(Vatican Radio) - Pope Francis met on Friday with a delegation from the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople which is in Rome to attend celebrations for Saturday’s feast of Saints Peter and Paul. Traditionally, as spiritual leader of Orthodox Christians worldwide, the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew the 1st sends a delegation to Rome each June 29th, while a Catholic delegation travels to Istanbul each November 30th to mark the feast of St Andrew, patron of the Orthodox world.
In his meeting with the Orthodox representatives, led by Metropolitan Ioannis Zizioulas, Pope Francis spoke of important progress in the official dialogue between Catholics and Orthodox, which has already produced many joint documents. The Joint International Commission for Theological Dialogue, co-chaired by Metropolitan Ioannis, and Cardinal Kurt Koch, is currently studying the key question of primacy and collegiality in the Church of the first century, one of the main obstacles on the road to unity and reconciliation between the East and Western Churches, which divided in 1054.
In his address to the delegation, Pope Francis said “It is significant that today we are able to reflect together, in truth and love, on these issues, starting with what we have in common, but without hiding that which still separates us. This is not merely a theoretical exercise, but one of getting to know each other's traditions, in order to understand, and sometimes to learn from them as well. We know very well,” the Pope said, “that unity is primarily a gift from God for which we must pray without ceasing, but we all have the task of preparing the conditions, of cultivating the soil of the heart, so that this extraordinary grace can be received.”
Please find below a Vatican Radio traslation of the full text:
Dear Brothers in Christ,
I am particularly pleased to greet you with a warm welcome to the Church of Rome, which is celebrating its patron saints Peter and Paul. Your presence in this circumstance is a sign of the deep bond that unites the Church of Constantinople and the Church of Rome in faith, hope and love. The beautiful custom, which began in 1969, of exchanging delegations between our Churches for their patronal feast days , is for me a source of great joy: fraternal encounter is an essential part of the journey towards unity. I would like to express my heartfelt gratitude to Your Holiness Bartholomew I and the Holy Synod of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, who wanted to once again send a high level delegation. I remember with fraternal affection the gesture of exquisite attention shown to me by Your Holiness Bartholomew, when you honored me with your presence at the celebration of the beginning of my ministry as Bishop of Rome. I am also very grateful to Your Eminence, for your participation in this event and I am happy to see you again on this occasion.
The search for unity among Christians is an urgency which, today more than ever, we cannot ignore. In our world, hungry and thirsty for truth, love, hope, peace and unity, it is important for our own witness, to be finally able to announce with one voice the good news of the Gospel and to celebrate the Divine Mysteries of the new life in Christ! We know very well that unity is primarily a gift from God for which we must pray without ceasing, but we all have the task of preparing the conditions, of cultivating the soil of the heart, so that this extraordinary grace can be received.
A fundamental contribution to the search for full communion between Catholics and Orthodox is offered by the Joint International Commission for Theological Dialogue, co-chaired by Your Eminence, Metropolitan Ioannis, and by my venerable brother Cardinal Kurt Koch. I sincerely thank you for your valuable and tireless commitment. This Commission has already produced many common texts and is now studying the delicate issue of theological and ecclesiological relationship between primacy and synodality in the life of the Church. It is significant that today we are able to reflect together, in truth and love, on these issues, starting with what we have in common, but without hiding that which still separates us. This is not merely a theoretical exercise, but one of getting to know each other's traditions in order to understand, and sometimes also to learn from them. I refer for example to the reflection of the Catholic Church on the meaning of episcopal collegiality, and the tradition of synodality, so typical of the Orthodox Churches. I am confident that the effort of shared reflection, so complex and laborious, will bear fruit in due time. I am comforted to know that Catholics and Orthodox share the same conception of dialogue that does not seek a theological minimalism on which to reach a compromise, but rather is based on the deepening of the one truth that Christ has given to His Church, which we never cease to understand better as we are moved by the Holy Spirit. For this, we should not be afraid of encounter and of true dialogue. It does not take us away from the truth, but rather, through an exchange of gifts, it leads us, under the guidance of the Spirit of truth, to the whole truth (cf. Jn 16:13).
Venerable Brothers, I thank you once again for being here with us for the feast of Saints Peter and Paul. We confidently invoke their intercession and that of the Holy Apostle Andrew, the brother of Peter, for our faithful and for the needs of the whole world, especially the poor, the suffering and those who are unjustly persecuted because of their faith. Finally, I ask you to pray for me and to ask others to pray for me, so that the Lord may help me in my ministry as Bishop of Rome and Successor of Peter.