On the feast of St. Andrew, Pope Francis expressed hope that Catholics and Orthodox Christians will collaborate together more often “to make visible our communion.”

In a message to Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople, the pope said that Christian unity would be realized through the grace of the Holy Spirit.

“Beloved brother in Christ, along the path towards full communion between our Churches, we are sustained by the intercession of the holy brothers Peter and Andrew, our patron saints,” Pope Francis said on Nov. 30.

“The full unity for which we yearn is, of course, a gift from God, through the grace of the Holy Spirit. May our Lord help us to be ready to embrace this gift through prayer, interior conversion, and openness to seeking and offering pardon.”

The pope sends a message each year on Nov. 30 to the Ecumenical Patriarch, who is regarded as the successor of St. Andrew the Apostle and “first among equals” in the Eastern Orthodox Church.

In this year’s message, Pope Francis recalled his recent meetings with Bartholomew I in Rome. The patriarch joined the pope at an interreligious prayer gathering for peace in front of the Colosseum and in signing a joint appeal at the Vatican asking countries to “achieve net-zero carbon emissions as soon as possible.”

“It was a source of joy for me that during your recent visit to Rome we were able not only to share our concerns regarding the present and future of our world but also to express our shared commitment to addressing issues of crucial significance for our whole human family, including the care of creation, the education of future generations, dialogue among the different religious traditions and the pursuit of peace,” Francis said.

“In this way, we as Pastors, together with our Churches, strengthen the profound bond that already unites us, since our common responsibility in the face of current challenges flows from our shared faith in God the Father Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth; in the one Lord Jesus Christ, his Son, who became man for our salvation, died and rose from the dead; and in the Holy Spirit, Lord and giver of life, who harmonizes differences without abolishing them.”

Pope Francis’ message to the Ecumenical Patriarch comes days before the pope departs for an apostolic visit to the predominantly Orthodox countries of Cyprus and Greece.

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During his travels to the Mediterranean countries on Dec. 2-6, the pope will meet with Chrysostomos II, the Orthodox archbishop of Cyprus, and Ieronymos II, archbishop of Athens and All Greece.

The Holy See press office reported that a Vatican delegation traveled to Istanbul on Nov. 30 for a customary visit to the Ecumenical Patriarchate for the feast of St. Andrew.

Cardinal Kurt Koch, president of the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of Christian Unity, led the delegation, which included the pontifical council’s secretary, Bishop Brian Farrell, and undersecretary, Msgr. Andrea Palmieri. They were joined by Msgr. Walter Erbi, the Charge d’Affaires of the apostolic nunciature in Turkey.

Koch read aloud the pope’s message at the end of the Divine Liturgy in the Orthodox Church of St. George in the Turkish capital.

In a short address, the Swiss cardinal referred to Patriarch Bartholomew’s hospitalization during a recent visit to the United States.

Koch said: “It has been a source of concern to us that Your All Holiness required hospitalization twice during your trip to America and that the doctors had to operate to insert a stent into your heart. We hope that this surgical measure will help you to continue your ecclesial service in good health.”

“When I read about it in the media, the thought crossed my mind that we perceive Your All Holiness as a living stent in the heart of your Church, in the heart of ecumenism and also in your commitment to the protection of God’s creation entrusted to us humans. In all of these aspects, you demonstrate deep care about the flow of oxygen, just as the stent inside a heart helps it to breathe easily.”

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In his message, Pope Francis wrote: “United in this faith, let us seek with determination to make visible our communion.”

“While recognizing that there remain theological and ecclesiological questions at the heart of the work of our ongoing theological dialogue, it is my hope that Catholics and Orthodox may increasingly work together in those areas in which it is not only possible, but indeed imperative that we do so.”