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International Orthodox/Catholic Dialogue to be Held in the United States

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Mar 30, 1999

New York, NY - His Eminence Archbishop Spyridon, Primate of the Greek Orthodox Church in America, held an extraordinary press conference today in Baltimore, Maryland, with the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Baltimore, His Eminence William Cardinal Keeler. The formal announcement of the forthcoming Dialogue came at a joint meeting of the two Prelates at the Roman Catholic Basilica of the National Shrine of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the first Roman Catholic Basilica in the United States.

The meetings will take place over ten days, beginning on June 7th in Emmitsburg, Maryland at the Mt. St. Mary’s College and Seminary. There will also be related religious functions in Washington and Baltimore. The International Joint Commission for Theological Dialogue is comprised of Orthodox delegates from the Ecumenical Patriarchate, the Patriarchates of Alexandria, Antioch, Jerusalem and Moscow, Serbia, Romania, Bulgaria, Georgia, and the Churches of Cyprus, Greece, Poland, Albania, the Czechoslovakia (Czech and Slovak Republics), Finland, and Estonia, and Roman Catholic delegates from the Vatican and around the world.

The remarks of His Eminence Archbishop Spyridon and His Eminence Cardinal Keeler are below. Cardinal Keeler spoke first.


His Eminence Cardinal Keeler:

It is a joy to be able to announce today details in connection with the forthcoming meeting of the International Join Commission for Theological Dialogue between the Catholic and the Orthodox Churches.

On June 6, 1999, the group will arrive at BWI (airport) and then gather at Mt. St. Mary’s College and Seminary for its first meeting ever in the Western Hemisphere. I am most honored that His Eminence Archbishop Spyridon, the Archbishop of the United States for the Greek Orthodox Church, should come from new York to join me for this press conference. For many years Archbishop Spyridon served as the Secretary of the Orthodox members of the Commission. I first met him when he was serving in that capacity at our dialogue meeting near Bari, Italy, in 1986. Subsequently at meetings in New Valamo, Finland and Freising, near Munich, Germany, we took part in the full commission meetings together.

We are able to today to say that the commission will, in addition to its private working sessions, participate in several public events:

· a colorful ecumenical service at the Basilica of the Nation Shrine of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, Emmitsburg, on Wednesday, June 9, at 7:30 p.m.

· an Orthodox Doxology at the Greek Orthodox Cathedral of the Annunciation, Baltimore, on Saturday, June 12, at 4:30 p.m.

· a Catholic Eucharistic Celebration here at the Basilica of the national Shrine of the Assumption, on Saturday, June 12, at 5:30 p.m. This will be the major Roman Catholic event of the meeting, and it takes on special importance from its gathering in the most historic Catholic Church in the nation, the Mother Cathedral of our faith family.

· the Divine Liturgy at St. Sophia Greek Orthodox Cathedral, Washington, DC, with Archbishop Spyridon leading the celebration of the Orthodox Eucharist on Sunday, June 13, at 10:00 a.m. In addition to his role with the Greek Orthodox Church, he is also the chair of the Standing Committee of Orthodox Bishops of America [sic] (SCOBA) and therefore the leader in the United States of the churches which correspond to the Orthodox Churches in other nations, such as Russia, Romania, Greece, etc.

We are much encouraged by the statement of Pope John Paul II in his Apostolic Exhortation following the Synod for America: ". . . . The synod fathers wished to express their special desire ‘to cooperate in the dialogue already under way with the Orthodox Church, with which e share many elements of faith, sacramental life and piety.’"

In addition, we note, as I said in my address to Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople on November 30 of last year: ". . . . Dialogue between our Churches has found in the Joint Commission an appropriate instrument to address the disagreements that still exist. However, actual relations are proving more extensive and diversified. They provide for reciprocal participation in particular events in the life of our Churches, such as certain celebrations, liturgies, ecclesial assemblies and discussions. Nor are they limited to official relations alone. Real, ongoing contact has been established between the cultural institutions of our Churches. Historical and theological research, academic meetings, common pastoral concerns . . . put the professors and pastors of our Churches into ever more frequent contact."

