Pope John Paul II's relations with the Eastern Orthodox Church


Pope John Paul II's relations with the Eastern Orthodox Church

In May 1999, Pope John Paul II visited Romania on the invitation from Patriarch Teoctist of the Romanian Orthodox Church. This was the first time a Pope had visited a predominantly Eastern Orthodox country since the East-West Schism in 1054, the event that separated Eastern Orthodoxy and Western Catholicism. On his arrival, the Patriarch and the President of Romania, Emil Constantinescu, greeted the Pope. The Patriarch stated, "The second millennium of Christian history began with a painful wounding of the unity of the Church; the end of this millennium has seen a real commitment to restoring Christian unity."

On 9 May, the Pope and the Patriarch each attended a worship service conducted by the other (an Orthodox Liturgy and a Catholic Mass, respectively). A crowd of hundreds of thousands of people turned up to attend the worship services, which were held in the open air. The Pope told the crowd, "I am here among you pushed only by the desire of authentic unity. Not long ago it was unthinkable that the bishop of Rome could visit his brothers and sisters in the faith who live in Romania. Today, after a long winter of suffering and persecution, we can finally exchange the kiss of peace and together praise the Lord." A large part of Romania's Orthodox population has shown itself warm to the idea of Christian reunification.

John Paul II visited other heavily Orthodox areas such as Ukraine and Bulgaria, despite an occasional lukewarm welcome,Fact|date=February 2007 and he said that an end to the Schism was one of his fondest wishes.

With regard to relations with the Serb Orthodox Church, Pope John Paul II could not escape the controversy of the involvement of Croatian Catholic clergy with the Ustasa regime of World War II. In 1998, he beatified Aloysius Stepinac, the Croatian war-time Archbishop of Zagreb, a move seen negatively by those who believe that he was an active collaborator with the Ustaše fascist regime, which committed genocide against Serbs as well as Jews. On June 22, 2003, he visited Banja Luka in Bosnia and Herzegovina, a city inhabited by many Catholics before the 1992-1995 war, but since then predominantly Orthodox. He held a mass at the Petrićevac monastery, a place of considerable controversy and distress, both during World War II and during the Yugoslav wars. [http://www.nationalcatholicreporter.org/word/word0627.htm]

Catholics in Belarus (at least 10-15% of the population) had hoped for the Pope to visit their country, a trip he himself wished to make. Resistance from the Russian Orthodox Church and Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, however, meant the visit never happened.

The Pope had been also saying during his entire pontificate that one of his greatest dreams was to visit Russia, but this never occurred. He had made several attempts to solve the problems which arose over a period of centuries between the Roman Catholic and Russian Orthodox churches, like giving back the Kazan Icon of the Mother of God in August 2004. However, the Orthodox side was not that enthusiastic, making statements like: "The question of the visit of the Pope in Russia is not connected by the journalists with the problems between the Churches, which are now unreal to solve, but with giving back one of many sacred things, which were illegally stolen from Russia." (Vsevolod Chaplin).


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