Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is a great pleasure to be here this evening among you. Many of you are friends of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, many of you are new friends. All of you are engaged in the important work of diplomacy, which is a human endeavour that strives to bring harmony between nations. Knowing this, we gather at an important moment in history, a moment when your talents and skills are most needed if peace in the world is ever to be achieved.
Moreover, it is with the most deeply felt love of friendship, brotherhood and Christian vocation that we participate in this most joyous celebration on the 25th anniversary of His Holiness John Paul II’s election as the Bishop of the venerable See of Rome and Pope of the Roman Catholic Church. As we begin these remarks, then, we would ask the Papal representatives here this evening to take our greetings to our brother in the Lord and Co-Minister of God’s Word. With our greetings we extend also the greetings of the Faithful of the Orthodox Churches worldwide to the flock that has thrived under His Holiness’ protection and love this past quarter-of-a-century. With these greetings we pray that His Holiness receives abundantly the grace and peace of our Lord.
It is in such a time as this in human history that a prayer for peace is most needed. While it is true that war and terrorism have taken human life since the beginning of time, it is also true that never in human history have war and terrorism been so ever-present in the minds of all people all over the world. And so it is on His Holiness’ efforts as peace-maker during these troubled times that we would like to focus our remarks today. For his witness as a peace-maker allows the world to believe that peace, while elusive, can indeed be attained.
On a mountaintop overlooking a particularly troubled place in another troubled time in history, Jesus spoke to a multitude about what makes for peace. He spoke of the “poor in spirit” who were given “the kingdom of heaven,” and of the “meek” who “inherit the earth.” He spoke about “those who hunger and thirst for righteousness” who would be “satisfied,” and of the “merciful” who would “obtain mercy.” And he spoke of the “peacemakers” who “shall be called the sons of God.”
Humility, mercy, righteousness, justice and peace: these are the things of God’s kingdom. As a pastor of millions worldwide, and cognizant of his archpastoral responsibility to preach God’s kingdom to all people everywhere, on that same mountaintop just three years ago, His Holiness exhorted a group of young people to “follow” the Christ who spoke these words, because he embodied “what it means to be poor in spirit…and merciful…to care for what is right…[and] to make peace.” This exhortation reflected his belief in the words of Jesus, that blessed are those among us who seek after peace among the nations of the world, and of his earnest desire that all his flock join him in this noblest of pursuits.
His Holiness’ tenure as the chief shepherd of western Christendom has been characterized by a zealous pursuit of peace in emulation of the Prince of Peace. Certainly this comes from His Holiness’ abiding faith; it also comes from the circumstances in which his home country of Poland suffered for so many years under totalitarian oppression, an experience of tyranny that the Catholic, Orthodox, and Faithful of other traditions all shared in those years. What His Holiness knows first-hand, then, is that with peace comes freedom of the human spirit.
After decades of repression behind the Iron Curtain, people in Poland yearning for freedom began their non-violent demonstration against tyranny. “Solidarnosc” became a household word all over the world, where lovers of freedom symbolically joined hands and hearts in solidarity with those few brave souls.
From the first moments of that protest, His Holiness knew that the mission of the Church was linked to the liberation of those men and women from tyranny, and so he brought their struggle into his own embrace as a holy endeavour worthy of God’s blessings. It was because of this initial victory of the human spirit, so eloquently articulated through his voice that the walls that had so long imprisoned Eastern Europe came tumbling down in a mighty river of thunder.
With that thunder still reverberating throughout the world, at the time we joined with His Holiness in prayers of thanksgiving for this marvellous triumph of good over evil. It occurred to us then, as it does again now, that our joy was reflected in the words of exultation voiced by our most blessed Mother, Mary, the Theotokos: “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour… He has shown strength with his arm, he has scattered the proud in the imagination of their heart, he has put down the mighty from their thrones, and exalted those of low degree…”
When His Holiness visited his homeland some 10 years later, in 1999, true to his role as a priest and pastor, he urged his countrymen not to take the “gift” of freedom for granted, noting that it “requires constant effort in order to be consolidated and lived responsibly.” He also encouraged them to have the “determination to build together the civilization of love, which is based upon universal values of peace, solidarity, justice and freedom.” These words are an exhortation to all people in every nation on earth.
