Cardinal William H. Keeler returned this week to Baltimore from Istanbul, Turkey, where, as emissary for Pope John Paul II, he and a delegation continued to build relations between Roman Catholics and Orthodox Christians.
Meeting with Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, the spiritual leader of the world's Orthodox Christians, Keeler delivered a letter from John Paul, who expressed hope that the denominations might achieve full unity.
John Paul said in his letter that the churches' respective patron saints should remind both sects of their common mission.
"The apostolic faith, the apostolic tradition, the apostolic mission all highlight the urgency to overcome the differences and difficulties which prevent us today from reaching full communion, so as to offer the world a clearer witness of peace and unity," the pope said.
Keeler, who last year welcomed Bartholomew to Baltimore, said the meetings with the patriarch and the patriarch's advisory body, focused on each denomination's plans to celebrate the jubilee year that will mark the millennium.
Since the 1970s, the Vatican has sent a delegation each year to Istanbul -- the modern name for Constantinople, the historic center of Orthodoxy -- for the feast of St. Andrew, the patron saint of the patriarch.
In turn, the patriarch sends a delegation to Rome in June for the feast of St. Peter and St. Paul, patron saints of the Diocese of Rome.
The visits have become particularly sensitive in recent years, as tensions have risen between Orthodox and other Christian denominations, including Roman Catholics, in formerly communist countries.
Orthodox leaders object to Catholics' attempts to revive dioceses and reclaim church property that was seized by communist authorities, and to proselytism by other Christian denominations.
The Orthodox and Roman Catholics will continue working toward unity when the Joint International Commission for Theological Dialogue meets for the first time in the Western Hemisphere, in June at Mount St. Mary's College and Seminary in Emmitsburg.
Keeler, head of the Baltimore Archdiocese, led the Vatican delegation at the request of John Paul, flying to Istanbul on Thanksgiving night.
The delegation also reported to the Orthodox hierarchy on efforts to ease tensions in the former Soviet bloc countries.
Pub Date: 12/05/98