The Holy See
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Sunday 13 October 2002


"Eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace" (Eph 4,3).

Your Holiness,
Beloved Brothers and Sisters in the Lord,

We still hold vividly in our memory and heart the moments of great joy and light of Your Holiness' visit to Romania in May 1999, the first visit that a Pope of Rome made to a country with an Orthodox majority. The joy and light on the faces of the Orthodox and Catholic faithful of Romania in those days were the sign of a blessing of the Holy Spirit, who calls our Churches to a more intense activity for unity. We know that you were deeply struck by the cry from the hearts of the young people of Romania that rang out at the Catholic Mass of 9 May 1999: "Unitate, unitate!". Without doubt the path of the reconstruction of the visible unity of our Churches is often difficult.

The Cross and Christian Unity

Our Saviour Jesus Christ himself spoke of the unity of Christians, while he was in prayer and in great anguish in the Garden of Gethsemane, before the sacrifice of the Cross, showing in this way how deep the bond is that links the mystery of his Cross and the mystery of the unity of his Church in our world, that of human beings who are injured by the consequences of sin and tormented by the slavery of spiritual death.

However, since the Cross of Christ carries hidden within it the power of the Resurrection, any difficulty in the rebuilding of unity also prepares for the Resurrection, for a more intense communion with Christ and with his saints in the one, holy, catholic (soborniceasca), apostolic Church that we confess in our common Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed.

The ecumenical movement, fruit of penance, suffering, conversion

The ecumenical movement for the recovery of Christian unity, for the reconciliation of the Churches separated from one another was, at the start, a movement of penance, of metanoia, of the recognition of Christian responsibility for the two great world wars, which our Churches were not able to prevent and in which a great multitude of Christians of all the historical churches took part.

The quest to rebuild Christian unity took place then as a consequence of suffering and penance, and later on Christian unity was also sought because of the persecutions of the Communist period and on account of the marginalization of the Churches in Western secularized society.

Now that the churches of Central and Eastern Europe have more freedom to preach the love of Christ for human beings, our work of reconciliation between churches and the rebuilding of Christian unity must be intensified on the basis of theological dialogue concerning the truth of our common faith, and on the basis of cooperation, in alleviating human suffering, in defence of the holy gift of life and of human dignity, in a world that is fragmented and agitated.

Certainly, there are many obstacles in the spiritual and material order that work together today to slow down the zeal for rebuilding Christian unity. However, all the good work accomplished with the reconciliation of the churches during the persecutions of the last century must not be lost now in a time of freedom. The schism, the estrangement and isolation of Christians from one another are not forms of witness to Christ, who prayed that all might be one (cf. Jn 17,21).

Europe and the world need a united Christian witness

Today a largely secularized Europe seeks to be more economically, juridically and culturally united, often without directly asking the Christian Churches of the continent for support, perhaps because our European Churches are too little concerned about unity and cooperation with one another, and the international Christian institutions are not sufficiently convinced of the fact that they represent Churches who feel passionately about restoring Christian unity. Today the secularized world threatens the separated Churches of Europe not so much with persecution as with indifference, with the result that they are marginalized.

The spiritual crisis of our time requires the rediscovery of the link between repentance-conversion and the return to Christ, meek and compassionate, on the one hand, and, on the other, the rebuilding of communion among the Churches.

Contemporary secularization is accompanied by a fragmentation and an impoverishment of the inner, spiritual life of the human person. Thus secularization weakens even further spiritual communion among Christians. Today, therefore, together we must unite the search for the holiness of Christian life with the realization of Christian unity. In this light and in the perspective of the ecumenism of holiness, which the martyrs and confessors of the faith of the 20th century have shown us, now, in the 21st century, we as Pastors of the Church who are primarily responsible for the unity of the faith and Christian life, must guide the clergy and our faithful and, especially, the young people at the schools of theology which form priests and missionaries.

We joyfully appreciate the great and constant efforts that Your Holiness makes in the Roman Catholic Church and outside it to promote Christian unity in the contemporary world.
The spirit of repentance, the search for forgiveness and reconciliation which are evident in all the pastoral and ecumenical visits of Your Holiness, are symbolic signs and acts that stem from a profound understanding of the Gospel of humble love for Christ. These gestures of symbolic value are for us all, Pastors of the Church of Christ, a call and an encouragement to a more intense responsibility for rebuilding Christian unity.

In this context, let us also remember here the initiatives with a view to collaboration with the world religions to foster peace and concord, such as the meetings organized by the Community of Sant'Egidio.

Thank you for supporting the pastoral care of our Orthodox people in Italy

Your Holiness,

Our presence and our prayer in St Peter's Basilica in Rome during the solemn Papal Mass at which we have assisted, is an opportunity to renew and to strengthen our work to rebuild Christian unity and to bring our Churches closer together, above all, now that here in Italy the number of our Romanian Orthodox faithful has grown. They are helped in many fraternal ways by the Roman Catholic Church of Italy, a country that is a friend of Romania. We are grateful for the special attention and great support that you are offering our Romanian Orthodox communities in Italy and in Western Europe, so that these communities may preserve their own identity and, at the same time, live the experience of ecumenical brotherhood.

Follow-up to your visit

Also with us in Romania, especially after the visit Your Holiness paid to our country, we continue the dialogue and cooperation with our Greek-Catholic and Roman-Catholic brothers and sisters, to bear a common witness to Christ's Gospel of love in Romanian society today, in which freedom of faith must be combined with the common responsibility for Christian unity, for the life and dignity of the human person, the family and the Romanian people, entrusted to us Pastors as ministers of the Church of Christ.

We pray to Christ the Lord, the Supreme and Eternal High Priest and Head of the Church, to bless and sustain our Churches so that they may constantly hear his prayer: "That they may be one", and to increase their desire and dedication to achieving full fraternal communion for the glory of the Blessed Trinity and the salvation of humanity.