Pope Francis tells Orthodox leader: I am confident we will achieve full unity

CNA 5fb55eeb4ac65 198154 Pope Francis with Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople outside the Basilica of Santa Maria in Aracoeli Oct. 20, 2020. / Vatican Media.

Pope Francis told the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople Monday that he is confident that Catholics and Orthodox Christians will attain full communion.

In a message to Bartholomew I on the Feast of St. Andrew, Pope Francis praised the Ecumenical Patriarchate's efforts to promote Christian unity.

"We can thank God that relations between the Catholic Church and the Ecumenical Patriarchate have grown much over the past century, even as we continue to yearn for the goal of the restoration of full communion expressed through participation at the same Eucharistic altar," he wrote. 

"Although obstacles remain, I am confident that by walking together in mutual love and pursuing theological dialogue, we will reach that goal."

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. 

Pope Francis recalled his recent meeting with Bartholomew I, at an international meeting for peace in Rome on Oct. 20.

"Together with the challenges posed by the current pandemic, war continues to afflict many parts of the world, while new armed conflicts emerge to steal the lives of countless men and women," he wrote. 

"Undoubtedly all initiatives taken by national and international entities aimed at promoting peace are useful and necessary, yet conflict and violence will never cease until all people reach a deeper awareness that they have a mutual responsibility as brothers and sisters." 

"In light of this, the Christian Churches, together with other religious traditions, have a primary duty to offer an example of dialogue, mutual respect and practical cooperation."

The pope praised the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople for seeking Christian unity "before the Catholic Church and other Churches engaged themselves in dialogue."

He cited an encyclical letter issued by the Holy Synod of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in 1920, which said that Churches could heal divisions if they placed love "before everything else in their judgment of the others and in relation towards each other."

The Holy See press office said Nov. 30 that a Vatican delegation had made the customary visit to the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Istanbul on 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 Archbishop Paul F. Russell, the U.S.-born Apostolic Nuncio to Turkey.

They attended a Divine Liturgy presided over by the Bartholomew I at St. George's Cathedral, the seat of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople. After the Divine Liturgy, Koch read the pope's message and presented the Ecumenical Patriarch with a signed copy.

In his message, the pope said that his hope for full communion was "based on our common faith in Jesus Christ, sent by God the Father to gather all people into one body, and the cornerstone of the one and holy Church, God's holy temple, in which all of us are living stones, each according to our own particular charism or ministry bestowed by the Holy Spirit."

He concluded: "With these sentiments, I renew my warmest best wishes for the Feast of St. Andrew, and exchange with Your All Holiness an embrace of peace in the Lord."

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