Francis, Bartholomew, and Ieronymos: Christian unity in favour of refugees, Europe’s embarrassment
by NAT da Polis

Cardinal Parolin has received an official letter of invitation for Pope Francis. On 15 April, the pope, together with the ecumenical patriarch of Constantinople and the Orthodox archbishop of Athens will be in Lesbos to meet refugees stranded on the island. "Europe has become insignificant in global terms because it has commodified Christianity". The ecumenical journey is the joint mission of Christians in the contemporary world.


Istanbul (AsiaNews) – The Vatican Secretary of State Card Pietro Parolin met last night with Ambassador of Greece to the Holy See Alexandros Koujiou.

Accompanied by his advisor Athanasios Paresoglou, the ambassador delivered a letter from the President of the Hellenic Republic Prokopis Pavlopoulos that formally invites Pope Francis to visit the Greek island of Lesbos on 15 April.

On the island, Pope Francis will meet Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I and the Orthodox Archbishop of Greece Ieronymos. The three spiritual leaders will embrace the refugees on Greek land, as symbols of the victims of today’s world, and will pay tribute to the thousands who died or went missing in the waters of the Mediterranean Sea. Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras will also be present at the event.

Protocol aside, the short trip takes on a very different and important significance, for it will be the first tangible action in terms of Christian ecumenism towards the crisis facing the world today.

Metropolitan of Pergamon Ioannis Zizioulas told AsiaNews that the refugee issue is the tip of the iceberg of the deep crisis that is affecting the world, which has a globalised economy, but also alienation and contempt for human dignity.

The visit by three Christian leaders to migrants and refugees, who might be sent back to their country or Turkey, in accordance with an agreement signed by the European Union and Turkey, is a critical signal to European political leaders, who have become increasingly barren of proposals.

As a champion of ecumenism in Greece, Gabriel Arnellos, recently said, "Europe has become insignificant in global terms because it has commodified Christianity".

Prepared with great discretion in Rome and Constantinople with Athens’ participation, the meeting is another step towards a joint ecumenical path that is slowly but surely bringing in all the other Orthodox Churches, called to meet after almost 13 centuries, at the upcoming pan-Orthodox Synod in Crete, starting on 16 June.

This synod is not yet ecumenical since it does not involve all the Christian Churches, but it is already the expression of the will of the people of God to bring all Christians onto the joint path towards full sacramental unity, which Rome and Constantinople have been the first to herald.

This began in earnest when Pope John XXIII convened the Second Vatican Council, and continued with the meeting between Paul VI and Athenagoras in Jerusalem –followed by the cancellation of the mutual excommunications between Catholics and Orthodox (1965) – whose mantle Francis and Bartholomew have taken up. In fact, for the first time in the history of the two Churches, an ecumenical patriarch was present at the enthronement of a Roman pontiff.

The rest is fresh in everyone’s memory: the meeting in Jerusalem between Francis and Bartholomew in 2014 to commemorate 50 years of the joint journey, as well as the joint invitation to all Christians to meet again in 2025 in Nicaea, today’s Iznik in Turkey, to celebrate together the first truly ecumenical synod.

This joint journey includes the recent historic meeting between Francis and Kirill in Cuba and the next one between Francis, Bartholomew and Hieronymus in Lesbos, on Greek soil – an "apostolic" land travelled by the apostles of Jesus, but also a land that saw the birth of the first quarrels among Christians.

Bartholomew has repeatedly reiterated, in full harmony with Francis, that only an evangelically united Church can give an answer to the problems that have always disrupted the path of human existence.

The pan-Orthodox Synod will help to highlight this challenge and to reassess the Gospel message with the instrument of synodality, which is the evangelical expression of mutual respect and freedom, beyond any political pressures of the times.

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