Pope Francis embraces Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople, spiritual leader of Orthodox Christians, at the Vatican on 20 March. The pope met with Patriarch Bartholomew before a meeting with the Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, Sikh and Jain delegations that had come to the Vatican for his inauguration. (photo: CNS/L’Osservatore Romano via Reuters)
The ecumenical patriarch of Constantinople has invited Pope Francis to travel with him to the Holy Land next year to mark the 50th anniversary of the embrace between Patriarch Athenagoras and Pope Paul VI, the pioneers of Catholic-Orthodox dialogue. During their private meeting, Patriarch Bartholomew and Pope Francis explored possible paths towards unity, including theological dialogue, environmental defense, and a visit to the Fanar, after going through proper diplomatic channels.
Earlier, when the pontiff met Christian and other religious leaders, Patriarch Bartholomew 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. The ecumenical patriarch’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 cuff, “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, Patriarch Bartholomew referred to Pope 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”.