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Benedict XVI's 'Gesture of Love'

Interview With Professor of Ecumenical Theology

ROME, NOV. 30, 2006 (Zenit) - The exchange of visits between the Catholic and Orthodox Churches is a "gesture of love," says Father Giovanni Cereti.

Father Cereti said this in an interview with us on the importance of Benedict XVI's four-day apostolic trip to Turkey, which begins today and will include a visit to the Ecumenical Patriarchate.

Father Cereti is a Catholic theologian and lecturer of ecumenical theology at Venice's Institute of Ecumenical Studies, at Rome's Pontifical Theological Faculty Marianum and the Mater Ecclesiae Higher Institute of Religious Studies, connected to the Pontifical Angelicum University in Rome.

Q: Every year, on Nov. 30, feast of St. Andrew, a Vatican delegation visits the ecumenical patriarchate, and the patriarchate sends a delegation to Rome for the feast of St. Peter on June 29. When did these visits begin and what importance should we attribute to the fact that it is the Pope himself who is carrying out this gesture on this occasion?

Father Cereti: In relations between Christians the exchange of visits between Churches goes back to apostolic times and has great symbolic and spiritual meaning as a gesture of fraternal love and communion.

The Church of Christ is a communion, and fraternal relations between Christians and churches are an essential expression of this communion, which already unites us to God in virtue of the common faith and one baptism.

After a long period during which, due to external difficulties, these visits could not be undertaken, the Second Vatican Council established a new starting point and the exchange of visits between local churches of the West and the East has become very frequent.

Among all these visits, most significant in fact are those carried out between the two most important sees of Christianity, at the initiative of Pope Paul VI and Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras I.

They have become habitual on the occasion of important feasts of patron saints of the Church of Rome and of Constantinople, and in some cases it was not just official delegations but visits carried out by their highest representatives. Let's remember that Paul VI visited the Patriarchate of Constantinople in 1967, and Pope John Paul II did so in 1979.

On this occasion, Benedict XVI's visit to the patriarch of Constantinople for the feast of St. Andrew is a sign of gratitude for the visit made by Patriarch Bartholomew I to the Bishop of Rome on the feast of Sts. Peter and Paul in 2005.

Q: Is there a common model of unity in the Church recognized by Orthodox and Catholics or is it still to be identified?

Father Cereti: An ecclesiological model already exists, and it also goes back to the Church of apostolic times.

It is the model of "koinonia": The Church of Christ is a "koinonia," a communion, and it lives this communion in the dimensions just mentioned: in the common faith, based on the one revelation; on the one sacred Scripture, and expressed in the symbols of faith of the early Church; in sacramental life, and in particular in baptism, door of entry to ecclesial communion, and in the Eucharist, supreme visible sign of ecclesial communion.

And, finally, the life of charity of the whole Christian people, life of charity that is exercised in multiple ways and which is realized under the guidance of the ordained ministry, and in particular of the episcopate, which, in fact, has the task of being at the service of ecclesial communion.

On this model of communion, Catholics and Orthodox today are in agreement. Such a communion is expressed in the synodal character, or in episcopal collegiality, but at all levels of this synodal character there is a "protos," a first, a president or moderator of the synod or of the council.

Also at the level of the universal Church, a ministry must exist which is called to preside in charity over the communion of the universal Church.

Catholics believe that this task is entrusted to the Bishop of Rome, but the Orthodox also acknowledge that the day that communion between East and West is reestablished, the Bishop of Rome would again take up the place that is recognized for him according to the tradition of the ancient Church between bishops and patriarchs.

Q: Was the schism of 1054 in response to problems of doctrine and faith, or rather to political-cultural problems and to the fact that the mentality of Easterners and Westerners was quite different?

Father Cereti: The separation between East and West is the result of an evolution in the separation of the two parts of Europe, East and West, which took place in the course of many centuries and which led to the growth of two very different cultures, which expressed themselves in different languages, Greek and Latin, and which forged ...

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