Role of bishop of Rome key to Catholic-Orthodox progress

A common understanding of the role the bishop of Rome played in the united Christianity of the first millennium is essential for resolving the question of the primacy of the pope in a united church, Pope Benedict XVI said.

The pope met June 27 with Orthodox Metropolitan Emmanuel of France, Bishop Athenagoras of Sinope, who serves as the assistant metropolitan of Belgium, and Deacon Ioakim Billis of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople.

The three Greek Orthodox represented Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople at the evening prayer service closing the year of St. Paul June 28 and at the pope's Mass for the feast of Sts. Peter and Paul June 29.

Meeting the delegation privately before the festivities began, the pope said the year of St. Paul was a year "of prayer, of reflection and of exchanging gestures of communion between Rome and Constantinople."

The pope said the joint activities were the best way to honor St. Paul, who urged Christians "'to preserve the unity of the spirit through the bond of peace,' teaching us that there is 'only one body and one spirit.'"