Tuesday, October 21, 2014


Having just received word from the government of Turkey of an official invitation to visit, Pope Francis is set to make a pilgrimage to the ancient city of Constantinople (modern-day Istanbul), the seat of the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew.  The timing of this visit is wonderful:  it will fall across the marking of the patronal feast of the Orthodox Church, that of St Andrew, on 30 November. 

For years now delegations have been sent back and forth to commemorate this feast and that of Ss Peter & Paul, the Latin Church's equivalent.  This time, Pope Francis himself will lead that delegation.

It is a beautiful counterpoint to the meeting of these two great figures in the Holy Land, marking the 50th anniversary of the first such encounter, between (Blessed) Pope Paul VI and Patriarch Athenagoras, with the follow-up presence of Bartholomew at the prayer-service for peace in the Vatican Gardens, attended by Presidents Peres and Abbas.

At the end of the Extraordinary Synod on the Family, Pope Francis held a consistory of cardinals in which he addressed the crisis of anti-Christian persecution in the Middle East.  It strikes me that with the warm friendship between Francis and Bartholomew, with the real possibility of openness in dialogue and even in theological reflection that ecumenical teams are producing, and with the overwhelming needs of Christians especially in Iraq and Syria, there is an opportunity truly golden to begin to achieve unity of the Churches of Greek and Oriental Orthodoxy with the Church of Rome--to stand together in the face of this persecution.  When we stand in solidarity with our brothers and sisters, guns pointed at our heads, sometimes what we thought were "life-or-death" issues turn out to be questions more of style than substance of the Faith. 

The Holy Father has been clear from the beginning that the universal catholic Faith is first and foremost about lived proclamation of the mercy of God in Jesus Christ.  We are not a monolith of uniformity but an organic body in communion.  There is scheduled for Pope Francis' visit the signing of a joint declaration--as God is a God of surprises, these great leaders of the Church are also leaders of surprises.  I wonder what might be included in this declaration?  We hope and pray and watch.  These are difficult times to be Christians, but they are also exciting times. 

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