Pope Francis received in audience today representatives of Churches, ecclesial communities, and international ecumenical and interreligious organizations. The delegations have come to Rome for the inauguration of Francis’ ministry as Bishop of Rome and Successor of the Apostle Peter.
On behalf of those present, the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, Bartholomew I, greeted the Pope, recalling the “elevated, serious, and difficult task” that his ministry bears with it. He also reiterated the need for the Churches to shun worldly distractions and to work on the unity between Christians.
This was the first time that an ecumenical patriarch has attended a papal inauguration since the Schism of 1054.
Pope Francis, who was seated on an armchair rather than the throne that is customarily used in the Clementine Hall, thanked Bartholomew I, referring to him as “my brother Andrew”, a reference to the fact that the patriarchs of Constantinople are considered the successors of the Apostle Andrew, the brother of Simon Peter.
The Holy Father stated that with their presence at yesterday’s Mass, he experienced “in an even more urgent way the prayer for unity among believers in Christ and together to see somehow foreshadowed that full realization, which depends on the plan of God and on our loyal collaboration.”
“I begin my Apostolic Ministry in this year which my venerable predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, with truly inspired insight, proclaimed the Year of Faith for the Catholic Church,” the Holy Father said.
“With this initiative, which I want to continue and hope is a stimulus for the faith journey of all, he wished to mark the 50th anniversary of the beginning of the Second Vatican Council, proposing a sort of pilgrimage towards that which is most essential for every Christian: the personal and transforming relationship with Jesus Christ, Son of God, who died and rose for our salvation.”
Pope Francis stressed that the heart of Vatican II is in the desire to announce the “treasure of faith” to today’s man. The Holy Father assured those present of his determination to continue the path of ecumenical dialogue established by his predecessors.
A Spiritual Bond
Addressing the representatives of the Jewish people, Pope Francis thanked them for their presence while acknowledging that the two faiths are “joined in a very special spiritual bond.” Referring to the Nostra aetate declaration of the Second Vatican Council, the Holy Father reiterated that the Catholic Church recognizes that “the beginnings of her faith and her election are already, according to the divine mystery of salvation, in the Patriarchs, Moses, and the prophets.”
“Thank you for your presence and I am confident that, with the help of the Almighty, we will be able to continue profitably that fraternal dialogue that the Council advocated and that has actually been accomplished, bringing many fruits, especially in recent decades,” the Pope said.
The Pope addressed the other religious representatives present, in particular the Muslim delegation, who the Holy Father said “worship the one God, living and merciful, and call upon Him in prayer.”
“I really appreciate your presence,” the Pope said. “In it I see a tangible sign of the will to grow in mutual esteem and cooperation for the common good of humanity.”
Concluding his address, Pope Francis recognized the need for a peaceful coexistence between faiths that protects man’s inherent search for the truth. “We know how much violence has been produced in recent history by the attempt to eliminate God and the divine from the horizon of humanity, and we experience the value of witnessing in our societies to the original opening to transcendence that is inherent in the human heart,” the Holy Father said.
“In this, we feel close even to all those men and women who, whilst not recognising themselves belonging to any religious tradition, feel themselves nevertheless to be in search of truth, goodness and beauty, this truth, goodness and beauty of God, and who are our precious allies in efforts to defend the dignity of man, in building a peaceful coexistence among peoples and in guarding Creation carefully.”
A ‘beautiful and intense’ meeting
Fr. Federico Lombardi, director of the Holy See Press Office, noted the significance of today’s audience, in particular with His Holiness Bartholomew I. Prior to the audience, Fr. Lombardi said the Holy Father and the Ecumenical Patriarch had a private meeting which lasted for roughly 20 minutes. The meeting, he said, was both “beautiful and intense”.
The Holy Father also received Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk, who came representing the Patriarch of Moscow, Kirill. Fr. Lombardi stated that the Metropolitan delivered a personal message from the Patriarch to Pope Francis, as well as an icon of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
The audience with all the delegations, Fr. Lombardi said, “is also significant to the continuing dialogue with all religions, particularly with the Jewish and Muslim people.”
“It is known that with the Jewish community in Argentina, the Holy Father had a wonderful relationship. There were many within the Jewish delegation who were very enthusiastic and happy, as well as within the Muslim [delegation].”
“We can see,” Fr. Lombardi continued, “that the Pope is a person that has the fame of being very open and has an experience of good relations with other religious communities.”
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