The ecumenical patriarch of Constantinople has invited Pope Francis to travel with him to the Holy Land next year to mark the fiftieth anniversary of the embrace between Patriarch Athenagoras and Paul VI, the pioneers of Catholic-Orthodox dialogue. During their private meeting, Bartholomew and Francis explored possible paths towards unity, including theological dialogue, environmental defence, and a visit to the Fanar, after going through proper diplomatic channels.
Earlier, when the pontiff met Christian and other religious leaders, Bartholomew I was the only one who addressed Pope Francis. For the patriarch, Christians must bear witness in a credible way through “Church unity” in order to cope with the world’s economic crisis and to counter “worldly trends” that limit life to its earthly horizons. Bartholomew’s words reflect the pontiff’s notion of stewardship, which he presented yesterday during his inaugural mass.
All this is evidence of the great unity between the two leaders. When Pope Francis introduced the patriarch, he called him, off the cuffs, “my brother Andrew” underscoring the blood ties between the two apostles patrons of the two Churches, Andrew of Constantinople and Peter of Rome, the “first one to be called” and the “first one among the apostles”.
Like Francis, Bartholomew referred to Benedict XVI “as a mild man who distinguished himself by his theological knowledge and charity.”
When he spoke about the “task and huge responsibilities” that await the pope, he said that “the unity of Christian Churches” was “the first and most important of our concerns” in order to ensure that “our Christian witness is seen to be credible near and far.” Hence, it is necessary to continue “the theological dialogue” between Catholics and Orthodox, based on the experience and tradition of the first undivided thousand years.
The world’s economic crisis is another “imperative,” requiring that “those who have more give more” so that “justice can ensure peace”.
The pope, Bartholomew said, has a “long and valued ministry as a Good Samaritan in Latin America. [. . .] Like few others, he has known the bitterness and suffering of human misery.”