I invite all of our people and our friends of other Christian Churches and faith families to pray that in our meeting we find ways to demonstrate growing mutual understanding and ways to witness in common to our faith in Jesus Christ and to work in common to combat the forces of evil in our world, that truth and justice and peace, God’s gifts all, might prevail.


His Eminence Archbishop Spyridon:

I am very pleased to be here today with my good friend William Cardinal Keeler who has been at the forefront of Roman Catholic efforts to intensify the dialogue between Rome and Constantinople. His hospitality is always gracious, reflecting the call of the Gospel to show brotherly love to those who profess faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. He heeds a difficult call in this difficult time, which the Apostle Paul makes for us to "reason together." My brother in the Lord exceeds mere human reason in prayer and praise of our common points of understanding and agreement.

The Cardinal and I have shared the complex process of dialogue and discussion in numerous times and places. He and I have, I believe, gained an understanding of the process through our personal exchange. It is an exchange that I cherish and in which I believe we shall discover more positive expressions of our love for the Lord.

On June 7th, the members of the International Joint Commission for Theological Dialogue will engage one another for the first time in the Western Hemisphere. This is itself a major step in broadening the scope of our dialogue. The United States has been at the forefront of the Ecumenical movement as the world’s preeminent multicultural society. The strides that we, as Americans, have made toward respect and understanding between different faith groups and cultures, as well as the friction that we have uncovered, form the basis for a lasting discourse within our complex and evolving culture. It is fitting then, that we should announce the dialogue between Orthodox Christianity and Roman Catholicism at this glorious Basilica of the Assumption. This historic structure stands as a beacon of memory for all those who came to these shores in search of religious freedoms.

With the International Joint Commission for Theological Dialogue coming to St. Mary’s College and Seminary, the dialogue of East and West comes for the first time, to the shores of our beloved nation, whose principles are founded upon the ideals of freedom and liberty.

In the light of our hard won individual and religious freedoms, as well as the struggle for racial and ethnic equality, we must not forget the sad fact that religious and ethnic conflicts continue to fuel the fires of death and destruction in the world. We announce our dialogue in the shadow of violence and death in Kosovo and Yugoslavia. We cannot allow the images of violence both now, nor those that preceded this terrible action, to diminish the examples of faith and commitment that our previous dialogues have provided and continue to provide for us and for others.

Sadly, Kosovo is the latest example of escalating violence that the lack of a constructive dialogue occasions in the presence of diverse cultures and complex histories. At the close of a complex and violent century, we have much of which to be proud, but also, so very much for which we must seek understanding and forgiveness from one another. It is my fervent prayer that the destruction in Kosovo and the region surrounding it will end. I hope that peaceful discourse and understanding may lead to respect and open dialogue.

The history of Constantinople and Rome is filled with examples of what not to do between two great traditions in conflict. In the contemporary era, we seek to move beyond these bitter memories toward a new understanding and respect. We have achieved very much in this regard. I am confident that we shall achieve very much more. His All Holiness, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew and His Holiness Pope John Paul II have committed themselves to a dialogue of openness and honesty. They have acknowledged the disagreements we still face as well as the deep font of our common heritage of faith and doctrine. Come June, let us continue in what His All Holiness, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew has called the "communion of love."

I want to thank my brother Hierarch William Cardinal Keeler for his witness of Christ in love that he has shown through his hospitality today, as he has so many times before. And I too join in his invitation to our faithful as well to other Christian Churches to pray for us and for our common witness to a unity of faith in our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Let us allow ourselves to glimpse the possibility in the fullness of time and when the Lord deigns to reveal to us the moment, when we might be graced again, East and West, in sharing the common cup of His precious Body and Blood. Until that day, we seek Truth by God revealed, justice by the Lord ordained, and the love of God enfleshed in Jesus Christ. May the glory of the Holy Spirit in which all creation shares guide us in the deliberations to come.

As we approach the Paschal feast, may the glorious Resurrection of our Lord be the first fruits of a feast of love and respect for our two faith traditions, our nation and all humankind.

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