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Catholic World News News Feature

Orthodox Patriarch to visit Vatican April 27, 2004

Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople, the acknowledged leader of the Orthodox world, will visit the Vatican on June 29 and join with Pope John Paul II for an ecumenical liturgical service on that day.

In recent years it has become traditional for the Ecumenical Patriarch to send a delegation of Orthodox prelates to Rome on June 29, the feast of Sts. Peter and Paul, the patrons of the Rome diocese-- just as the Vatican sends a delegation to join the Orthodox leader on the feast of St. Andrew, the patron on Constantinople. However, the fact that Patriarch Bartholomew himself is making the trip is seen as a significant gesture.

Relations between the Holy See and the Orthodox world have been marked by tensions during the past year. Patriarch Bartholomew joined with the Russian Orthodox Patriarch Alexei II in strong opposition to a proposal for the recognition of a Catholic patriarchate in Ukraine. Last November, the Ecumenical Patriarch that if the Vatican recognized a Ukrainian patriarchate, the move could cause a rupture in all relations with the Orthodox world. Vatican officials made it clear that they felt the threat was intemperate.

Nevertheless, in spite of these tensions, Catholic and Orthodox leaders agreed to resume the meetings of a joint theological commission. That decision was announced in February, when Cardinal Walter Kasper visited Moscow. The joint commission had suspended meetings after a contentious session in Baltimore in 2002. The primary stumbling block to dialogue at that time had been the status of Eastern-rite Catholic churches-- a subject that has arisen once again with the discussion of a Ukrainian patriarchate. Patriarch Bartholomew-- who is recognized as the "first among equals" of the world's Orthodox patriarchs-- had previously led a delegation to the Vatican on June 29, 1995. He had been expected to visit Rome earlier this year, for a ceremony at which Orthodox clerics would formally take possession of the parish church of St. Theodore, which the Pope has granted to Orthodox believers. But renovations on that building have lagged behind schedule, pushing back the Patriarch's arrival.

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