BY A SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT PE PAUL and Eastern Orthodox Patriarch Athenagoras ended their historic meeting here in Rome with a call for peace between their churches—divided by nine centuries of schism— and peace in the world.
A joint communique at the end of the senior Eastern Patriarch's 3-day visit to Rome beseeched world leaders and "all peoples of the world" to promote "peace and justice in all countries of the world."
The statement acknowledged that "there is still a long way to go on the path toward unity of all Christians and between the Roman Catholic and the Orthodox Church."
But it declared the two churches now "are ready to study concrete ways to solve pastoral problems, especially regarding marriages between Catholics and Orthodox."
The statement came after a series of private talks.
When the Patriarch arrived at the Vatican thunderous applause echoed through St. Peter's basilica as Pope Paul stood on tiptoe to exchange the "kiss of peace" with the towering Patriarch.
Speaking in Latin and Greek respectively during a special 90-minute ceremony, the Pope and the Patriarch called for reunion of their churches, divided since 1054 when each claimed rightful succession from St. Peter, the first Pope.
Because of remaining differences over religious beliefs and liturgy, the 70-year-old Pope Paul and 80-year-old Athenagoras joined in celebrating a common prayer service rather than a Mass to mark the start of the Patriarch's historic visit.
"We certainly cannot predict the duration" of the move toward church unity, the white bearded Athenagoras said.
"It is a matter of faith in the final result, of many prayers, of steady work, but above all it is a matter of charity" through which "we can clean ourselves of all the negative elements we inherited from the past. . . ."
Pope Paul said in response that by not dwelling on past "clashes and misunderstanding" between the two churches "we shall eventually surmount the obstacles still separating us."
Among the thousands attendthe ceremony were 80 of the 116 cardinals of the Vatican's Sacred College. Nearly 200 Catholic bishops attending the Church's first Synod here cut their meeting short to attend the ceremony.
A number of Orthodox prelates and laymen also attended the service, including Greek shipping magnate Aristotle Onassis, who accompanied Athenagoras to Rome on a special jet inscribed "Paul VI and Athenagoras, the peacemakers."
The Pope and the towering. bearded Athenagoras, spent an hour in private discussions in the Pope's library.
No details of the meeting were disclosed but Vatican sources said it was believed they discussed practical ways of continuing unity talks between the two churches, possibly including establishment of a permanent commission along the lines of one already set up between the Catholic and Anglican churches.
Although they had previously met on Jerusalem's Mount of Olives in 1964 and in Istanbul last July, this was the first time they had sat down together and talked—in French without interpreters—on practical ways to achieve unity.
Their joint ' statement advocated "regular and fruitful contacts between Catholic and Orthodox pastors for the welfare of their faithful." It pledged "every kind of collaboration between Catholic and Orthodox professors" in the study of church history, tradition and liturgy to meet the "hopes 'of the present day world."
After the talks they were joined by other prelates of the two churches for half an hour, during which Pope Paul gave Athenagoras a large silver crucifix and the Patriarch gave him a silver-covered book of Gospels.
After his meeting with Pope Paul, Athenagoras travelled across Rome to the Eternal City's oldest basilica, St. John in Lateran, where the Emperor Constantine was baptised more than 16 centuries ago. A crowd of about 2,000 cheered and applauded the Patriarch as he arrived for a 20-minute visit, during which he blessed them and prayed at the main altar.
From the Basilica, which is Pope Paul's own cathedral as Bishop of Rome, Athenagoras stopped briefly at the ancient Roman Colosseum. Entering it he bared his head and chanted a Greek hymn to martyrs: "You holy martyrs who fought so bravely, pray for us to Christ the Saviour."
One of the highlights of his visit was when he sat on the Papal throne for 20 minutes to receive 2,000 Orthodox faithful.
It was the first time in Vatican history that anyone but the Roman Catholic Pope himself had occupied the throne.
Pope Paul was not present but Vatican sources said he had personally offered the gold throne in the Vatican's stately Royal Hall as a gesture of their hoped-for unity.
Athenagoras is now in Switzerland. He is scheduled to have talks in Geneva with the World Council of Churches before going on to Britain for a meeting with the Archbishop of Canterbury.