Headlines > Pope tells Patriarch: cry of victims of conflict must hasten our unity

30 November 2014 | by Liz Dodd in Istanbul

Pope tells Patriarch: cry of victims of conflict must hasten our unity

Full communion between the Catholic and Orthodox Churches is on the horizon, Pope Francis said this morning, in an impassioned call for unity that marked the feast day of the Patron Saint of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, St Andrew.

Francis, successor to St Peter, stood alongside the successor to his brother St Andrew, Patriarch Bartholomew, in the ornate Patriarchal Church of St George in Istanbul and recalled the Gospel account of the apostles’ first encounter with Jesus.

“I want to assure each one of you here that, to reach the desired goal of full unity, the Catholic Church does not intend to impose any conditions except that of the shared profession of faith,” he told the congregation of Orthodox leaders, priests and faithful in an address after the Divine Liturgy.

The Churches were “ready to seek together” ways to guarantee the unity. “The only thing that the Catholic Church desires, and that I seek as Bishop of Rome … is communion with the Orthodox Churches,” he concluded.

Francis noted the historical events that had brought the two Churches from schism in 1054 to this point, in particular an embrace between Patriarch Athenagoras and Pope Paul VI fifty years ago in Jerusalem, and the Vatican document on Christian unity Unitatis Redintegratio, the fiftieth anniversary of which fell just days ago.

In his address at the same service Patriarch Bartholomew also recalled the meeting of Athenagoras and Paul VI, when, he said: "the flow of history literally changed direction: the parallel and occasionally conflicting journeys of our Churches coincided in the common vision of restoring our lost unity; the cold love between us has been rekindled."

Both Francis and Bartholomew made their calls for unity in the name of the poor and of persecuted Christians, with Pope Francis also recalling young people without hope, whom he described as “overcome by mistrust and resignation”.

“The cry of victims of conflict urges us to move with haste along the path of reconciliation and communion,” he said.

In a similar way Patriarch Bartholomew said that the path toward unity must be walked by "those who invoke the name of the great Peacemaker", and wondered: "What sort of planet will future generations inherit when modern man is destroying it so mercilessly and irrevocably through greed?"

Francis, who yesterday made history by spontaneously asking the Patriarch for a blessing for himself and the Church, concluded: “We are already on the way towards full communion … we are helped by the intercession of the Apostle Andrew and his brother Peter … Let us never forget to pray for one another.”

Meanwhile Bartholomew, who asked for Francis' prayers for the forthcoming Great Council of the Orthodox Church in 2016, looked ahead to a time when the two leaders could convene "a joint Great Ecumenical Council", the "blessed day" when full communion was restored.

For much of the service Francis was separated from the celebrants by the church’s golden iconostasis, the wall of icons and religious paintings separating the nave from the sanctuary, as a male choir chanted the ancient liturgy. He followed the service in a Missal but remarked in his homily that he had often taken part in the celebration of the Divine Liturgy with Orthodox communities when he was Archbishop of Buenos Aires.

After the service Pope Francis and Patriarch Bartholomew were due to sign a joint Common Declaration.

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