VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Even as the formal Catholic-Orthodox dialogue continues to deal with divisive theological issues, members of both churches should work together more closely on issues where they share a common point of view, Pope Francis said.
“The witness of growing communion between us Christians will also be a sign of hope for many men and women, who will feel encouraged to promote a more universal fraternity and a reconciliation capable of healing past wrongs,” the pope said June 28 as he welcomed to the Vatican a delegation from the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople.
The Orthodox patriarch sends a delegation to the Vatican each year to participate in the celebration of the feast of Sts. Peter and Paul, the Vatican patrons, while the pope sends a delegation to Turkey each November for the feast of St. Andrew, the patriarchate’s patron feast.
As Metropolitan Emmanuel of Chalcedon, the Greek Orthodox metropolitan of France, entered the papal library for the audience, Pope Francis kissed his encolpion, his pectoral medallion, which signifies his dignity as a bishop.
Metropolitan Emmanuel led the delegation, which also included Metropolitan Iosif of Buenos Aires, Argentina, and a deacon, Barnabas Grigoriadis.
Pope Francis told the delegation that Christians working together and promoting recognition that all people are brothers and sisters is “the only way to the dawn of a future of peace.”
The one example the pope gave as “a fine prophetic sign would be closer cooperation between Orthodox and Catholics in the dialogue with other religious traditions.”
An area where Pope Francis has drawn inspiration from Orthodox leaders is ecology and the care for creation. While the pope did not confirm that Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople would participate in a major summit of religious leaders Oct. 4 at the Vatican in preparation for COP26, the U.N. climate summit, he did say he expected him to visit in October.
“I ask you kindly to convey to His Holiness Bartholomew, whom I regard as my true brother, my cordial and respectful greetings. Please tell him that I joyfully await his visit here in Rome next October, an occasion for giving thanks to God for the 30th anniversary of his election,” the pope told the delegation.
Turning to the COVID-19 pandemic and its impact, Pope Francis said he hoped people would not “squander” the lessons it has taught.
“It is a lesson in humility, showing us that it is not possible to live healthy lives in an unhealthy world, or to go on as we were, without recognizing what went wrong,” the pope said. “Even now, the great desire to return to normality can mask the senseless notion that we can go back to relying on false securities, habits and projects that aim exclusively at pursuing wealth and personal interests, while failing to respond to global injustice, the cry of the poor and the precarious health of our planet.”
Christians also must allow themselves to be challenged by the pandemic and, especially, to allow it to force an examination of conscience on how well they have lived the law of love and served others, he said.
In addition, “for us Christians on the path to full communion, taking seriously the current crisis means asking ourselves how we wish to move forward,” he said. “Every crisis represents a crossroads: we can withdraw into ourselves, seeking our own security and expediency, or we can be open to others, which entails risks but also God’s promised fruits of grace.”
“Dear brothers, has not the time come for giving further impetus to our efforts, with the help of the Spirit, to break down ancient prejudices and definitively overcome harmful rivalries?” the pope asked. “Without ignoring the differences that need to be resolved through charitable and truthful dialogue, could we not begin a new phase of relations between our churches, marked by walking more closely together, by desiring to take real steps forward, by becoming more willing to be truly responsible for one another?”
“If we are docile to love, to the Holy Spirit who is the creative love of God and who brings harmony to diversity, he will open the way to a renewed fraternity,” the pope said.