WASHINGTON D.C., May 22 – Catholic and Eastern Orthodox leaders in the U.S. celebrated the closeness between the two churches, recommitting to continued dialogue as Pope Francis’ trip to the Holy Land approaches.
Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville, Ky., president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, joined Archbishop Demetrios, primate of the Greek Orthodox Church in America and chairman of the Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops of the U.S., in issuing a May 15 joint statement rejoicing in the “good fruit” that dialogue has yielded between the churches.
“Meetings between Popes and Ecumenical Patriarchs and other contacts became more common,” they continued, noting their wish to “reaffirm the dialogue of love initiated by Pope Paul VI and Patriarch Athenagoras and to continue to strive to remove that which separates us.”
The statement came in advance of Pope Francis’ May 24-26 visit to the Holy Land. On May 25, Pope Francis and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew will meet in Jerusalem.
Archbishop Kurtz and Archbishop Demetrios reflected on the fruits of the 1964 meeting of Pope Paul VI and Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras in Jerusalem.
During the 1964 meeting, the two Church leaders signed documents nullifying the 1054 A.D. excommunications between the churches and “swept aside centuries of hostility and embraced one another in the city where Christ was crucified and rose from the dead,” the archbishops said.
During the meeting, the Patriarch gifted the Pope with an episcopal pectoral icon and the Pope gave the Patriarch a chalice, a sign “that they were determined to work for the victory of love over enmity, of communion over division.”
This monumental meeting “led to the establishment of an international theological dialogue between the two churches,” Archbishop Kurtz and Archbishop Demetrios explained.
In the United States and Canada, this dialogue has resulted in a theological consultation between the two Churches, which “has issued 30 agreed statements over the years, carefully examining the issues that still divide us and proposing ways to resolve them.”
The two leaders praised the work of the North American dialogue in the 49 years since its inception.
They voiced hope that the Pope’s meeting with the Patriarch may be an opportunity “to speak with one voice on the pressing issues that our society faces today.”
“We commit ourselves to increased cooperation in these areas, including social, economic, and ethical dilemmas,” said Archbishop Kurtz and Archbishop Demetrios, calling Catholics and Orthodox to “pray for the success of the upcoming meeting between Pope Francis and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew in Jerusalem for the glory of God and the promotion of Christianity in our wounded world.”