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Cardinal Koch on Hope For Closer Catholic-Orthodox Relations

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International dialogue did a reset during papal primacy talks in Jordan

The head of the Vatican’s Council for Christian Unity says he regrets that Catholics and Orthodox leaders are unable to give a stronger sign of unity for Christians suffering persecution in the Middle East.

Cardinal Kurt Koch served as co-president of the Joint International Commission for Theological Dialogue between the Orthodox and Catholic Churches, meeting this past week in Amman, Jordan. A communique released on Wednesday reflects the difficulties the two sides encountered in the search for agreement on the theme Synodality and Primacy, which has been at the heart of the discussions since a 2007 plenary meeting in Ravenna, Italy.

"The Commission members, assembled near the holy sites connected with the baptism of Jesus Christ, united their voices to express their deep concern for and solidarity with the Christians and members of other religious traditions of this entire region who are being persecuted, displaced and murdered," said a statement issued by the Vatican. "They categorically rejected the idea that such horrifying crimes can be justified in the name of God or of religion, and expressed their profound gratitude to all those engaged in bringing relief to millions of refugees and displaced persons. Furthermore, they prayed for all the religious leaders of the region, so that they might continue to comfort their people and keep alive their vision of their return to their lands and homes, which in recent times have been occupied and often profaned. The Commission implored the international community to listen seriously to those leaders regarding the most useful ways to intervene and protect those who are being persecuted, and to ensure the continuing vital presence of Christianity in the Middle East. They also launched a fresh appeal for the liberation of the Metropolitans of Aleppo, Mar Gregorios Yohanna Ibrahim and Boulos Yazigi, and all others who have been kidnapped, including priests and religious."

The meeting of the Joint Commission was marked by a spirit of friendship and trustful collaboration. The members greatly appreciated the generous hospitality of the host Church, and they strongly commend the continuing work of the dialogue to the prayers of the faithful

During the week-long meeting, which concluded on Tuesday, members of the Commission visited a refugee center in Amman where they heard first-hand the stories of those who have fled the fighting and persecution by Islamic extremists in Syria and Iraq. Jordan’s Prince Ghazi bin Muhammad also attended the meeting and expressed his support for the dialogue, despite the difficulties it is facing.

Cardinal Koch said in an interview with Vatican Radio that the first sign of progress is that “all are ready and willing to continue our dialogue and that we will provide a new step, a new coordination committee, in the next year for preparing a new plenary.”

After discussion about the text that was prepared by the coordination committee in Paris, he said, it was clear the text could not be accepted, above all by the Orthodox side. During the week, the Commission then prepared a new text about the most important elements of synodality and primacy in the first millennium as a source of imagination for rediscovering the unity in primacy and synod in the third millennium.

At the end of the meeting, the cardinal said, the Orthodox side did not agree to publish this text, but rather to give this text to the coordination committee for further discussion.

”We hope,” he said, “that the next plenary can finish this text.”

Asked about a time frame for the next meetings, the cardinal