BY CINDY WOODEN IN ROME
POPE BENEDICT XVI asked for prayers for participants in the Catholic-Orthodox international theological dialogue after the Russian Orthodox delegation walked out of the meeting.
"I ask you to join me in praying that this important meeting will' help the journey toward full communion between Catholics and Orthodox and that we could soon share the same chalice of the Lord," the Pope said.
Members of the dialogue commission were meeting in Ravenna, Italy, to continue work begun a year ago on a document on the sacramental nature of the Church and its consequences for the structure of the Church and Church decision-making.
US Cardinal William Keeler, retired archbishop of Baltimore and a member of the dialogue commission, said: "I expect we will have the agreed statement ready by the end of the meeting," although commission members had not set a publication date.
The document, he said, marks "substantial progress" in theological agreement among Catholics and Orthodox, and "I do not think the absence of the Russian Orthodox will hurt that".
In preparation for working together on the document, Catholic participants met separately from Orthodox participants, who came from 16 different Orthodox churches.
During the Orthodox meeting, Russian Orthodox Bishop Hilarion of Vienna and Austria told the other Orthodox participants that his delegation would abandon the meeting if they did not ask the Estonian Orthodox delegation to leave.
The Russian Orthodox Church does not recognise the Estonian Apostolic Church, which is tied to the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople, said a statement by the Russian Orthodox Church. The Russian Orthodox Church believes the Orthodox in Estonia fall under the jurisdiction of the Russian Orthodox Church, not the ecumenical patriarchate.
Although the Russian Orthodox Church has the largest membership of any of the Orthodox churches, the ecumenical patriarchate and the Vatican sponsor the dialogue and issue the invitations for participation.
One participant said that both Catholic and Orthodox representaftves were "a bit shocked" at Bishop Hilarion's ultimatum and decision to leave, but the Catholic position was that it was an internal Orthodox matter.
Delegates decided to move forward with their work and the joint sessions were "going exceptionally well," the participant said.
Like Cardinal Keeler, he said delegates expected to complete work on their document, `The Ecclesiological and Canonical Consequences of the Sacramental Nature of the Church: Ecclesial Communion , Conciliarity and Authority in the Church".
The document, he said, would look at the biblical foundations for seeing the Church as a sacramental presence in the world and at how responsibility and authority are exercised on the local, regional and universal level.
Members of the dialogue commission hope the document will lay the foundation for a new document focusing on primacy within the Chinch and, specifically, on the status and role of the bishop of Rome among all Christian bishops, the participant said.
Cardinal Keeler described the atmosphere in Ravenna as "very positive, friendly and helpful-.
As for the church-dividing issue of the primacy of the pope as bishop of Rome, Cardinal Keeler would say only: "We have discussed the issue, but it is seen as the main topic for a future document."
Last week the Vatican announced that Archbishop Paul Cordes, head of the Pontifical Council Cor Unum, was due to meet Russian Orthodox Patriarch Alexy 11 of Moscow this Thursday.