Istanbul, Turkey, Nov 29, 2014 / 10:20 am
In a prayer gathering on the second day of Pope Francis' visit to Turkey, Patriarch Bartholomew I welcomed him with joy, saying his presence is a symbolic "bridging" of the East and West.
"May these holy fathers, on whose teaching our common faith of the first millennium was founded, intercede for us to the Lord so that we may rediscover the full union of our Churches, thereby fulfilling His divine will in crucial times for humanity and the world," Patriarch Bartholomew I said on Nov. 29.
Directed toward Pope Francis, the speech took place during an ecumenical prayer gathering held at the Orthodox cathedral of St. George in Istanbul, after which the Pope and the Patriarch held a private meeting.
Patriarch Bartholomew welcomed the Pope with "joy, honor and gratitude because you have deemed it proper to direct your steps from the Old Rome to the New Rome, symbolically bridging the West and the East through this movement."
Pope Francis' visit, the first since his election to the "throne that 'presides in love,'" serves as a continuation of his predecessors, Bl. Paul VI, St. John Paul II and retired pontiff Benedict XVI, the patriarch observed.
He told the Pope that his visit "also bears witness to your own will and that of the most holy Church of Rome to maintain the fraternal and stable advance with the Orthodox Church for the restoration of full communion between our Churches."
The patriarch cited the Pope's arrival as a historical moment marked with "satisfaction and appreciation," and noted how throughout time the cathedral has been and still is served by strong ecclesiastical figures who have "brightened" it alongside the many fathers of the universal Church.
Saints Gregory the Theologian and John Chrysostom are among these Church fathers, he said, observing now their relics reside inside of the cathedral "thanks to their gracious return to the Ecumenical Patriarchate by the Church of Rome."
Patriarch Bartholomew offered the Bishop of Rome "fervent thanks" for the fraternal gesture of returning the relics to the Church of Constantinople, and prayed that the saints would intercede for the unity off their churches.
He quoted St. John Chrysostom, saying "This is what ultimately holds the faithful together and upholds love; indeed, this is precisely why Christ said that we should be one," and prayed that the visit would help increase their fraternal relations.
In his brief speech to the patriarch during the prayer gathering, Pope Francis said that he had mixed feelings, one being a heart "full of gratitude" to God for allowing the encounter of their churches, as well as hope and anticipation for the Feast of St. Andrew, the celebration of which is a key reason for his visit.
The pontiff referred to the words spoken by Zachariah in scripture, noting how "Lord gives us anew in this evening prayer, the foundation that sustains our moving forward from one day to the next, the solid rock upon which we advance together in joy and hope."
And the foundation rock, he said, is the Lord's promise to save his people from all countries in the east and west in both faithfulness and righteousness.
Pope Francis gave heartfelt thanks to the patriarch for his "fraternal welcome," and observed how the joy they share is always greater not because it comes from themselves, but from above.
"It is not in us, not in our commitment, not in our efforts that are certainly necessary but in our shared trust in God's faithfulness which lays the foundation for the reconstruction of his temple that is the Church."
The apostles Andrew and Peter also heard this promise and received the same gift, the Pope said, explaining that although they were already blood brothers, their encounter with Christ made them brothers in faith and charity as well.
He explained that through Christ the apostles also became brothers in hope, and told Patriarch Bartholomew that it is a great grace "to be brothers in the hope of the Risen Lord!"
"What a grace, and what a responsibility, to walk together in this hope, sustained by the intercession of the holy Apostles and brothers, Andrew and Peter!" he said, and emphasized again that this hope can never deceive, because it is founded upon God's faithfulness rather than "our poor efforts."
After offering his personal best wishes to the church of Constantinople for the feast of their founder and patron, St. Andrew, the pontiff asked the patriarch's blessing.
"I ask you for a favor: to bless me and the Church of Rome," the Pope said, and began to kneel before being embraced by the Patriarch, who traced the sign of the cross on the pontiff's head and kissed it.
Pope Francis will conclude his trip to Turkey tomorrow after celebrating the Divine Liturgy alongside the patriarch and signing a joint declaration with him in the morning.
After eating lunch with Patriarch Bartholomew, the Pope will meet students who attend the Don Bosco center for refugees at the apostolic nunciature before heading to the airport to return to Rome.