Francis appeals to the martyrs in ecumenical message to Patriarch

Pope Francis and Patriarch Bartholomew I in Greece April 16 2016 Credit LOsservatore Romano CNA Pope Francis and Patriarch Bartholomew I in Greece, April 16, 2016. | L'Osservatore Romano.

The Bishop of Rome sent a message to the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople on Wednesday, continuing a recent tradition of ecumenism between the Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches.

"The exchange of delegations between Rome and Constantinople on the occasion of the respective feast days honouring the brother apostles Peter and Andrew is a visible sign of the profound bonds that already unite us," Pope Francis said Nov. 30 in his message to Bartholomew I, the Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Constantinople.

"So too, it is an expression of our yearning for ever deeper communion, until that day when, God willing, we may witness to our love for one another by sharing the same eucharistic table. In this journey towards the restoration of eucharistic communion between us, we are sustained by the intercession not only of our patron saints, but by the array of martyrs from every age, who 'despite the tragedy of our divisions… have preserved an attachment to Christ and to the Father so radical and absolute as to lead even to the shedding of blood'."

The message was conveyed by a Holy See delegation to Istanbul to celebrate the feast of St. Andrew, who founded the see. The delegation was led by Cardinal Kurt Koch, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, and it took part in a Divine Liturgy celebrated by Patriarch Bartholomew.

A similar visit to Rome is made annually by an Eastern Orthodox delegation for the feast of Ss. Peter and Paul.

Pope Francis wrote in his message that the "strong commitment to re–establishing the unity of Christians" confirmed at the Pan-Orthodox Council in June "is for Catholics a source of real encouragement."

He recalled that Bartholomew "has always remained conscious of existing difficulties to unity and has never tired of supporting initiatives which foster encounter and dialogue," but added that "the history of relations between Christians, however, has sadly been marked by conflicts that have left a deep impression on the memory of the faithful. For this reason, some cling to attitudes of the past."

The Pope emphasized that "only prayer, common good works and dialogue can enable us to overcome division and grow closer to one another."

He noted that through dialogue, "over the last decades Catholics and Orthodox have begun to recognize one another as brothers and sisters and to value each other's gifts, and together have proclaimed the Gospel, served humanity and the cause of peace, promoted the dignity of the human being and the inestimable value of the family, and cared for those most in need, as well as creation, our common home."

Francis then pointed in particular to the work of the Joint International Commission for Theological Dialogue between the Orthodox and Catholic Churches. Regarding their September document on synodality and primacy during the first millennium, he said that "though many questions remain, this shared reflection … can offer a sure foundation for discerning ways in which primacy may be exercised in the Church when all Christians of East and West are finally reconciled."

The Pope concluded, saying, "In assuring you of my daily remembrance in prayer, I renew my best wishes for peace, health and abundant blessings upon you and all those entrusted to your care. With sentiments of brotherly affection and spiritual closeness, I exchange with Your Holiness an embrace of peace in the Lord."

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