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Table Time: Pope and Orthodox Discuss, Pray, Dine

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Greek Orthodox Metropolitan Tarasios of Buenos Aires, Argentina, and South America was one of the Orthodox delegates who shared meals and prayers with Pope Francis. Metropolitan Tarasios is pictured in a 21 March photo in Rome. (photo: CNS/Robert Duncan) 

21 Mar 2013 – By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Pastors and theologians involved in ecumenical dialogue emphasize the importance of “table time” — sharing meals — along with serious theological discussions, shared prayer and joint action.

Pope Francis spoke about his ecumenical vision on 20 March and prayed with delegates from Orthodox and other Christian communities at his inaugural Mass on 19 March.

Since 17 March, he’s also had breakfast, lunch and dinner with the Orthodox representatives who came to Rome for his inauguration. Pope Francis is still living at the Domus Sanctae Marthae, the Vatican guesthouse where the Orthodox delegates also were staying.

They all eat together and greet each other in the common dining room.

Greek Orthodox Metropolitan Tarasios of Buenos Aires and South America was one of the delegates who shared meals and prayers with the new pope. In fact, he’s been doing that since then-Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio attended his enthronement in Buenos Aires in 2001.

When they first saw each other on 17 March, they embraced.

“I said to him, ‘What have you done?’ He said, ‘Not I. They did it to me,’ pointing to the cardinals,” said the Orthodox leader, who was born in the United States.

During the more formal audience Pope Francis had with the ecumenical delegates, Metropolitan Tarasios presented the pope with two elegant, but very personalized gifts: an urn filled with soil from Argentina, “so he wouldn’t feel far away, he’d always feel close to us,” and a small chalice with the biblical inscription in Spanish, “That all would be one.”

In Pope Francis’ remarks to the ecumenical delegates, he focused on the common task of preaching the Gospel, defending human dignity and defending creation. Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople, in his remarks to the gathering, focused on the importance of continuing the formal theological dialogue so that “our Christian witness would be credible in the eyes of those near and far.”

Metropolitan Tarasios, who was part of the ecumenical patriarchate’s delegation to Pope Francis’ inauguration, said it is not a matter of either theological dialogue or practical cooperation: Christian unity requires both.

“The theological dialogue by itself cannot bring about Christian unity,” he said. It brings the churches closer, helps them understand each other more profoundly, and provides a serious tool for understanding where the churches agree and where they differ.

But efforts also are required to bring Christians together in common prayer and joint action.

“If, in the end, the people don’t accept the theological dialogue or what comes out of the theological dialogue, there won’t be any Christian unity,” he said.

For the past five years, the international Catholic-Orthodox dialogue has been focusing on one of thorniest topics dividing the two communities: the primacy of the pope and the way his ministry has been exercised since the Great Schism of 1054.





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