Pope Francis and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, leaders of the millennium-long separated Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches, have issued resounding and historic calls for the reunification of their global communities.
Speaking to one another after a solemn Orthodox divine liturgy at the Church of St George on the last Sunday of November, 2014, both leaders pledged to intensify efforts for full unity of their churches, saying such unity already exists among Christians dying in conflicts in the Middle East.
For his part, Francis made what appears to be the strongest and most encompassing call yet from a Catholic pontiff for unity. Seeking to assure Orthodox leaders that restoration of full communion between the churches would respect Eastern traditions, he said reunion would "not signify the submission of one to the other, or assimilation."
"I want to assure each one of you here that, to reach the desired goal of full unity, the Catholic church does not intend to impose any conditions except that of the shared profession of faith," said the pope.
Continuing, Francis said: "The one thing that the Catholic church desires, and that I seek as Bishop of Rome, 'the Church which presides in charity, is communion with the Orthodox churches."
Bartholomew called the process for reunification of the two churches -- started by Pope Paul VI and Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras with a meeting in Jerusalem 50 years ago -- "irreversible" and said the two communities have no option but to join together.
"We no longer have the luxury of isolated action," said Bartholomew. "The modern persecutors of Christians do not ask which church their victims belong to. The unity that concerns us is regrettably already occurring in certain regions of the world through the blood of martyrdom."
The addresses by Bartholomew and Francis came on the last day of the Pope's stay in Turkey. They spoke to one another at the patriarchal church of St George, where Bartholomew and the ecumenical patriarchate are centered.
The Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches, which together are estimated to have some 2 billion adherents, have been separated since the year 1054. Serious efforts for reconciliation between the traditions did not start until the 1964 meeting of Paul and Athenagoras, which eventually led to the opening of joint theological dialogues on reunification in 1980.
Francis and Bartholomew also issued a joint declaration following the liturgy Sunday, pledging "to intensify our efforts to promote the full unity of all Christians, and above all Catholics and Orthodox."
Read full article: Francis and Bartholomew issue resounding, historic calls for church reunification (National Catholic Reporter)
The Pope to Ecumenical Patriarch: “We're brothers in hope” (Rome Reports)
Pope Francis in Turkey - Divine Liturgy and Common Declaration (Vatican/YouTube)
Unity is distant but still our goal, Pope tells Anglican leader (The Catholic Herald)
Image Credit: Pope Francis and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople greet a small crowd after delivering a blessing in Istanbul 30 November, 2014 (CNS photo/Paul Haring)