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Challenges of Catholic-Orthodox Dialogue

12/15/2006 - 6:00 AM PST

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Interview With Monsignor Dimitrios Salachas of Athens

ROME, DEC. 15, 2006 (Zenit) - Archbishop Christodoulos, head of the Greek Orthodox Church, expressed hope that his historic meeting with Benedict XVI will lead to a joint declaration in favor of recognizing Europe's Christian roots.

For insight into today's visit and its ecumenical repercussions, we interviewed Monsignor Dimitrios Salachas, of the Greek-Catholic Apostolic Exarchy of Athens.

The monsignor is a professor of canon law in Rome, and consultor for the Congregation for Eastern Churches, the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, and other Roman Curia organizations.

Q: Some years ago, and not that many, a visit by the Orthodox archbishop of Athens to the Pope was quite improbable. What is changing?

Monsignor Salachas: Insofar as I know, Archbishop Christodoulos' intention to visit the Pope already ripened during the last years of John Paul II's pontificate, whose funeral he attended personally.

The starting point of a new era in relations between the Church of Rome and the Orthodox Church of Greece was precisely John Paul II's Jubilee pilgrimage to Greece in May 2001 "in the footsteps of St. Paul," and the signing of a Joint Declaration in Athens' Areopagus by Pope John Paul II and Archbishop Christodoulos, committing themselves to fraternal collaboration and a common testimony to safeguard the Christian identity of the European continent.

It was followed in March 2002 by the visit to the Holy See of a delegation of the Holy Synod of the Church of Greece, and in February 2003 by the visit of a delegation of the Holy See, headed by Cardinal Walter Kasper, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, to the Church of Greece, and the participation of representatives of the Holy See in several initiatives convoked by the Church of Greece at the international and ecumenical level.

Pope Benedict XVI's visit to Constantinople consolidated the decision already made months earlier by the archbishop to visit the Church of Rome and meet with her Bishop to reaffirm the commitment assumed with the declaration in Athens' Areopagus in 2001.

Q: As a Greek Catholic and specialist in Eastern law, do you think that the fact that Catholics in Greece have some problems, such as the lack of recognition of the juridical personality of the Catholic Church, can put a stop to the ecumenical endeavor?

Monsignor Salachas: It's true that the problem of the recognition of the juridical personality of the Catholic Church has been of concern for decades for Catholics in Greece with serious practical consequences.

This problem was addressed during the visit of the president of the Hellenic republic, Karolos Papoulias, to the Vatican on January 28, 2005.

The president, accompanied by Mrs. Ghiannakou, minister of education and religious affairs, committed himself decisively to a just and speedy solution to this problem, in order to give the Catholic Church in Greece an appropriate and recognized juridical status.

At present, the ministry has instituted a mixed commission to study a possible solution to the problem.

A solution is sought in the context of the constitution and of legislation in force in the Hellenic republic. There is no lack of difficulties along this line, but it is hoped that the commission will be able to achieve the desired solution very soon.

On receiving the Catholic bishops of Greece last October 30, on their "ad limina" visit, Pope Benedict XVI expressed the hope that with patience and respect for legitimate procedures, it would be possible to achieve the desired agreement thanks to the efforts of all.

I don't think, therefore, that this problem can slow down the good high-level ecumenical relationship between the Churches.

The problem does not refer in fact to the Orthodox Church as it does to the government's exclusive competence, which, in addition to the obligation of guaranteeing the constitutional right of religious liberty of every citizen and every religion, must respond to the appeals of the European Community, of which Greece is a member. I don't think the Orthodox Church wants to slow down this process.

Q: You are a member of the mixed commission for the official theological dialogue between the Catholic and Orthodox Church. In the course of all these years, from Patmos 1980 to Belgrade 2006, the mixed commission has not resolved the problem called "Uniatism," considered by the Orthodox side as a grave obstacle for unity. The Eastern-rite Catholics who are called "Uniates" -- are they more a problem or a solution, ecumenically speaking?

Monsignor Salachas: The mixed commission, aware of the complexity of the problems in resolving "Uniatism," considers nevertheless the importance of this dialogue, ...

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