Pope: mercy is the “criterion” for Catholic-Orthodox relations

Francis welcomes a delegation from the Ecumenical Patriarchate, presently in Rome for the feast day of Saints Peter and Paul. “For divine mercy frees us of the burden of past conflicts and lets us be open to the future to which the Spirit is guiding us.” Bartholomew mentions the visit to Lesvos Island.

Vatican City (AsiaNews) – Pope Francis addressed a delegation from the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople in Rome for the Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul.

In his address, the pontiff said that mercy is the “criterion” for Catholic-Orthodox relations. The two Churches may have differences “in the liturgical sphere, in ecclesiastical discipline and also in the manner of formulating the one revealed truth” but for both “there has always been the same experience of God’s infinite love for our smallness and frailty, and the same calling to bear witness to this love before the world.”

Led by Metropolitan Methodios of Boston, the Orthodox delegation brought a letter from the Ecumenical Patriarch, Bartholomew, to the Pope, who invited the members of the delegation to share lunch.

In his address the Pope said that "If, as Catholics and Orthodox, we wish to proclaim together the marvels of God’s mercy to the whole world, we cannot continue to harbour sentiments and attitudes of rivalry, mistrust and rancour.  For divine mercy frees us of the burden of past conflicts and lets us be open to the future to which the Spirit is guiding us.

“One contribution to surmounting the obstacles to our recovery of the unity we shared in the first millennium – a unity that was never uniformity but always communion with respect for legitimate diversities – is provided by theological dialogue. 

In this regard, Francis rejoiced “that this coming September the Joint International Commission for Theological Dialogue between the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church will meet once again.  The task of this Commission is indeed precious; let us pray the Lord for the fruitfulness of its work

The Pope also mentioned the visit he, Bartholomew, and Archbishop of Athens Ieronymos II made to the refugees and migrants on the island of Lesvos last April (pictured).

"Seeing the despair on the faces of men, women and children uncertain of their future, listening helplessly as they related their experiences, and praying on the shore of the sea that has claimed the lives of so many innocent persons, was a tremendously moving experience.  It made clear how much still needs to be done to ensure dignity and justice for so many of our brothers and sisters.

“A great consolation in that sad experience was the powerful spiritual and human closeness that I shared with Patriarch Bartholomew and Archbishop Ieronymos.  Led by the Holy Spirit, we are coming to realize ever more clearly that we, Catholics and Orthodox, have a shared responsibility towards those in need, based on our obedience to the one Gospel of Jesus Christ our Lord.  Taking up this task together is a duty linked to the very credibility of our Christian identity. 

Bartholomew also mentioned the visit to Lesvos in his letter in which he asserted the need for a "safe and peaceful solution to the largest humanitarian crisis since the Second World War".

"The current crisis of refugees and migrants,” writes Bartholomew, “has demonstrated the need for European countries to address this problem on the basis of the ancient Christian principles of brotherhood and social justice."