Ravenna call for Church unity

RAVENNA (AP) – With a passionate appeal for Christian unity, Ecumenical Patriarch Vartholomaios I yesterday celebrated the first Orthodox liturgy in 12 centuries in an ancient outpost of Byzantium here. Vartholomaios, leader of the world’s 200 million Orthodox Christians, is determined to help heal the nearly 1,000-year-old division between his faithful and the Vatican. But dialogue with the Roman Catholic Church, which started in the 1980s, has often foundered over doctrinal and political disputes. «Deep feelings of… joy pervade me today because, by the grace of God, we are given the opportunity to worship Him in this… ancient sacred church, built when His church was united,» Vartholomaios said at the 6th century Byzantine church of Sant’ Apollinare in Ravenna, about 145 kilometers southwest of Venice. «It is truly a blessing of God and heralds better relations between the Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches,» he added. The Divine Liturgy – in what was one of the westernmost reaches of the Byzantine Empire – was the highlight of a voyage through the Adriatic Sea blending religion, the environment and science. The trip, which wraps up in Venice, has covered Orthodox lands in the Balkans to the heart of Catholicism. At the Vatican, Pope John Paul II led off his weekly address in St. Peter’s Square with word of Vartholomaios’s travels. John Paul said an accord calling for the protection of the environment, which the two religious leaders will sign today, was another example of joint efforts that «herald a renewed and full communion.» He said Vartholomaios’s visits to Ravenna and Venice would «encourage us to follow the path toward full unity between Christians of the East and West.»

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