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Vatican official urges churches to celebrate Easter on same date

A top Vatican official says it is urgent for churches around the world to find a common date on which to celebrate Easter, noting this would mark an enormous step forward in promoting Christian unity.

"Especially for churches in Muslim countries it is a scandal if Christians cannot celebrate together," Cardinal Walter Kasper, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, told a media conference during the 14-23 February assembly of the World Council of Churches (WCC) in Porto Alegre, Brazil.

Easter, the festival which for Christians marks the resurrection of Jesus Christ, is celebrated most years on two different dates, one by most Protestants and Roman Catholics, and the other by most Orthodox churches. The different dates stem in part from disagreement over reform of the calendar by Pope Gregory XIII in the 16th century.

This year Easter Sunday is on 16 April for most Protestants and Catholics and on 23 April for most Orthodox churches. The days will coincide in 2007 and 2010.

Much of the impetus for fixing a common Easter date has come from the Middle East where Christians from different traditions live in close proximity, often as small Christian minorities.

The WCC and the Middle East Council of Churches launched an initiative in 1997 to enable all churches to celebrate Easter together every year. Although many churches around the world welcomed the initiative, hopes that the start of the millennium might mark the end of division over the dates proved unrealistic.

"If we can reach this agreement it would be an enormous step forward," said Cardinal Kasper, noting the Vatican was open to different ways of resolving the issue.

The Catholic Church is not a member of the WCC, whose more than 340 members are from mainly Protestant and Christian Orthodox traditions. It does, however, cooperate with the council in many projects and serves on some of its committees and on some national church bodies that are linked to the WCC. An 18-strong delegation of Roman Catholic observers is attending the WCC gathering.

Still, the Catholic Church and WCC members remain divided over issues such as the Eucharist, the role of clergy and papal authority.

The Vatican cardinal urged churches to reach agreement on the mutual recognition of baptism, saying this was "fundamental" to Christian unity.
(c) Ecumenical News International