The same zeal for peace that led to His Holiness’ leadership in this reconciliation across political and geographic boundaries also motivated his desire to find reconciliation across the boundaries of time, religious difference, and cultural bigotry. We speak now of His Holiness’ outreach to the Jewish people through his moving visit to the Holy Land in the year 2000.
As has been recorded over and over again throughout the past millennia, the Jewish people have suffered at the hands of their enemies. Sometimes, many who identified themselves with the Church of Jesus Christ lamentably were counted among those enemies. The contradiction, seen in hindsight, could not be more glaring. For how could a follower of the Prince of Peace be so prejudiced against the people through whom their God chose to reveal himself?
His Holiness saw that, at the start of a new millennium, this contradiction could stand no longer. With an aching heart and tears of remorse, he prayed among the Jews in Jerusalem that this hatred would be no more. Indeed, His Holiness observed at a solemn ceremony at Yad Vashem – a place of profound revelation we still recall with tears from our own pilgrimage there – that “to remember is to pray for peace and justice, and to commit ourselves to their cause. Only a world at peace, with justice for all, can avoid repeating the mistakes and terrible crimes of the past.” To this cause of peace and justice, in a moment of regret and hope His Holiness enjoined the entire Roman Catholic Church. There was not a Christian of any tradition who was not moved by his compassion and love to make this same commitment.
On the very same day His Holiness made this vow among the Jews in Israel he pointed out at a gathering of Christian, Jewish and Muslim faithful that each of the three great monotheistic faiths rooted in the City of Peace, Jerusalem, share a common view of human dignity, and of the responsibility of human persons toward one another. This common view is based on a common reverence all three Faiths have for the One God who created human beings in his own image.
His Holiness highlighted the ramifications of this belief: “religion is the enemy of exclusion and discrimination, of hatred and rivalry, of violence and conflict. Religion is not, and must not become, an excuse for violence, particularly when religious identity coincides with cultural and ethnic identity. Religion and peace go together! Religious belief and practice cannot be separated from the defence of the image of God in every human being.”
How much more relevant are His Holiness’ words today than they were just three years ago! The entire region surrounding the Holy Land has become the hotbed for religious and political extremism. Just weeks ago the war in Iraq came to an end, and in its place has come anarchy, tribal conflicts and ethnic strife. At a time when all of us should have been celebrating the failure of the theory of inevitable and ultimate civilizational clash, with visions of 9/11 burned in our memory we all now fear its fulfilment to the destruction of the whole world.
And yet, while religious extremists on both sides of the divide would have us believe that this clash is divinely inspired, we all know that it is the antithesis of the truths to be found in Christianity, Judaism and Islam. For as was proclaimed in the Bosphorus Declaration at the Conference on Peace and Tolerance here in Istanbul in 1994, “A war in the name of religion is a war against religion.” With these words in mind, on the eve of the war in Iraq, we stated that “…the basic prerequisite of peace is the respect for the sanctity of the human person and his freedom and dignity. From this respect are born all other prerequisites for the peaceful co-existence of all human beings on Earth in the love of one God and Father, who is not a God of war and battle but of reconciliation and peace.”
Also on the eve of this war, on the 2003 World Day of Peace, His Holiness celebrated the 40th anniversary of Pope John XXIII’s Encyclical, Pacem in Terris, and in his message he called upon all people to “resolve to have his same outlook: trust in the merciful and compassionate God who calls us to brotherhood, and confidence in the men and women of our time because, like those of every other time, they bear the image of God in their souls. It is on this basis that we can hope to build a world of peace on earth.”
Such hope is the Christian calling. Such hope is alive because of the God whose revelation is the embodiment of that hope.
