Pope Francis has said that if Catholics and Orthodox Christians learn to look at one another in God with the help of the Holy Spirit, then members of the two churches will cooperate more easily in areas that already unite them.
The Pope was speaking on the eve of the solemnity of the Holy Patrons of the Church of Rome, the Apostles Peter and Paul, to a delegation from the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople, which always visits Rome on this date. In exchange, a delegation from the Vatican visits Instanbul, Turkey, every 30 November, St. Andrew’s Day.
In his address to the delegation on Saturday, the Holy Father recalled with great affection his “beloved brother” Bartholomaios, with whom he shared his recent pilgrimage to the Holy Land, during which they were able to repeat the historical embrace between their predecessors, Athenagoras I and Paul VI, which took place fifty years ago in the holy city of Jerusalem.
“That prophetic gesture gave a decisive impulse to a journey which, thank God, has never ceased”, remarked Pope Francis. “I consider it a special gift from the Lord that we were able to venerate the holy places together and to pray at each other’s side at the place of Christ’s burial, where we can actually touch the foundation of our hope”. The joy of their common prayer was then renewed during the recent meeting in the Vatican Gardens where they joined in prayer, together with the Presidents of Israel and Palestine, to invoke the gift of peace in the Holy Land”.
“The Lord granted us these occasions of fraternal encounter, in which we were able to express the love uniting us in Christ, and to renew our mutual desire to walk together along the path to full unity”, continued the Holy Father. “We know very well that this unity is a gift of God, a gift that even now the Almighty grants us the grace to attain whenever, by the power of the Holy Spirit, we choose to look at one another with the eyes of faith and to see ourselves as we truly are in God’s plan, according to the designs of his eternal will, and not what we have become as a result of the historical consequences of our sins. If all of us can learn, prompted by the Spirit, to look at one another in God, our path will be even straighter and our cooperation all the more easy in the many areas of daily life which already happily unite us”.
This theological vision “is nourished by faith, hope and love; it gives rise to an authentic theological reflection which is truly ‘scientia Dei’, a participation in that vision which God has of himself and of us. It is a reflection which can only bring us closer to one another on the path of unity, despite our differing starting points. I hope and I pray, then, that the work of the Joint International Commission can be a sign of this profound understanding, this theology ‘on its knees’. In this way, the Commission’s reflections on the concepts of primacy and synodality, communion in the universal Church and the ministry of the Bishop of Rome will not be an academic exercise or a mere debate about irreconcilable positions. All of us need, with courage and confidence, to be open to the working of the Holy Spirit. We need to let ourselves be caught up in Christ’s loving gaze upon the Church, his Bride, in our journey of spiritual ecumenism. It is a journey upheld by the martyrdom of so many of our brothers and sisters who, by their witness to Jesus Christ the Lord, have brought about an ecumenism of blood”, concluded the Pope.
The delegation of the Ecumenical Patriarchate was this year headed by the metropolitan of Pergamo, Ioannis (Zizioulas), co-president of the international mixed Commission for theological dialogue between the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church, who was accompanied by Archbishop Job de Telmissos and the patriarchal archdeacon John Chryssavgis.