Catholic, Orthodox cite friendship, plan for 2007 dialogue meeting

By John Thavis
Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY (CNS)

— Catholic and Orthodox representatives ended an important theological meeting on a good note, citing a “spirit of friendship” and making plans for a follow-up encounter next year.

A joint statement issued at the end of the Sept. 18-25 meeting in Belgrade, Serbia-Montenegro, said the approximately 60 participants had discussed in depth a draft document that touched on papal primacy and the role of Eastern Catholic churches.

The draft document “was carefully examined in a shared spirit of genuine commitment to the search for unity,” the statement said.

A joint committee was appointed to revise the text in light of the many observations and comments made during the discussions. The revised text is expected to be taken up in a meeting hosted by the Catholic Church in 2007, the statement said.

It was the first time the Catholic-Orthodox international dialogue commission had met since 2000, when talks were broken off over tensions related to the re-emergence of Eastern Catholic churches in post-communist Eastern Europe.

“The meeting of the joint commission was marked by a spirit of friendship and trustful collaboration,” the statement said.

It said the draft document, titled “The Ecclesiological and Canonical Consequences of the Sacramental Nature of the Church: Conciliarity and Authority in the Church,” was discussed at three levels of the church’s life: local, regional and universal.

The statement offered few details of the discussions. Catholic participants said before the meeting that papal primacy was thought to be the most important and problematic issue on the table and that the Belgrade meeting would be part of a long process eventually leading, it was hoped, to some form of agreement.

Cardinal Walter Kasper, the Vatican’s top ecumenist and head of the Catholic delegation to the meeting, told Vatican Radio Sept. 22 that the most important result of the meeting would be “the friendship we established in these days.”

He characterized the atmosphere in Belgrade as “very serious but also very calm and friendly.” He said both sides had faced theological questions with honesty, noting their differences, but without polemics and with a clear desire to overcome disagreements.

“This is certainly a starting point and a hope for the future,” he said.

Pope Benedict XVI, while in Germany in September, had said he hoped the Belgrade meeting would lead to real ecumenical progress between Catholics and Orthodox Christians.

Cardinal Kasper said establishing a gracious dialogue climate had been a good first step.

“In this sense, our meeting corresponds well to the pope’s desire. We all have hope that concrete steps can be taken,” he said.

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