On Thursday morning, Benedict XVI participated in the divine liturgy at the patriarchal church of St. George, of the ecumenical patriarchate in Istanbul which today celebrates the Feast of its Patron, St. Andrew. On his arrival at the church, the Pope was greeted by the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I. At the end of the liturgy, Patriarch Bartholomew pronounced an address, after which the Holy Father also delivered a talk.
"Today, in this patriarchal church of St. George," began the Pope's English-language address, "we are able to experience once again the communion and call of the two brothers, Simon Peter and Andrew, in the meeting of the Successor of Peter and his brother in the episcopal ministry, the head of this Church traditionally founded by the Apostle Andrew. Our fraternal encounter highlights the special relationship uniting the Churches of Rome and Constantinople as sister Churches.
"With heartfelt joy we thank God for granting new vitality to the relationship that has developed since the memorable meeting in Jerusalem in December 1964 between our predecessors, Pope Paul VI and Patriarch Athenagoras," said the Holy Father. Later, on "the eve of the final session of the Second Vatican Council," Paul VI and Patriarch Athenagoras took another "unique and unforgettable step in the patriarchal church of St. George and the basilica of Saint Peter in the Vatican respectively: they removed from the memory of the Church the tragic excommunications of 1054. In this way they confirmed a decisive shift in our relationship."
"In that same spirit, my presence here today is meant to renew our commitment to advancing along the road towards the re-establishment of full communion between the Church of Rome and the Church of Constantinople," said the Holy Father. "I can assure you that the Catholic Church is willing to do everything possible to overcome obstacles and to seek, together with our Orthodox brothers and sisters, ever more effective means of pastoral cooperation to this end."
Jesus, said the Pope, gave the Apostles Peter and Andrew "the mission of making all nations His disciples, baptizing them and proclaiming His teachings." Today, he recalled, this mission "is even more urgent and necessary," because it "looks not only to those cultures which have been touched only marginally by the Gospel message, but also to long-established European cultures deeply grounded in the Christian tradition.
"The process of secularization has weakened the hold of that tradition; indeed, it is being called into question, and even rejected. In the face of this reality, we are called, together with all other Christian communities, to renew Europe's awareness of its Christian roots, traditions and values, giving them new vitality. Our efforts to build closer ties between the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Churches are a part of this missionary task. The divisions which exist among Christians are a scandal to the world and an obstacle to the proclamation of the Gospel."
"Peter and Andrew," the Holy Father reiterated, "were called together to become fishers of men. This same task, however, took on a different form for each of the brothers. Simon was called 'Peter,' the 'rock' on which the Church was to be built; to him were entrusted the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven. His journey would take him from Jerusalem to Antioch, and from Antioch to Rome, so that in that city he might exercise a universal responsibility.
"The issue of the universal service of Peter and his Successors has unfortunately given rise to our differences of opinion, which we hope to overcome, thanks also to the theological dialogue which has been recently resumed. My venerable predecessor, Servant of God Pope John Paul II, spoke of the mercy that characterizes Peter's service of unity. It is on this basis that Pope John Paul extended an invitation to enter into a fraternal dialogue aimed at identifying ways in which the Petrine ministry might be exercised today, while respecting its nature and essence, so as to 'accomplish a service of love recognized by all concerned'."
As for Andrew, who spoke Greek, "he became the Apostle of the encounter with the Greeks. The Apostle Andrew, therefore, represents the meeting between early Christianity and Greek culture. This encounter, particularly in Asia Minor, became possible thanks especially to the great Cappadocian Fathers, who enriched the liturgy, theology and spirituality of both the Eastern and the Western Churches.
"The Christian message, like the grain of wheat, fell on this land and bore much fruit," said Pope Benedict. "We must be profoundly grateful for the heritage that emerged from the fruitful encounter between the Christian message and Hellenic culture. It has had an enduring impact on the Churches of East and West."
"In the course of history, both the Church of Rome and the Church of Constantinople have often experienced the lesson of the grain of wheat. Together we venerate many of the same martyrs. With them, we share the same hope that impels the Church to 'press forward, like a stranger in a foreign land, amid the persecutions of the world and the consolations of God.' For its part, the century that has just ended also saw courageous witnesses to the faith, in both East and West. Even now, there are many such witnesses in different parts of the world. We remember them in our prayer and, in whatever way we can, we offer them our support, as we urge all world leaders to respect religious freedom as a fundamental human right.
"The divine liturgy in which we have participated was celebrated according to the rite of St. John Chrysostom. The Cross and Resurrection of Jesus Christ have been made mystically present. This faith in the redeeming death of Jesus on the cross, and this hope which the Risen Christ offers to the whole human family, are shared by all of us, Orthodox and Catholics alike. May our daily prayer and activity be inspired by a fervent desire not only to be present at the divine liturgy, but to be able to celebrate it together, to take part in the one table of the Lord, sharing the same bread and the same chalice."
At the conclusion of the liturgical celebration, the Pope and the Ecumenical Patriarch imparted the final blessing together.