Building a Small Bridge across a 1,000-Year-Old Christian Divide Pope's Trip to Romania Last Weekend Marks Thaw in Catholic- Orthodox

By Colin Woodard, Monitor | The Christian Science Monitor, May 13, 1999 | Go to article overview

Building a Small Bridge across a 1,000-Year-Old Christian Divide Pope's Trip to Romania Last Weekend Marks Thaw in Catholic- Orthodox


Colin Woodard, Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor


Since becoming pope two decades ago, John Paul II has sought to reconcile the deep rifts between the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches.

This past weekend he moved one step closer to that goal.

The pontiff's historic three-day visit to Romania was the first time a pope has traveled to a majority Orthodox country in nearly 1,000 years and is expected to improve relations between the estranged churches. The pope was warmly greeted at the airport by Patriarch Teoctist, leader of the Romanian Orthodox Church. They then traveled side by side in the bullet-proof "popemobile" to an Orthodox cathedral where they held a joint prayer service. "The second millennium started with a painful division of the church, but it is ending with a sign of the will and efforts aimed at its reunification," Teoctist said. They also issued a joint appeal for an end to the fighting in neighboring Yugoslavia, calling on all sides to lay down their arms. Both religious leaders have been critical of the NATO bombing campaign against Serbia, a predominantly Orthodox country. While the appeal is unlikely to have an effect on the war, it is of symbolic importance for relations between the churches, which have been marked by suspicion and mistrust. The Great Schism No pope had visited a predominantly Orthodox country since the Great Schism of 1054 when the Eastern Orthodox Church broke with the Western (or Roman Catholic) Church following centuries of disputes. The pope and the patriarch of Constantinople excommunicated one another during the schism, acts that weren't mutually abolished until 1965. Relations remained extremely poor until the early part of this century, owing in large part to successful papal efforts to convert Orthodox worshipers in Eastern Europe and the Balkans. One result of this is the presence of tens of thousands of Eastern-rite Catholics in Romania, Ukraine, and other countries, who follow Orthodox rituals but recognize the authority of the pope. This remains a major obstacle between the churches. Since World War I, successive popes have worked to reconcile the churches. When he became pope two decades ago, John Paul II had hoped to achieve substantial reconciliation before the end of the millennium, but he has been rebuffed by Orthodox leaders suspicious of the Vatican's intentions. …

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