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Patriarch hails pope’s pledge

ANKARA (AP) – The spiritual leader of the world’s Orthodox Christians yesterday welcomed Pope Benedict XVI’s pledge to end a schism between the Catholic and Orthodox churches, calling it a mutual «obligation to God,» but warned that the path to unity would be «slow and painful.» Ecumenical Patriarch Vartholomaios’s statement to The Associated Press was his first response to the new pope’s call to heal the 1,000-year rift and reflected the difficult task of trying to reconcile differences between the two churches. «Such rapprochement – what Pope Benedict XVI called ‘spiritual ecumenism’ – is our obligation to God and our commitment to the world,» Vartholomaios said in a written response to questions from the AP. «At the same time, we must be realistic about the cost and the time involved in this process.» Vartholomaios said efforts toward reconciliation would not be easy and would require the churches to examine theological differences and «the errors of the past.» «The genuine work of unity is slow and painful, and it must be treated with sensitivity to theological truths, honesty before historical events, and realism in the face of cultural distinctions. This is why reconciliation can only blossom when there is sincerity and continuity in this delicate process of healing,» Vartholomaios wrote. He was responding to Benedict’s May 29 pledge in the Adriatic port of Bari, home to the relics of St Nicholas of Myra, a fourth-century saint popular among both Roman Catholics and Orthodox Christians, that Christian unity would be a «fundamental commitment» during his new papacy. Yesterday, Benedict affirmed that would be his «primary task» as pope, saying «the commitment of the Catholic Church to the search for Christian unity is irreversible.» «Reconciliation is a process of repentance,» Vartholomaios said. «If we are to move forward in a journey of reconciliation, then we must truthfully acknowledge the errors of the past. If we cannot stand united in the theological doctrines that divide us, we can at least kneel in earnest repentance over the disgraceful prejudices that were the cause of suffering in the past.»