One of the most outstanding novelties of Pope Francis’ pontificate is the fraternal and friendly dimension in relations with other Christian Churches, in particular, with the Orthodox.
For the first time in history, the Patriarch of Constantinople came to Rome to meet with the Roman Pontiff at his inaugaration as Pope.
In the last week of May, His Holiness Bartholomew will take part in a unitary meeting organized by Pope Francis in Jerusalem.
In this context, the Patriarch of Constantinople has invited Pope Francis to Istanbul.
To know more about these developments, ZENIT interviewed His Holiness Bartholomew.
ZENIT: Holiness Bartholomew, at what point is the ecumenical process and at what point are we to see Pope John Paul II’s desire fulfilled for one united Church that can breathe with two lungs?
Patriarch Bartholomew: Look, your question about how close we are to the unity of the Church and, in particular, of enabling the Christian Church (Western and Eastern, Orthodox and Roman Catholic) to breathe with two lungs, is important. There is no doubt that our two “sister Churches” are closer today in relation to the whole of the last millennium, thanks to the “dialogue of love” and the “dialogue of truth,” that is to say, the steps taken towards reconciliation and the process of the theological dialogue, which has been well underway in the last decades. Despite this, we are still far from the Unity we shared during the first millennium of the life of the Church. The most important thing for us is to have always before our eyes the desire and the commandment of our Lord “that his disciples be united and that the Church be one.” It is a scandal in the Body of Christ and for the whole world that followers of Jesus Christ are divided in a historical moment in which – today more than ever – we are called to a common witness and to one Word in face of the challenges of our time.
ZENIT: Holiness, what are the most difficult objectives for the Church in the Middle East today?
Patriarch Bartholomew: It is precisely in this difficult context that I will respond to your crucial question on the problems of the Church of today and the increase of violence that the populations of the Middle East are going through. Our Churches must proclaim peace where there is war, proclaim love where there is hatred, and tolerance where there is discrimination. This principle applies to the followers of other religious faiths but also to the critical situation of Christians in this fragile region. We are very concerned about the increase of political disorders and the increase of violence, especially in Palestine, in Egypt, in Iraq and more recently, in Syria. We are also profoundly desolate in face of the inexcusable indifference and unjustifiable inactivity of the civil and political authorities who have failed to protect the Christian population and citizens in general. Christian leaders must ensure our greatest solidarity and our fidelity to the Gospel in the Middle East and, at the same time, condemn categorically every form of brutality and shedding of blood. We must stress that all places of worship are sacred temples of the one living God, precisely as all human beings are sacred temples of the living Spirit of God.
ZENIT: What is the great significance of your invitation to Pope Francis to visit Istanbul after Jerusalem this year?
Patriarch Bartholomew: When we were invited to attend the Mass of inauguration of the newly elected Pope Francis in Saint Peter’s Square – the first time in history in which the Patriarch of Constantinople took part in the installation of a Cardinal of Rome – we invited His Holiness to visit us in the Phanar (the See of representation at Istanbul in Turkey of the Patriarch of Constantinople ndr) but also to organize a unitary visit to Jerusalem. This invitation became an informal custom at the time of Paul VI followed also successively with the election of John Paul II and kept also after the election of Pope Benedict XVI. However, the last of our proposals that will be realized – God willing – in a few months, is that of celebrating the historic meeting of the last Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras and Pope Paul VI on the Mount of Olives in January of 1964, the first time in which the Pope of Rome and the Patriarch of the New Rome met face to face since the so-called “Great Schism” of 1054. That event led in 1965 to a “mutual lifting of reciprocal anathemas” and was reinforced in 1969 by annual formal visits of respective delegations, which in 1979 also led to the creation of an international commission for religious dialogue between our two Churches. It is our earnest hope and fervent prayer that the meeting with Pope Francis will reinforce the close relation between the Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church.