Vatican City, May 15, 2013 / 01:31 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Pope Francis stressed the importance of religious freedom in a message for the 1,700th anniversary of the Roman Emperor Constantine legalizing Christianity.
The Pope said in his message, released May 15 by the Vatican’s Secretary of State, that “this historical decision” which gave religious freedom to Christians, “opened new ways to the Gospel and contributed decisively to the birth of the European culture.”
He added that “thanks to the foresight of civil authorities, the right to express one’s own faith is respected everywhere,” and Christianity’s continued contribution “to culture and to the society of our times is accepted.”
Issued in 313 A.D., Emperor Constantine’s decree legalizing Christianity throughout the Roman Empire is known as the “Edict of Milan.” At the time, the empire included modern-day Istanbul, which was called Constantinople during that period.
Cardinal Angelo Scola and the Orthodox Patriarch of Constantinople, Bartholomew I, will celebrate the publication of the edict with a ceremony in Milan on May 16.
The Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople, in collaboration with the Council of Catholic Bishops’ Conferences of Europe, organized the meeting of the two Church leaders.
Given that the edict impacted Christians in both the East and West, Pope Francis said in his message that he hopes “that, today as back then, the common witness of Christians of East and West, supported by the Spirit of the Risen Christ, contributes to the spread of the message of salvation in Europe and in the whole world.”
Cardinal Scola will co-chair an ecumenical prayer service and will comment on the texts chosen for the Liturgy – Acts of the Apostles 26 and John 17 – alongside Patriarch Bartholomew.
The Byzantine Choir of the Conservatory of Acharnes will sing, and there will be music from the chapel of the Cathedral of Milan to emphasize the beauty of the Church.
After Mass, Cardinal Scola and Patriarch Bartholomew will go down into the crypt to venerate the relics of Saint Ambrose and the Saints Gervase and Protaso, a devotion that unites Catholics and Orthodox.
Cardinal Scola will donate to Bartholomew the new Ambrosian Gospels and some relics of St. Ambrose of Milan, martyrs and witnesses of faith.
This will be the second time an Orthodox patriarch has visited the Archdiocese of Milan this week, after the Patriarch of the Coptic Orthodox Church, Pope Tawadros II, stopped there on May 14.