By Benedict Mayaki, SJ
Pope Francis, on Thursday, met with members of the St. Iranaeus Joint Orthodox-Catholic Working Group, gathered together in Rome for the group’s annual session.
Addressing them, the Holy Father expressed gratitude for their theological work in the service of communion between Catholics and Orthodox faithful, and highlighted the importance of cultivating a unity “enriched by differences that will not yield to the temptation of a bland uniformity.”
“In this spirit”, the Pope said, “your discussions center on appreciating how differing aspects present in our traditions, rather than giving rise to disagreements, can become legitimate opportunities for expressing the shared apostolic faith.”
A “working group”
Pope Francis highlighted the Working Group’s aim of seeking ways in which the “different traditions can enrich one another without losing their identity”. He also expressed pleasure that it is neither a commission nor a committee, but rather a “working group” that “assembles in fraternal and patient dialogue experts from various Churches and different countries, who desire to pray and study together for the sake of unity.”
The Holy Father also reflected on the example of the working group’s patron, St. Iranaeus of Lyons, who came from the East and exercised his episcopal ministry in the West, and was “a great spiritual and theological bridge between Eastern and Western Christians.”
The name “Iranaeus” contains the word “peace,” the Pope explained, adding that the Lord’s peace is not a negotiated peace – the fruit of agreements meant to safeguard interests – but “a peace that reconciles, that brings together in unity.”
He encouraged those present with the help of God, to work to break down dividing walls and to build bridges of communion, for as St. Paul writes, “Christ is our peace; who has made us both one, and has broken down the dividing wall of hostility” (Eph 2: 14).
Dialogue, primacy and synodality
Pope Francis then thanked the Working Group for the recently issued study entitled “Serving Communion: Re-thinking the Relationship between Primacy and Synodality.” He added that through the constructive patience of dialogue, especially with the Orthodox Churches, “we have come to understand more fully that in the Church, primacy and synodality are not two competing principles to be kept in balance, but two realities that establish and sustain one another in the service of communion.”
Therefore, “just as the primacy presupposes the exercise of synodality, so synodality entails the exercise of primacy”, he said.
‘All’, ‘some’ and ‘one’
The Pope further noted that the International Theological Commission states that in the Catholic Church, synodality in its broad sense, “can be seen as the articulation of three dimensions: all, some, and one.”
In this light, “synodality involves the exercise of the sensus fidei of the universitas fidelium (all), the ministry of leadership of the college of Bishops, each one with his presbyterium (some), and the ministry of unity of the Bishop of Rome (one)” (Synodality in the Life and Mission of the Church, 2018, No. 64).
Thus, he continued, “the primatial ministry is an intrinsic element of the dynamic of synodality, as are also the communitarian aspect that includes the whole People of God and the collegial dimension that is part of the exercise of episcopal ministry.”
The Holy Father went on to stress that a fruitful approach to the primacy in theological and ecumenical dialogues “must necessarily be grounded in a reflection of synodality” and reiterated his idea that “in a synodal Church, greater light can be shed on the exercise of the Petrine primacy.” He also expressed confidence that the synodal process which begins in coming days in every Catholic diocese will also be an opportunity for deeper reflection on this important aspect, together with other Christians.
Concluding, Pope Francis offered his good wishes for the group’s working session at the Institute of Ecumenical Studies of the Angelicum, and invoked the Lord’s blessings and the protection of Our Lady on the participants.