Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco, CCEE President, and Péter Erdő, former CCEE president, were invited by the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew to discuss the cooperation between the Orthodox Churches and the Catholic Church in Europe, and to attend the Divine Liturgy of the first Sunday of Lent, also called the Sunday of Orthodoxy. During the liturgy, that celebrated with a beautiful, impressive procession of icons carried by several metropolitan Bishops, the moment when, in 843, the sacred icons were restored in the Saint Sophia Basilica after the tragic iconoclastic crisis, was ordained a new Metropolitan bishop for the see of New York (United States). The fact that the meeting between the Ecumenical Patriarch and the CCEE President, accompanied by his predecessor, took place this Sunday, celebrated with this beautiful liturgy, is a clear providential sign that ecumenical dialogue – notably Orthodox-Catholic dialogue – is determined by prayer, and by the certainty that the raison d’etre of all Christian existence is Christ.
When all Christians extend their gaze to Christ and they are not self-referential, they are able to embrace, as Jesus did, the life of people and of society as a whole.
After the Divine Liturgy the Patriarch received several people attending the celebration, including the new bishop and his relatives. Addressing the two cardinals the Patriarch recalled how beautiful it is to pray together, to share the brotherly love that strengthens the bonds between Christians. In his speech the Patriarch pointed out that the presence of the two cardinals might be considered as symbolizing the presence of all CCEE members, along with the joint determination to promote Christian values, often lacking in our contemporary societies. In addressing directly Cardinal Bagnasco, elected CCEE president past October, he wished him every good wish and numerous gifts from God, sharing the joy over the fruits borne of the European Catholic-Orthodox Forum. This Forum, which every two years brings together the representatives of Orthodox Churches in Europe and a delegation of European Catholic bishops, is co-organized by CCEE and by the Ecumenical Patriarchate. In the past five editions the Forum addressed themes of great topical relevance for Europe, whereby Orthodox and Catholics reached shared conclusions conveyed in messages of great import, that should be known by all.
“We gain great courage and inspiration from this cooperation”, the Patriarch said. “Today more than ever, our Churches are called to defend Christian principles and stand together in the face of the unprecedented challenges and threats against Christianity.” According to Patriarch Bartholomew it is important to ascribe major importance “to objective education that prevents radicalization and promotes an ethos”, building bridges and discovering new forms of evangelization in the European arena. In his final remarks,
It must be remembered, the Patriarch said, that while the challenges are great, so is the faith of the fathers and of the people of God.
For his part, Cardinal Bagnasco thanked the Ecumenical Patriarch for his invitation and reaffirmed CCEE’s determination to pursue industrious and fruitful collaboration through the European Catholic-Orthodox Forum, especially at a time when the Churches of the different European Countries are called to face a set of common challenges. These major challenges are intertwined, and they should be addressed together with prayers and joint reflections. The harmonious agreement on the urgent need to pursue the path of joint commitment, along with the acknowledgement of the fruitfulness of the European Catholic-Orthodox Forum, was given concrete expression with the joint decision to hold a sixth session in 2018. The meeting hence clearly highlighted the fact the Catholics and Orthodox in Europe don’t stand in idle contemplation but that they jointly carry out a discernment in the light of their faith in Jesus Christ to seize the signs of the times and discover new forms of evangelization, to bring the truth and the beauty of the Gospel in a world that, also when apparently distracted and unwilling to listen to Christian Churches, asks for the help that only Christ can give and that Christians have the joy to have listened to, along with the mission to bring unto others.
(*) CCEE Secretary General