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Report of Catholic-Oriental Orthodox Commission

A Shared "Ecclesial Patrimony Stemming From Apostolic Times"

VATICAN CITY, FEB. 13, 2007 (Zenit) - Here is the report issued at the conclusion of the fourth meeting of the International Joint Commission for Theological Dialogue Between the Catholic Church and the Oriental Orthodox Churches. The meeting took place Jan. 28-Feb. 3 in Rome.

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The fourth meeting of the International Joint Commission for Theological Dialogue between the Catholic Church and the Oriental Orthodox Churches took place in Rome from Jan. 28 to Feb. 3, 2007, under the co-chairmanship of His Eminence Cardinal Walter Kasper, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity and His Eminence Metropolitan Bishoy of Damiette, secretary-general of the Holy Synod of the Coptic Orthodox Church.

The meeting was originally scheduled to take place in Lebanon at the kind invitation of His Beatitude Patriarch Nasrallah Pierre Sfeir of the Maronite Church. Regrettably, the political situation in that country did not allow the members to meet there at this time. Instead, the meeting was held in Rome at the new offices of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity.

The members were hosted at the Domus Romana Sacerdotalis. Joining the delegates from the Catholic Church were representatives of the following Oriental Orthodox Churches: Coptic Orthodox Church, Syrian Orthodox Church, Armenian Apostolic Church (Catholicosate of All Armenians), Armenian Apostolic Church (Holy See of Cilicia), Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church, Ethiopian Orthodox Church, and Eritrean Orthodox Church.

The Oriental Orthodox delegation met separately Jan. 29-30 in order to discuss themes in ecclesiology. During the course of these meetings, they produced a draft report that was later given to the Catholic members. The Catholic delegation met separately Jan. 30. The full International Joint Commission met on three consecutive days, from Jan. 31 to Feb 2. Each day began with a brief prayer service using material that had been produced for this year's Prayer for Christian Unity.

The members of the international commission were received in audience by His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI on Feb. 1. His Eminence Anba Bishoy greeted His Holiness the Pope on behalf of the members of the dialogue and thanked him for his efforts to promote dialogue with the Oriental Orthodox. He also presented him with an icon hand painted by Coptic Orthodox nuns in Egypt.

Addressing the group, Pope Benedict said, "Your meeting concerning the constitution and mission of the Church is of great importance for our common journey toward the restoration of full communion. The Catholic Church and the Oriental Orthodox Churches share an ecclesial patrimony stemming from apostolic times and the first centuries of Christianity. This 'heritage of experience' should shape our future 'guiding our common path toward the re-establishment of full communion' (cf. "Ut Unum Sint," 56)." The Pope also expressed his concern for the situation of Christians in the Middle East, calling upon them to be "courageous and steadfast in the power of the Spirit of Christ."

Following the plan for the dialogue that was adopted at the Preparatory Meeting in 2003, the following papers were presented during the course of the meeting:

-- "Mission, Witness, Service and the Problem of Proselytism," by Archbishop Khajag Barsamian
-- "The Mission of the Church," by Bishop Paul-Werner Scheele

-- "The Salvation of Nonbelievers in the Patristic Period," by Father Mark Sheridan, O.S.B.
-- "The Church and the Salvation of Non-Christians in the Second Vatican Council and Afterward," by Monsignor Johan Bonny

-- "The Salvation of Nonbelievers," by Metropolitan Bishoy
-- "Marriage Between Catholics and Muslims: A Catholic Perspective," by Archbishop Peter Marayati
-- "Mixed Marriages With Non-Christians," by Metropolitan Bishoy.

Because of technical difficulties, the drafting committee that had been named at the third meeting of the dialogue in Etchmiadzin, Armenia, was not able to meet. Its membership was modified, and is now composed of Catholic members Father Frans Bouwen, Father Mark Sheridan, Monsignor Johan Bonny and Dietmar Winkler, and Oriental Orthodox members Metropolitan Bishoy, Metropolitan Theophilus George Saliba, Archbishop Mesrob Krikorian, and Bishop Nareg Alemezian. The drafting committee will meet in Rome from May 29 to 30, 2007.

On the evening of Jan. 30, the members of the commission attended a vespers service at the Church of the Transfiguration, a Catholic parish in Rome that also hosts a Coptic Orthodox community.

The commission members later met with the parishioners and attended a festive meal provided by the parish. On the evening of Feb. 1, His Eminence Cardinal Kasper ...

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