A member of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity affirmed the sentiments of many who believe that Catholic-Orthodox relations have improved in recent years, especially under Pope Francis.
“When I look to what I hear about Pope Francis, and I remember when he was elected he spoke to the immense group of the faithful at St. Peter’s Square, I remember that he referred to the introduction of the letter of Ignatius of Antioch to the Christians of Rome,” Fr. Gabriel Quicke told CNA May 16.
“In his introduction in the letter to the Christians of Rome he speaks about the Church of Rome that is presiding in charity over the whole world of Christians, and Pope Francis used that expression,” he recalled: “The Church of Rome is presiding in charity over all the churches.”
“It was really a very important expression and most appreciated by the orthodox churches. This is a warming up for all of us.”
A former missionary in Lebanon, Fr. Quicke is a member of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity and works specifically with the Oriental Churches.
Out of the four separate dialogues the Oriental section maintains, the priest is in charge of three, which include the whole of the Oriental Orthodox churches, the two Malankara churches, also known as the Indian or Syrian Orthodox, and the Asian church of the east.
What they are seeking to do through these ongoing dialogues, Fr. Quicke explained, is to “put very important steps forward” in order to strengthen their bonds of unity with the Catholic Church.
Observing how there is only “one obstacle” preventing the full union of the Catholic Church with the orthodox churches, the priest explained that this is “the role of the Pope, the Petrine ministry.”
“We realized that we have so many things in common; we are proclaiming the same faith, we have the same sacraments, we have the same ecclesial structure, and we realized that we have the same spiritual roots. Most of the churches also have an apostolic tradition,” he observed.
Noting how great “fraternal dialogue” is already happening within the Orthodox churches of Constantinople and those of the Slavic tradition, Fr. Quicke admitted that “it is not easy” and that “we need a lot of patience and we try to establish an atmosphere of fraternity, brotherhood.”
Speaking of the upcoming encounter between Pope Francis and various patriarchs during his visit to the Holy Land later this week, Fr. Quicke explained that this meeting is especially significant firstly because “it is a commemoration of that unbelievable meeting, that fraternal encounter between Pope Paul VI and Patriarch Athenagoras 50 years ago.”
Referring to it as “a milestone in the relationships of both churches,” the priest observed that “after a thousand years of excommunication that was a radical change.”
“And the fact that Pope Francis and Patriarch Bartolomeo of Constantinople will meet again 50 years after that historic meeting has a very important significance.”
“The fact that they meet each other in such an important place where Christ prayed for the unity of his disciples and where they would pray together,” he continued, “is a sign that we have become closer to one another and that we both are engaged in putting further steps for unity.”
One of the things they are seeking to discuss during the trip is “looking together for a common date for Easter,” Fr. Quicke revealed, noting that “the fact that we don’t have the same date for the celebration of Easter is something painful.”
Regarding the future of the Catholic-Orthodox relationships, the priest explained that “we can learn from them and they can learn from us,” but “with our human efforts we also have to pray for unity because Christian unity is not only the result of human efforts.”
“Ecumenical dialogue is not only discussing high theological issues. It is firstly to enter together into the prayer of Jesus that all may be one.”
Alan Holdren contributed to this piece.