Speaking on the plane, Francis said it is not nice to see brothers fighting, noting that though there is division between Catholics and Orthodox Christians, they must journey toward unity.
“I am grateful to Ieronymos, to Chrysostomos, to all the patriarchs who have this desire to walk together in unity,” the pope said, referencing two Orthodox leaders he met on his trip.
In Nicosia, Pope Francis had a private meeting on Dec. 3 with Chrysostomos II, the Orthodox archbishop of Cyprus, followed by an encounter with the Holy Synod of the Orthodox Church of Cyprus.
The Holy Synod is the highest authority of the Church of Cyprus, an autocephalous Eastern Orthodox Church.
Pope Francis also met privately with Ieronymos II, archbishop of Athens and All Greece, on Dec. 4, and with other bishops of the Greek Orthodox Church.
During the meeting, he apologized for the mistakes of Catholics, saying: “Shamefully, patriarch, — I acknowledge this for the Catholic Church — actions and decisions that had little or nothing to do with Jesus and the Gospel, but were instead marked by a thirst for advantage and power, gravely weakened our communion.”
Like Pope John Paul II’s visit to Greece in 2001, Francis’ trip was controversial in some corners of the Greek Orthodox Church. One Orthodox cleric protested against Francis, shouting, “Pope, you are a heretic!” at him outside of the patriarch’s residence.
On the papal plane, Pope Francis told journalists that theologians have to continue to study points of unity and division between the Catholic Church and Orthodox Churches. Meanwhile, others should “go forward together,” praying for Christian unity.
“The great Orthodox theologian [John] Zizioulas once jokingly said that ‘unity will be found in the Eschaton [the end of the world].’” Francis noted. “It’s a saying, but it doesn’t mean we have to stand still…”
Hannah Brockhaus is Catholic News Agency's senior Rome correspondent. She grew up in Omaha, Nebraska, and has a degree in English from Truman State University in Missouri.