“An abyss of distrust and skepticism has largely been overcome,” said Pope Paul VI, addressing non-Catholic observers to the ecumenical council during a special audience in the Sistine chapel.
Present at the reception were Augustin Cardinal Bea, and Bishop Jan Willebrands, secretary of the unity secretariat.
Replying to remarks by Greek Orthodox Archimandrite Panteleimon Rodopoulos of Brookline, Mass., one of the three representatives of Orthodox Patriarch Athanagoras of Constantinople (Istanbul), the Pope said he was happy and honored by their presence. He expressed the hope that efforts would be undertaken to become “more vivid and more confident in aspiring to the joint goal of full and true unity in Christ.” He continued:
“Your physical proximity proves and favors a spiritual proximity which formerly we did not know.”
“A new method has asserted itself. A friendship was born, a hope was engendered, a movement is on the way,” he said.
Defining what he called “our position,” the Pope said:
“You will have noticed that the council has had only words of respect and joy for your presence and for the Christian communities you represent, words of charity and hope in regard to you. This is no little matter when we think of the polemics of the past, and if we are aware that our mutual behavior is sincere, cordial and even profound.”
Pope Paul said observers could see for themselves that the Catholic Church “is disposed toward an honorable and serene dialogue and ready to examine how difficulties may be eliminated, and misunderstandings done away with, even though it cannot disregard certain doctrinal requirements it must uphold,” respecting all the while “the authentic treasures of truth and spirituality you possess.”
“Love, not egoism, prompts us,” the Pope added, quoting II Corinthians 5, 14. He also repeated his willingness to cooperate in the establishment of an institute for the study of the history of salvation, as proposed by the observers last year.
He said he was willing to continue sending Catholic observers to gatherings of other churches.
“We beg you,” he concluded, “not to be satisfied only with a passive presence here, but also try to understand and pray with us so as to contribute to progressively closer contacts in Christ Our Lord. All this, as you see, is but a beginning, but that it may someday bear fruit in its results we now invite you to pray jointly with us the Our Father.”
Cardinal Bea, who pointed out, had presented the observers to the Pope that this year their number had increased from 66 to 75, and the number of churches they represent from 22 to 23. One church represented at the last session dropped out, but two new ones are represented — the Orthodox Patriarchate of Constantinople and the Assyrian Catholicate-Patriarchate of the East.
Speaking on behalf of the observers, Archimandrite Rodopoulos, dean of the Holy Cross Greek Orthodox Theological School in Brookline, said the decisions of the council “will have influence beyond its limits.”
He added, however: “We have no illusions. We realize there are essential questions that separate us, and we realize that these questions probably will not be solved in the near future. But these difficulties do not lead us to discouragement or abandonment of the effort for ultimate unity.”
Prior to the reception, all jointly recited the Gloria of the Mass, each in his own language. Those using English took the text from the Anglican Book of Common Prayer.