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Sunday, May 9, 1999 Published at 17:41 GMT 18:41 UK

World: Europe

Pope's Orthodox mass bridges divide

The presence of Pope and Patriarch was a sign of reconciliation

Pope John Paul II participated in an historic Orthodox mass in Romania on Sunday - on the last day of a visit intended to foster greater co-operation between the Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches.

More than 100,000 people attended the open-air service in a square in the capital, Bucharest, where the Pope stood alongside the head of Romania's Orthodox Church, Patriarch Teoctist.

Kieran Cooke: "An impressive sight"
BBC correspondent Kieran Cooke says such an event would have been illegal under the rule of former dictator Nicolae Ceaucescu - and impossible amid the animosity which used to exist between the Catholic and Orthodox churches.

Later the Pope ended his visit with an open-air Catholic mass attended by more than 200,000 people, many of whom had travelled for several hours from Romania's Catholic heartlands of Transylvania and Moldova to attend.

The Pope's three-day visit to Romania was the first by a pontiff to a predominantly Orthodox country in more than 1,000 years.

Calls for reconciliation

While in Romania, the Pope repeatedly spoke of the need for reconciliation between the two churches, which broke off relations in 1054.

The BBC's Amanda Woods: "It's the first visit by the head of the Catholic Church to a mainly orthodox country"
As part of a new co-operation, the Romanian Patriarch and the Pope have issued a joint declaration on the conflict in Yugoslavia, calling on all sides to put down their arms, and stressing the need for peace throughout the Balkans region.

Correspondents say the visit has been seen as paving the way for a possible papal visit to Russia - home of the world's largest orthodox community.

A papal spokesman said the visit to Romania had been a breakthrough opening the door for better relations with Moscow

Earlier in his tour the Pope visited a Roman Catholic cemetery to pay homage to people murdered for their beliefs and celebrated a Greek Catholic mass at St Joseph's Cathedral in Bucharest.

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