By Devin Watkins
As per tradition, an ecumenical delegation sent by the Patriarch of Constantinople, Bartholomew I, is in Rome to celebrate the feast of the patrons of the Eternal City, Sts. Peter and Paul.
On the eve of the June 29th holiday, Pope Francis held an audience with the delegation to exchange a word of greeting.
The Holy Father reciprocates annually by sending a delegation to Istanbul for the feast of St. Andrew, the patron of the Ecumenical Patriarchate.
In his remarks, the Pope praised the delegation’s presence as a sign of the “solid bonds” linking the Catholic and Orthodox Churches, as well as of efforts “to journey towards the fullness of communion”.
“The feast of Saints Peter and Paul,” he said, “invites us to renew the charity that generates unity.”
Facing challenges together
Pope Francis said the feast reminds both Churches of the apostolic courage needed to proclaim the Gospel, which, he noted, “entails a commitment to respond to the new challenges of the present time.”
Catholic and Orthodox faithful, he said, are working together to combat modern forms of slavery, to welcome and integrate migrants, and to promote peace throughout the world.
Patriarch Bartholomew, said the Pope, has “inspired” him with his attention for the protection of creation.
“Given the alarming ecological crisis that we are experiencing, promoting care for our common home is not only, for us believers as for all others, a pressing need that can no longer be deferred, but also a concrete way to serve our neighbour in the spirit of the Gospel.”
Restoration of unity
The Pope also recalled his recent Apostolic Journeys to Bulgaria and Romania, saying he returned to Rome with “a greater desire for communion”.
But he said the restoration of full unity between Catholics and Orthodox can only come about through “respect for specific identities”.
“As Bishop of Rome, I wish to reaffirm that, for us Catholics, the purpose of dialogue is full communion in legitimate forms of diversity, not a monotonous levelling, much less absorption.”
Pope Francis added that only the grace of God can heal the “scandal of divisions”.
We work towards it, he said, by overcoming prejudices and journeying together, “accompanying in prayer each other’s steps, proclaiming the Gospel in harmony, working to serve those in need, and dialoguing in truth.”
Concluding his remarks to the ecumenical delegation, Pope Francis sent his fraternal greetings to Patriarch Bartholomew, and he urged both Churches to grow in mutual affection though sincerity and transparency.
“We will experience the fact that, for all our differences, there is indeed much more that unites us and inspires us to move forward together.”