Q: Some years ago, and not that many, a visit by the Orthodox archbishop of Athens to the Pope was quite improbable. What is changing?
Monsignor Salachas: Insofar as I know, Archbishop Christodoulos' intention to visit the Pope already ripened during the last years of John Paul II's pontificate, whose funeral he attended personally.
The starting point of a new era in relations between the Church of Rome and the Orthodox Church of Greece was precisely John Paul II's Jubilee pilgrimage to Greece in May 2001 "in the footsteps of St. Paul," and the signing of a Joint Declaration in Athens' Areopagus by Pope John Paul II and Archbishop Christodoulos, committing themselves to fraternal collaboration and a common testimony to safeguard the Christian identity of the European continent.
It was followed in March 2002 by the visit to the Holy See of a delegation of the Holy Synod of the Church of Greece, and in February 2003 by the visit of a delegation of the Holy See, headed by Cardinal Walter Kasper, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, to the Church of Greece, and the participation of representatives of the Holy See in several initiatives convoked by the Church of Greece at the international and ecumenical level.
Pope Benedict XVI's visit to Constantinople consolidated the decision already made months earlier by the archbishop to visit the Church of Rome and meet with her Bishop to reaffirm the commitment assumed with the declaration in Athens' Areopagus in 2001.
The monsignor's comments on the Eastern Catholic Churches are worth reading:
It is known that the Orthodox Churches' reservation is based on the fact that they don't see a theological foundation that justifies the existence of the Eastern Catholic Churches, while for the Catholic Church the fact of their full communion with the Apostolic See of Rome with the bonds of the profession of the faith, of the sacraments and of the ecclesiastical government, justifies their ecclesiasticism and canonicity.
On several occasions, Orthodox exponents, theologians and ecclesiastics have expressed their point of view for the solution of this problem, considering that Eastern Catholics should opt to return to the Orthodox Church, from which they stem, or incorporate themselves to the Latin Church, inasmuch as they are united to Rome.
Obviously, such a solution cannot find agreement on the part of the Catholic Church, for essentially doctrinal, ecclesiological and pastoral reasons.
I think that "Uniatism" implies fundamentally the more delicate and theologically more difficult question, that is, the primacy of the Roman Pontiff.
In a comment I read someplace yesterday, an Eastern Catholic was lamenting the current status of the Eastern Churches as sort of bastard children that were over time being viewed as unwanted and as obstacles to be overcome in the road to ecumenism. The jurisdictional issues that lie ahead should all the other prerequisites of full communion be fulfilled are quite huge in and of themselves.