Istanbul (AsiaNews) - There are "three voices" being raised which implore the full unity of Christians: the poor, the victims of so many conflicts, including confessional conflicts and young people, which "can lead the way". This was what Pope Francis said this morning at the end of the Divine Liturgy celebrated by Bartholomew I at the Phanar, the seat of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, on the feast of St. Andrew the Apostle. The Pope underlined that what "the Catholic Church desires, and I seek as Bishop of Rome, "the Church which presides in charity", is communion with the Orthodox Churches".
The last day of Francis' visit to Turkey opens with another interfaith meeting. After his encounter with the Grand Mufti yesterday, ahead of this morning's Orthodox liturgy, the Pope wanted to greet the Chief Rabbi of Turkey Isak Haleva. He then travelled to the historic seat of the Patriarchate to attend the Divine Liturgy. The visit on the feast of St. Andrew recalls the apostolic communion, which sees the Bishop of Rome, the successor of Peter and the successor of Andrew, the Patriarch of Constantinople, brothers and first disciples of Christ.
In his speech, Francis first recalled the many Orthodox functions he attended as Archbishop of Buenos Aires, adding that "today, the Lord has given me the singular grace to be present". The Pope went on to explain the significance of this meeting: " Meeting each other, seeing each other face to face, exchanging the embrace of peace, and praying for each other, are all essential aspects of our journey towards the restoration of full communion. All of this precedes and always accompanies that other essential aspect of this journey, namely, theological dialogue. An authentic dialogue is, in every case, an encounter between persons with a name, a face, a past, and not merely a meeting of ideas. This is especially true for us Christians, because for us the truth is the person of Jesus Christ".
The example of Saint Andrew, resumes the Pope, "shows us plainly that the Christian life is a personal experience, a transforming encounter with the One who loves us and who wants to save us. In addition, the Christian message is spread thanks to men and women who are in love with Christ, and cannot help but pass on the joy of being loved and saved". "It is clear, therefore, that not even dialogue among Christians can prescind from this logic of personal encounter".
After noting that "the path of reconciliation and peace between Catholics and Orthodox" was "somehow" inaugurated by a meeting - the embrace between the Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras and Pope Paul VI - Francis also recalled the importance of "Unitatis redintegratio", the Second Vatican Council decree:" is a fundamental document which opened new avenues for encounter between Catholics and their brothers and sisters of other Churches and ecclesial communities".
In particular, the Pope says, " In particular, in that Decree the Catholic Church acknowledges that the Orthodox Churches "possess true sacraments, above all - by apostolic succession - the priesthood and the Eucharist, whereby they are still joined to us in closest intimacy" (15). The Decree goes on to state that in order to guard faithfully the fullness of the Christian tradition and to bring to fulfilment the reconciliation of Eastern and Western Christians, it is of the greatest importance to preserve and support the rich patrimony of the Eastern Churches. This regards not only their liturgical and spiritual traditions, but also their canonical disciplines, sanctioned as they are by the Fathers and by Councils, which regulate the lives of these Churches (cf. 15-16)".
It "is important to reaffirm respect for this principle as an essential condition, accepted by both, for the restoration of full communion, which does not signify the submission of one to the other, or assimilation. Rather, it means welcoming all the gifts that God has given to each, thus demonstrating to the entire world the great mystery of salvation accomplished by Christ the Lord through the Holy Spirit". "I want to assure each one of you here" continued Pope Francis "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. Further, I would add that we are ready to seek together, in light of Scriptural teaching and the experience of the first millennium, the ways in which we can guarantee the needed unity of the Church in the present circumstances. 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".
In today's world, summarizes the pontiff, "voices are being raised which we cannot ignore and which implore our Churches to live deeply our identity as disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ. The first of these voices is that of the poor. In the world, there are too many women and men who suffer from severe malnutrition, growing unemployment, the rising numbers of unemployed youth, and from increasing social exclusion. These can give rise to criminal activity and even the recruitment of terrorists. We cannot remain indifferent before the cries of our brothers and sisters. These ask of us not only material assistance - needed in so many circumstances - but above all, our help to defend their dignity as human persons, so that they can find the spiritual energy to become once again protagonists in their own lives. They ask us to fight, in the light of the Gospel, the structural causes of poverty: inequality, the shortage of dignified work and housing, and the denial of their rights as members of society and as workers. As Christians we are called together to eliminate that globalization of indifference which today seems to reign supreme, while building a new civilization of love and solidarity".
A second "pleading" voice "comes from the victims of the conflicts in so many parts of our world. We hear this resoundingly here, because some neighbouring countries are scarred by an inhumane and brutal war. Taking away the peace of a people, committing every act of violence - or consenting to such acts - especially when directed against the weakest and defenceless, is a profoundly grave sin against God, since it means showing contempt for the image of God which is in man. The cry of the victims of conflict urges us to move with haste along the path of reconciliation and communion between Catholics and Orthodox. Indeed, how can we credibly proclaim the message of peace which comes from Christ, if there continues to be rivalry and disagreement between us?".
A third voice "which challenges us is that of young people. Today, tragically, there are many young men and women who live without hope, overcome by mistrust and resignation. Many of the young, influenced by the prevailing culture, seek happiness solely in possessing material things and in satisfying their fleeting emotions. New generations will never be able to acquire true wisdom and keep hope alive unless we are able to esteem and transmit the true humanism which comes from the Gospel and from the Church's age-old experience. It is precisely the young who today implore us to make progress towards full communion. I think for example of the many Orthodox, Catholic and Protestant youth who come together at meetings organized by the Taizé community. They do this not because they ignore the differences which still separate us, but because they are able to see beyond them; they are able to embrace what is essential and what already unites us".
Addressing Bartholomew, Francis concluded, "Your Holiness, we are already on the way towards full communion and already we can experience eloquent signs of an authentic, albeit incomplete union. This offers us reassurance and encourages us to continue on this journey. We are certain that along this journey we are helped by the intercession of the Apostle Andrew and his brother Peter, held by tradition to be the founders of the Churches of Constantinople and of Rome. We ask God for the great gift of full unity, and the ability to accept it in our lives. Let us never forget to pray for one another".