Christian witness 'more credible' in union, writes Pope in letter to Eastern Patriarch


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Vatican City, Nov 30, 2009 / 09:55 pm (CNA).- Pope Benedict XVI reached out to Bartholomew I and the Eastern Church Monday in his annual letter to the Patriarch celebrating the Feast of St. Andrew. The message encouraged continued ecumenical talks towards unification of the churches of the East and West and "openness to the Holy Spirit" to guide them in the process.

The letter was delivered to the Ecumenical Patriarch of Istanbul, Bartholomew I, by way of a Papal delegation led by the President of the Pontifical Council for Christian Unity Cardinal Walter Kasper. The delegation concelebrated Mass with the Patriarch and gave him the letter in a ceremony afterwards.

The message included words of shared celebration for the Feast of St. Andrew, patron of the Patriarchate of Constantinople

Citing St. Andrew's martyrdom, the Pope wrote "The memory of the holy martyrs compels all Christians to bear witness to their faith before the world. There is an urgency in this call especially in our own day, in which Christianity is faced with increasingly complex challenges. The witness of Christians will surely be all the more credible if all believers in Christ are 'of one heart and soul.'

"Our Churches have committed themselves sincerely over the last decades to pursuing the path towards the re-establishment of full communion, and although we have not yet reached our goal, many steps have been taken that have enabled us to deepen the bonds between us."

Said the Pontiff of this relationship, it "should not be hindered by those who remain bound to the remembrance of historical differences, which impedes their openness to the Holy Spirit who guides the Church and is able to transform all human failings into opportunities for good."

The Pope referenced the Joint International Commission for Theological Dialogue, which met for the 11th time in a plenary session in Cyprus in October, as progress towards unity. "The meeting was marked by a spirit of solemn purpose and a warm sentiment of closeness."

Pope Benedict XVI chose to reiterate the words that he had used while in Phanar, Turkey in 2006, to express his the Roman Catholic Church's wish for an "ecclesiology of communion" in recognizing the establishment of the Petrine lineage of the Church of Rome. He wrote, "It is a question of seeking together, inspired by the model of the first millennium, the forms in which the ministry of the Bishop of Rome may accomplish a service of love recognized by one and all."

"Yet even as we make this journey towards full communion," he continued, "we should already offer common witness by working together in the service of humanity, especially in defending the dignity of the human person, in affirming fundamental ethical values, in promoting justice and peace, and in responding to the suffering that continues to afflict our world, particularly hunger, poverty, illiteracy, and the inequitable distribution of resources."