Orthodox and Catholic union all but a formality

The union of Orthodox and Catholic Churches is all but a formality.

This is the view of  the Vatican Correspondent for NCR after a momentous meeting between Pope Francis and the spiritual leader of the world’s Orthodox Christians, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I.

The pair met on the Feast of  St Andrew, at the Church of St George at the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople.

“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.” Pope Francis said this in the speech he pronounced before Patriarch Bartholomew at the Phanar today.

Continuing, the Holy Father said: “The one thing that the Catholic church desires, and that I seek as Bishop of Rome, ‘the church which presides in charity,’ is communion with the Orthodox churches.”

The Pontiff assured the Orthodox that the Catholic Church does not want submission nor subjection of one to the other.

Reunification irreversible

For his part, Bartholomew called the process for reunification of the two churches “irreversible.”

Noting the process started 50 years ago in Jerusalem by Pope Paul VI and Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras, he said the two communities have no option but to join together.

“We no longer have the luxury of isolated action,” said Bartholomew.

“The modern persecutors of Christians do not ask which church their victims belong to. The unity that concerns us is regrettably already occurring in certain regions of the world through the blood of martyrdom.”

Picking up on a key phrase of Francis’ papacy Bartholomew said the church “cannot be self-centered, revolving around itself.”

“What is the benefit of boasting for what we have received unless these translate into life for humanity and our world both today and tomorrow?” he asked.

Bartholomew also took a personal tone with Francis, saying his brief papacy had “already manifested you in peoples’ conscience today as a herald of love, peace and reconciliation.”

“You preach with words, but above and beyond all with the simplicity, humility and love toward everyone that you exercise your high ministry,” Bartholomew told Francis.

“You inspire trust in those who doubt, hope in those who despair, anticipation in those who expect a church that nurtures all people.”

Overcoming obstacles together

Before leaving Turkey, Francis and Bartholomew signed a joint declaration reaffirming their desire to overcome the obstacles dividing their two Churches.

Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, acknowledged the  Church leaders’ approach.

While experts from both churches continue to debate theological divisions between them, Francis and Bartholomew are “pushing with incredible strength toward union” through their frequent and warm personal contacts, Lombardi said.

“The reason for the pope to come here is not to give a speech, but to pray”, he said.

Earlier Pope Francis visited Sultan Ahmet mosque and prayed alongside the Grand Mufti of Istanbul, Rahmi Yaran.

“I prayed for Turkey, I prayed for the mufti, I prayed for myself because I need it, and I prayed above all for the peace and an end to war,” the Pope told reporters in an interview in the plane on the way home.


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