“We are already on the way towards full communion,” Pope Francis is affirming in regard to the Orthodox. The Holy Father made these remarks this morning at the conclusion of the Divine Liturgy in the Church of St. George in Phanar, Istanbul.
The Divine Liturgy, which commemorated today’s liturgical feast day of St. Andrew the Apostle, took place on the final day of his three-day visit to Turkey.
“The one thing that the Catholic Church desires, and that I seek, is communion with the Orthodox Churches,” Francis said.
“To reach the desired goal of full unity,” the Pontiff stressed, “the Catholic Church does not intend to impose any conditions”’
In his address, Patriarch Bartholomew said that although the Eucharistic communion does not allow “the convocation of a joint Great Ecumenical Council,” he prayed that it would not be prolonged.
“However, until that blessed day,” he said, “the participation in one another’s synodal life will be expressed through the involvement of observers, as we observe now, with Your gracious invitation to attend Synods of Your Church, just as we hope will also occur when, with God’s grace, our Holy and Great Council becomes reality.”
While acknowledging the process of reunification can be sometimes “rugged,” he said, it’s “nonetheless irreversible,” and is needed.
Need for unity
Both the Pope and the Patriarch agreed that for various reasons, the upheaval in the Middle East and persecution of Christians makes union all the more urgent.
“We no longer have the luxury of isolated action,” the Patriarch said. “The modern persecutors of Christians do not ask which Church their victims belong to.”
Given these events, “the path toward unity is more urgent than ever for those who invoke the name of the great Peacemaker.”
The Pope clarified that restoration of full communion “does not signify the submission of one to the other, or assimilation,” but rather means welcoming all the gifts that God has given to each.
“I want to assure each one of you here that, to reach the desired goal of full unity, the Catholic Church does not intend to impose any conditions except that of the shared profession of faith.”
In today’s world, voices are being raised which we cannot ignore and which implore our Churches to live deeply our identity as disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ, the Pope said, noting three in particular.
The first of these, he said, is the poor. “As Christians we are called together to eliminate that globalization of indifference which today seems to reign supreme, while building a new civilization of love and solidarity.”
“Taking away the peace of a people, committing every act of violence – or consenting to such acts, especially when directed against the weakest and defenseless — is a profoundly grave sin against God.”
The Pope went on to say that it is the youth who wish for progress towards full communion, citing their willingness to come together with people of different beliefs. “They do this not because they ignore the differences which still separate us, but because they are able to see beyond them; they are able to embrace what is essential and what already unites us,” he said.
New generations, the Pope concluded, need the humanism that comes from the Gospel and the Church’s age-old experience.
‘That All May Be One’
Shortly after the Divine Liturgy, the Pope and Patriarch signed a joint declaration, their second one since May. It not only highlighted their mutual desire to continue this path toward communion between the Catholic and Orthodox Churches, but also stressed their concern over the Middle East.
“We express our sincere and firm resolution, in obedience to the will of our Lord Jesus Christ, to intensify our efforts to promote the full unity of all Christians, and above all between Catholics and Orthodox,” it stated. The declaration also called for Catholic and Orthodox faithful to “join us in praying ‘that all may be one.'”
Highlighting their common concern for the current situation in Iraq, Syria and the whole Middle East, the declaration noted, “We cannot resign ourselves to a Middle East without Christians, who have professed the name of Jesus there for two thousand years.”
While calling on the international community to respond to the “terrible situation” of Christians and all suffering in the Middle East, the declaration also highlighted the need for good relations with Muslims.
“Inspired by common values and strengthened by genuine fraternal sentiments, Muslims and Christians are called to work together for the sake of justice, peace and respect for the dignity and rights of every person, especially in those regions where they once lived for centuries in peaceful coexistence and now tragically suffer together the horrors of war,” it reaffirmed.
Following the signing of the Common Declaration, Pope Francis had a private lunch at the Ecumenical Patriarchate with Bartholomew I.
On ZENIT’s Web page:
Ecumenical Patriarch’s Address: http://www.zenit.org/en/articles/ecumenical-patriarch-s-address-at-the-divine-liturgy-in-the-church-of-st-george
Text of Common Declaration: http://www.zenit.org/en/articles/text-of-joint-declaration-signed-by-pope-and-ecumenical-patriarch