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Cardinal Kasper on Catholic-Orthodox Ties

President of Council for Promoting Christian Unity Confident in Future

VATICAN CITY, MAY 26, 2006 (Zenit) - Although it will take time, there are signs of Orthodox-Catholic rapprochement, says Cardinal Walter Kasper.

The president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, in this interview published Tuesday in the Italian Catholic newspaper Avvenire, said "the division between East and West is not the result of only one event, but of a process of estrangement that lasted for centuries."

This estrangement, he suggested, cannot be resolved "with a leap, but with many steps."

The cardinal went on to review the latest steps and forthcoming projects of ecumenism.

Q: Your Eminence, what has happened in recent times between Rome and Moscow?

Cardinal Kasper: Our impression is that the atmosphere is much improved. The [Orthodox] Patriarchate of Moscow is willing to collaborate above all in the rediscovery of the Christian roots of Europe. It is a topic that is very important for us also. We hope we will be able to make progress step by step, but it will take time.

The problems in ecumenical dialogue have never been only dogmatic; there are also differences of mentality. Patriarch Alexy himself cannot always advance as he wishes.

But I am convinced that he is prepared to take important steps, as Benedict XVI is. There are still no concrete projects, but we truly hope to be able to prepare the ground for a meeting with them.

Q: Moreover, in September, the Mixed Commission for Theological Dialogue with Orthodox Churches will renew its work after six years of stagnation.

Cardinal Kasper: It will be the first plenary session of the new commission, with nine members. The theme is also new: reflections on the meaning of full communion. And, within this framework, we want to talk about the Pope's primacy and the problem of so-called Uniatism.

Q: What has changed since 2000, when the commission's works were interrupted?

Cardinal Kasper: We have first improved our relations with individual Churches. We have done so with Greece, Serbia, Bulgaria and also Moscow. Now there is a new climate of trust. And I believe building confidence is always the most important.

Q: But is this climate of confidence in Moscow reflected also in more daily relations between Catholics and Orthodox?

Cardinal Kasper: The impression is that this has also improved. All difficulties have certainly not disappeared. They are questions linked rather to relations between the majority and minorities.

And, in addition, there are also the historical problems of relations between Russians and Poles. Time is needed to overcome certain prejudices which, moreover, exist on both sides.

Q: The theological dialogue is being renewed precisely in the Balkans, symbol in the '90s of serious divisions.

Cardinal Kasper: It is a very significant event: The Serbian Church was also closed for quite some time; now, instead, it is open to dialogue. They offered themselves as venue for the works.

In Belgrade, the Sacred Synod and Catholic Episcopal Conference meet regularly to pray together and to be informed.

Q: And Benedict XVI's visit to the patriarch of Constantinople will take place in November.

Cardinal Kasper: Already last year the Pope wanted to make this trip, but it was not possible. Now he will visit the ecumenical patriarch, who has a primacy of honor among the Orthodox patriarchs.

This trip will not bring immediate results, but it will have an important symbolic value. And it will also be an occasion to support the patriarch, Catholics and other Christians who live their faith in Istanbul and Turkey in a situation that is not easy.

Q: Will the meeting with Bartholomew be at the headquarters of the Patriarchate in Phanar?

Cardinal Kasper: Yes. The Pope will first go to Ankara, where he will visit the authorities. Then he will go to Ephesus. Finally, he will meet with the ecumenical patriarch in Istanbul.

Q: In a world where the East is again a heated area, what does this rapprochement between Catholics and Orthodox express?

Cardinal Kasper: In our relations, we must be a sign of reconciliation. I am thinking above all of the Middle East, where Christian Churches are a minority.

We have made much progress in the last decades: We collaborate with and visit one another and there are many exchanges. However, it is true: the danger of terrorism and the confrontation we witness call for an even fuller meeting to be authentic witnesses of peace.


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