By Devin Watkins
Eighteen young Orthodox priests and monks are spending this week in Rome at the invitation of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity.
The study visit is aimed at deepening their understanding of the Catholic Church.
Pope Francis welcomed the group to the Vatican in an audience on Friday, and took the opportunity to send a special greeting to the Heads of the Oriental Orthodox Churches.
Exchanging gifts of the Spirit
“Every visit brings a sharing of gifts,” the Pope said.
He recalled Mary’s visit to her cousin Elizabeth to share her joy at having received God’s gift.
“Like Mary and Elizabeth,” he said, “the Churches carry with them a variety of gifts of the Spirit, to be shared for their mutual joy and benefit.”
The Orthodox group's visit to Rome, said the Pope, is both an opportunity to learn about the Catholic Church and “a chance for us Catholics to receive the gift of the Spirit that you bring.”
Acknowledging God’s grace
Pope Francis went on to thank God for the grace bestowed upon the group.
“Everything begins there,” he said, “with our acknowledgment of grace, with our recognition of God’s gracious work, with our belief that He is the source of the goodness within us.”
He called this “the beauty of the Christian vision of life.”
The Pope said he was grateful to God for the “witness given by your Oriental Orthodox Churches.
“For yours are Churches that have sealed their faith in Christ in blood and that continue to sow seeds of faith and hope, even in areas often, tragically, scarred by violence and war.”
Bearing fruit in visible communion
Pope Francis also expressed his hope that the young Orthodox priests and monks have had a positive experience of the Catholic Church and the city of Rome.
“May your presence,” he concluded, “become a small but fruitful seed that will bear fruit in visible communion between us, in that full unity that Jesus ardently desires.”
Study group members
The study group is made up of 3 members each from the Coptic Orthodox Church, the Armenian Apostolic Church [See of Etchmiadzin and See of Cilicia], the Syrian Orthodox Church of Antioch, the Ethiopian Orthodox Church and the Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church.
They hail from Egypt, Armenia, Lebanon, Syria, India, and Ethiopia.