The struggle for peace, the struggle against what His Holiness calls the “culture of death,” the struggle to establish non-violence as the means to end conflicts: to be successful in these righteous struggles requires a common Christian voice if the way of our Lord is to become the way of all people. Both of us, as well as our many brothers and sisters who lead other Christian communities, have each separately preached peace, and we have each supported one another’s respective efforts in these struggles. But what we also know is that, while we proclaim the same message, until we proclaim together one message as one community, our ability to win these struggles is seriously undermined.
It is this motivation that led His Holiness’ steps to our Seat here in Turkey only one year after his elevation to the See of Rome in order to visit our predecessor of blessed memory, Patriarch Dimitrios, and proclaim solemnly together with him the beginning of the official Theological Dialogue between the Roman Catholic and Orthodox Churches. The continuation of this Dialogue and its progress has always occupied a place of high priority in His Holiness’ heart, as he shares with us the deep conviction that the two sister Churches who lived together in full unity during the first thousand years of the history of the Church should be able to recover their full ecclesial communion also in our time.
Such a deep conviction for the unity of all Christians has led His Holiness during his Pontificate to visit the various historic centres of Christianity, and to issue encyclicals urging the divided Christians to work for their unity. His dedication to the sacred cause of unity is particularly evident in his encyclical “Ut unum sint”. In this Encyclical he recognises the difficulties that his own ministry has historically caused to the unity of the Church and urges all Christians to express their views concerning the ministry of Papal primacy and suggest ways in which such a ministry might be acceptable as a service to Church unity.
Thus, His Holiness’ desire, matches our own desire to one day be united in full communion. When our Lord prayed in the Garden of Gesthemene that all his followers be one, most surely among his thoughts were that such unity would strengthen the proclamation of the Gospel of Peace. As we look around at the world today, and as we shed tears for all of the death and destruction, can we allow ourselves to be anything but resolute in our struggle to find unity?
With these thoughts in mind, we fondly recall His Holiness’ words of welcome to our Patriarchal delegation to Rome on the Patronal Feast of Sts. Peter and Paul in June of last year. In that address His Holiness stated: “Much still remains to be done so that a greater brotherhood may reign on earth. The desire for revenge often prevails over peace, especially in the Holy Land and in other regions of the world struck by blind violence. This gives us a sense of the precariousness of peace that obliges us to unite our forces and so that we may be together and act together so that the world may find in our common witness the strength required to make the changes that are indispensable. This path of collaboration will also lead us to full communion following Christ’s will for his disciples.”
This is true, that such collaboration will lead to communion. But we also note that, if we allow ourselves to one day achieve the full communion about which we now only dream, imagine the works of peace we would be able to accomplish when our collaboration is rooted in the unity we possess.
For this reason, on this solemn celebration of His Holiness’ 25th anniversary as Pope of Rome, we pledge that we will continue to walk together with him on the road toward unity that our predecessors laid and that our Lord has blessed.
Twenty-five years is but a short time in the history of the Christian Faith. And yet, what His Holiness has accomplished in those twenty-five years is nothing short of remarkable.
His stature as a moral, religious, and indeed prophetic leader, not just of all Catholics, not just of all Christians, but of all people of all faiths, is rooted in his deep personal faith, and in his conviction that this faith must be lived in a way that others may see truth, understand justice, and find peace. Great is the burden to be such an example.
In making these remarks, we have recalled many of His Holiness’ words and actions as a means of giving testimony to the way he has shouldered this burden in a world so in need of the message of peace that is at the heart of the Christian Gospel. As he continues in his ministry, may the Lord who gives grace upon grace to all people continue to bless his footsteps on the path of peace.
Friends: all of us, whether in diplomatic service or in religious service, must strive to be ambassadors of goodwill. Tonight, as we all contemplate the current state of the world, it is good for us to look to the example of one among us who has indeed been a good and faithful emissary of God to the people of all nations.
In a speech at the United Nations in 1995, His Holiness affirmed the precious value of that organization. By doing so, he affirmed the importance of your vocation.
In this same spirit, we extend to all of you the blessings of God, so that through your work peace may come to this region, and to the world. Thank you.
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