The first place

The Mixed Commission gathered in Vienna remembers Msgr. Fortino

The Joint International Commission for Theological Dialogue Between the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church met in Vienna to discuss the role of the Bishop of Rome in first millennium of Christian history. The Commission previously met in Cyprus in 2009. The session opened Monday September 20 in the Franz König Haus, thanks to the hospitality of the archdiocese headed by Christoph Schönborn. On September 22, while the meeting of all 60 members of the mixed Commission was under way, an eminent player of this dialogue, Msgr. Eleuterio Fortino – one of the two co-Secretaries of the Commission with Metropolitan of Sassima, Gennadios – passed away. The theme of primacy. The question of the primacy in the Universal Church – explains the Osservatore Romano reporting on the meeting in Vienna – is at the centre of the new phase of Catholic-Orthodox dialogue inaugurated by the plenary session of Ravenna in 2007. The document approved on that occasion, titled “Ecclesiological and Canonical Consequences of the Sacramental Nature of the Church: Ecclesial Communion, Conciliarity and Authority”, expresses Church authority on three planes – at local, regional and universal level – and claims that on each of these levels there is a ‘pròtos’, namely a primus (bishop, metropolitan-patriarch, bishop of Rome). At universal level, the document explains that ‘both sides (Catholics and Orthodox) agree that Rome, as a Church that ‘presides in love’, occupied ‘the first place’, and that ‘the bishop of Rome was therefore the protos among the patriarchs’. The Commission thus decided the creation of a working program. First of all, the members of the Commission agreed that the works be centered on the first millennium, when Eastern and Western Christians were united. Then, in autumn 2008 the Joint Coordination Committee met to prepare a draft document that was submitted to the Commission for approval. During the meeting in Cyprus, in 2009 the Commission began to examine the text. The 12th session due to end on September 27, whose objective is to reach an agreement on the same interpretation, will resume the study of the document. The Commission consists of two representatives for each autocephalous Orthodox Churches and a corresponding number of Catholic members. The panel is chaired by archbishop Kurt Koch, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, and metropolitan of Pergamus, Ioannis Zizioulas.The dialogue of ‘love’. Msgr. Fortino died in Rome at the “Tor Vergata” hospital where he was admitted after the worsening of his health conditions. The news of his death was immediately conveyed to the members of the Joint Commission to which he gave a major contribution. Msgr. Fortino devoted to the dialogue utmost energy and passion. In an interview with SIR Europe prior to the opening of the plenary session in Cyprus, the bishop congratulated the return of the Russian Orthodox delegation in the Commission. “The formal completeness of Orthodox Church representation – said Msgr. Fortino – is crucial to the positive outcome of the dialogue. In fact, for the first time in the history of the division, this dialogue takes place between the Catholic and the Orthodox Churches as a whole. At times this complexity makes dialogue and its progress much slower, but its purpose justifies the need for a clarification and consensus that involves everyone”. Msgr. Fortino continued: “Intensifying the fraternal relations between the Churches is indispensable to the true progress of dialogue. In the past, the dialogue of ‘love’ – understood as the premise of theological dialogue – was justly ascribed major importance. The dialogue of ‘love’ on the one side places in front of us a brother who is equally inspired by faith and in touch with the dictates of his own conscience. On the other it frees doctrinal questions from complexities unrelated to faith. A similar attitude is especially important in the work that the Commission in Cyprus is tasked with, namely, examining the role of the Bishop of Rome in the life of the Church in the first millennium. In this theme are to be found historical evaluations and prejudice that ought to be rigorously – albeit serenly – examined. And with an openness to the future: it would be in vain to seek the full solution in the past”.The quality of dialogue. “An exceptional person. We lose a friend, a brother, with whom for years we have worked tirelessly for the unity of Christians. Archimandrite Fortino was an open and free, comprehensive person, esteemed by all. A person who will always remain in our hearts”. Those are the first moving words of Metropolitan Gennadios Zervos, Orthodox archbishop of Italy and Malta (ecumenical patriarchate), in memory of Msgr. Eleuterio Fortino. “In our heart – continues the metropolitan bishop – Msgr. Fortino will be always remembered as the person with whom we worked to accomplish the will of God that all may be one. I have prayed for his soul. Today Msgr. Fortino is in the Glory of God among the righteous and the good”. As relates to his commitment in ecumenical dialogue, the metropolitan bishop underlines that Msgr. Fortino was “a person that had a clear and sincere understanding in everything he said and did”.

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