Story Filed: Saturday, March 25, 2000 8:16 PM EST
Jerusalem, Mar 25, 2000 (EFE via COMTEX) -- The pope on Saturday in Jersalem called on Christians to unite, telling heads of churches in the Holy Land that "we must overcome the scandalous impression caused by our dissension and controversies."
Pope John Paul II commented at an ecumenical meeting held at the Orthodox Patriarchate in Jerusalem, attended by Patriarch Diodoros I, Armenian Orthodox Patriarch Torkom and the religious leaders of the numerous small Christian communities in the region.
The Holy Land is a maze of small Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant communities. Only 1.2 percent of the population of Jerusalem is Christian.
The Catholics are divided into the Latin Church, with 70,000 members, and the Melquite, Maronite, Armenian, Syrian, Chaldean and Coptic churches, which perform eastern rites but are in communion with Rome.
The Orthodox Church is split into the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem, the Armenian, Ethiopian, Othodox Coptic, Romanian, the Russian Church abroad, a representation of the Moscow Patriarchate, and the Syrian Orthodox Patriarchate. There are also Anglican, Baptist, Evangelical and Lutheran churches in Israel.
Most chapels or holy sites are controlled by one sect, and others musts be careful not to invade their territory.
The pope, a longtime proponent of breaking down barriers between Christians, said that this meeting reminded him of another one in Jerusalem in 1964 between Pope Paul IV and Patriarch Athenagoras I of Constantinople, which served to set the bases for improved relations between Roman Catholic and Orthodox faithful.
He said that in these years, the two churches have learned that the road to unity, which was shattered in 1054, was hard and difficult, but that they should not be disheartened.
For the sake of the unity which he yearns, the pope said that the variety and beauty of non-Catholic rites and of their canonical and theological traditions do not undermine unity, "on the contrary, they strengthen and contribute enormously to the fulfillment of the mission."
The pontiff said the closer they were in prayer, the more bravely they would be able to face the "painful reality of our divisions."
Before the meeting, the pope prayed at Gethsemane in the Mount of Olives where, according to tradition, Christ was arrested by the Romans.
By Juan Lara jl/dm/dgm
Copyright (c) 2000. Agencia EFE S.A.