By Jesús Colina
VATICAN CITY, JAN. 28, 2008 (Zenit.org).- The Vatican is mourning the death of Orthodox Archbishop Christodoulos of Athens and All Greece, who died today at 69.
"We are deeply saddened by the death of Archbishop Christodoulos, for whom we have often prayed during these long months of his illness," Bishop Brian Farrell, secretary of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, told ZENIT.
The archbishop died of liver and intestine cancer in his home in Athens. The Holy See will send a delegation to his funeral, scheduled for Thursday.
Bishop Farrell said the Orthodox archbishop was a key player in ecumenism: "It must be recognized that he personally made a significant contribution to improving relations between the Church of Greece and the Catholic Church.
"The turning point was the visit of Pope John Paul II to Athens in 2001, when Christodoulos welcomed him in spite of vocal opposition in Greece to the Pope's visit. Since then there is a new climate of cooperation between our pontifical council and the Church of Greece."
In December 2006, Archbishop Christodoulos and other Greek Orthodox leaders repaid the visit by going to the Vatican. They spent a lengthy time in cordial conversation with Benedict XVI.
"The warmth of his personality and his determined efforts to strengthen his Church's presence in Europe enabled us to have a close, personal relationship with him," Bishop Farrell explained.
Bishop Franghískos Papamanólis, president of the conference of Catholic bishops of Greece, told Vatican Radio that Archbishop Christodoulos was "a conservative and a traditionalist, but his tradition was that of the Gospel."
"Now," he added, "we eagerly await what the Spirit stirs up for the continuation of the ecumenical path already begun, and in which there is no going back. There is no lack of difficulties, but hope should not abandon us."