Pope Francis met with a delegation from the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople, saying their journey toward full communion is one that ought to respect their unique traditions – rather than a uniformity that would, in the end, make the Church more boring.
“Peter and Paul, as disciples and apostles of Jesus Christ, served the Lord in very different ways,” the Pope said June 27.
“Yet in their diversity, both bore witness to the merciful love of God our Father, which each in his own fashion profoundly experienced, even to the sacrifice of his own life.”
Because of this, since ancient times the Church in the East and in the West has celebrated the feast of the two Apostles together, he said, adding that it is right to jointly commemorate “their self-sacrifice for love of the Lord, for it is at the same time a commemoration of unity and diversity.”
Pope Francis spoke to a delegation from the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople, who are currently in Rome for the June 29 celebration of the Feast of Saints Peter and Paul. The Pope is particularly close to the Orthodox Church of Constantinople, and has met with their Patriarch, Bartholomew I, several times since his election in 2013.
In his address to the delegation, Francis said the traditional exchange of delegations on the feast of their patrons is something that “increases our desire for the full restoration of communion between Catholics and Orthodox.”
This, he said, is something “which we already have a foretaste in fraternal encounter, shared prayer and common service to the Gospel.”
He noted how in the first millennium, Christians of both the East and West were able to share the same Eucharist and preserve the essential truths of the faith while at the same time cultivating and exchanging a variety of theological, canonical and spiritual traditions founded on the teaching of the apostles and the ecumenical councils.
“That experience,” Francis said, “is a necessary point of reference and a source of inspiration for our efforts to restore full communion in our own day, a communion that must not be a bland uniformity.”
Francis then noted how this year marks 50 years since Blessed Pope Paul VI visited Istanbul’s Phanar district in July 1967, where the seat of the ecumenical patriarchate is located, to visit Patriarch Athenagoras, as well as the visit of Athenagoras to Rome in October of the same year.
“The example of these courageous and farsighted pastors, moved solely by love for Christ and his Church, encourages us to press forward in our journey towards full unity,” Francis said.
The Pope then expressed his gratitude for the many occasions on which he has been able to meet with Patriarch Bartholomew, which have taken place largely during his various trips and ecumenical prayer events.
At the end of his speech, Pope Francis noted that in September, a meeting of the Coordinating Committee of the Joint International Commission for Theological Dialogue between the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church will take place in Leros, Greece.
He voiced his hope that the event “will take place in a spiritual climate of attentiveness to the Lord’s will and in a clear recognition of the journey already being made together by many Catholic and Orthodox faithful in various parts of the world, and that it will prove most fruitful for the future of ecumenical dialogue.”
The Pope closed by voicing his hope that with the intercession of Saints Peter, Paul and Andrew, through mutual prayer they would become “instruments of communion and peace.”