understanding."
Work in progress
He continued: "Indeed, our work toward unity is according to the will of Christ our Lord. In these early years of the third millennium, our efforts are all the more urgent because of the many challenges facing all Christians, to which we need to respond with a united voice and with conviction."
A communiqué published Thursday by the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity said that both Rome and Constantinople, "after dedicating themselves in many forms to the reactivation of theological dialogue between the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Churches," look at the conclusions of the plenary session "with feelings of hope."
The concluding document of the meeting, it added, "can in fact encourage future dialogue, and constituted the first step toward the deepening of those painful themes which prevent full communion between Eastern and Western Christians."
Monsignor Eleuterio Fortino, undersecretary of the Christian unity council, said today in the Italian edition of L'Osservatore Romano that the Ravenna conclusions are "important because Catholics and Orthodox have agreed upon a common theological and ecclesiological platform regarding the foundation of the discussion of the primacy of the Bishop of Rome."
[Marta Lago contributed to this article]