An Ecclesial Embrace
The historic meeting of Pope Paul VI and Patriarch Athenagoras
Thomas Stransky – America the National Catholic Review
The dates of Pope Francis’ upcoming trip to the Holy Land are no accident. Pope Francis intends to visit from May 24 to 26, primarily to commemorate with Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople the 50th anniversary of the meeting between Pope Paul VI and Patriarch Athenagoras in Jerusalem in January 1964.
Narratives of that first encounter presupposed that the primary purpose of Pope Paul’s pilgrimage was to provide an occasion for meeting the ecumenical patriarch. The editors of America, for example, wrote on Jan. 18, 1964, that they felt “the ultimate objective of Pope Paul in going to the Holy Land was precisely the chance this offered for such a dramatic confrontation.”
Two weeks before the new pope opened the second period of the Second Vatican Council on Sept. 29, 1963, he wrote an appunto, a private memorandum to himself, in which he expressed the hope to be a “papal pilgrim in the Holy Land.” One subordinate purpose was for him to have “a fraternal encounter with the various Christian denominations there.” In his address to the council on Dec. 4, 1963, however, this reason was absent when he shared his decision to make a “pious pilgrimage to the homeland of Jesus our Savior” in January. For some reason, he and his tight-lipped planning committee of five had not envisioned ecumenical meetings. Their sole preoccupation, it seems, was to visit Catholic communities at holy sites in Israel and in Jordanian East Jerusalem and the West Bank, and to negotiate with the two warring countries that were at each other’s throats.
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