Headlines > Joint declaration promises to ‘intensify efforts’ to unite Churches

30 November 2014 | by Liz Dodd in Istanbul

Joint declaration promises to ‘intensify efforts’ to unite Churches

An historic joint declaration signed this morning by Pope Francis and the Ecumenical Patriarch pledged to intensify efforts to secure full union between their two Churches and called for peace and reconciliation in the Middle East. 

What’s in the joint declaration? 

  • Resolution to intensify efforts to promote full unity between all Christians, and Catholics and Orthodox in particular
  • Expression of common concern for situation in Iraq, Syria and Middle East
  • Importance of promoting dialogue with Islam
  • Pledge to remember victims of conflict, in particular in Ukraine

The document, which both leaders signed after participating in a Divine Liturgy for the feast of St Andrew, the patron saint of the Orthodox Church, is the culmination of three days of ecumenical work between Francis and Orthodox leaders in Turkey.

It echoes a similar Declaration signed by both men when they met in Jerusalem in May.

Sat together at a small table in the Patriarchal Church of St George in Phanar, Istanbul, Francis and Bartholomew seemed relaxed, laughing and sharing conversation once they had signed the document.

The declaration opens with a “sincere and firm” resolution to promote the full unity of Christians, “above all” Catholics and Orthodox.

This resolution will take the form of renewed support for the theological dialogue promoted by the Joint International Commission, instituted by Pope John Paul II thirty-five years ago.

The joint promise to work towards full unity was framed by expressions of grave concern for Christians and others suffering in Iraq, Syria and the Middle East.

The document states: “We are united in the desire for peace and stability and in the will to promote the resolution of conflicts through dialogue and reconciliation … we call on all those who bear responsibility for the destiny of peoples to deepen their commitment to suffering communities.”

The two leaders said they refused to resign themselves to a Middle East without Christianity, stressing that persecuted Christians must not be forced violently from their homes.

“Tragically, all this is met by the indifference of many,” they note.

But this persecution has led “to an ecumenism of suffering”, the document observes. The suffering of Christians, like “the blood of the martyrs”, could in fact become an instrument for unity.

“The terrible situation of Christians and all those who are suffering in the Middle East calls not only for our constant prayer, but also for an appropriate response on the part of the international community.”

Strong dialogue between Christians and Muslims ought to be part of this response, the declaration states.

“Inspired by common values and strengthened by genuine fraternal sentiments, Muslims and Christians are called to work together for the sake of justice and peace.”

The declaration closes by remembering those suffering in conflict, in particular the Ukraine.

Before they signed the declaration both leaders blessed a crowd of pilgrims who had waited in the rain outside the Patriarchal Church.

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