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A common path

· A preface by the Pope ·

It is with sentiments of heartfelt closeness that i join all those who celebrate, with joy and jubilation, the twenty-fifth anniversary this year of the election of His All-Holiness Bartholomew I as ecumenical patriarch.

My first meeting with my beloved brother Bartholomew took place on the very day of the inauguration of my papal ministry, when he honored me with his presence in Rome. I felt that I was meeting a man who “walks by faith” (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:7), who in his person and his manner expresses all the profound human and spiritual experience of the Orthodox tradition. On that occasion we embraced each other with sincere affection and mutual understanding. Our successive meetings in Jerusalem, Rome, and Constantinople have not only strengthened our spiritual affinity, but above all have deepened our shared consciousness of the common pastoral responsibility we have at this point in history, before the urgent challenges that Christians and the entire human family face today. In particular I hold dear to my heart the splendid memory of the warm and fraternal welcome extended to me by Patriarch Bartholomew during my visit to the Phanar for the Feast of the Apostle Andrew, patron saint of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, on November 30, 2014.

The Church of Rome and the Church of Constantinople are united by a profound and long-standing bond, which not even centuries of silence and misunderstanding have been able to sever. This bond is exemplified by the relationship between those to whom tradition attributes the foundation of our respective Churches, namely, the holy apostles Peter and Andrew, two brothers in the flesh, but above all, two disciples of the Lord Jesus, who together believed in him, followed him, and ultimately shared his destiny on the cross, in the one and same hope of serving the coming of his kingdom. Our predecessors, the illustrious Athenagoras I and Blessed Paul VI, have left us the sacred task of tracing our way back along the path that paved the separation of our Churches, healing the sources of our mutual alienation, and moving toward the reestablishment of full communion in faith and love, mindful of our legitimate differences, just as it was in the first millennium. Today we, brothers in the faith and in the hope that does not fail, are profoundly united in our desire that Christians of East and West may feel themselves part of the one and only Church, so that they may proclaim to the whole world that “the grace of God has appeared, saving all and training us to reject godless ways and worldly desires and to live temperately, justly, and devoutly in this age, as we await the blessed hope, the appearance of the glory of the great God and of our savior Jesus Christ” (Titus 2:11–13 nab).

In the two joint declarations we signed in Jerusalem and at the Phanar, we affirmed decisively and determinedly our shared commitment, drawn from our faithfulness to the Gospel, to build a world that is more just and more respectful of every person’s fundamental dignity and freedoms, the most important of which is religious freedom. We are also fundamentally joined in our shared commitment to raising further the awareness of individuals and wider society regarding the issue of the safeguarding of creation, the cosmic scenario in which God’s infinite mercy—offered, rejected, and restored—is manifested and glorified in every moment. I am deeply grateful for the leadership of the ecumenical patriarch in this field and for his reflections on this issue, from which I have learned and continue to learn so much.

I have found a profound spiritual sensitivity in Patriarch Bartholomew toward the painful condition of humanity today, so profoundly wounded by unspeakable violence, injustice, and discrimination. We are both greatly disturbed by the grave sin against God, which seems to increase day by day, that is the globalization of indifference toward the defacement of the image of God in man. It is our conviction that we are called to work toward the construction of a new civilization of love and solidarity. We are both aware that the voices of our brothers and sisters, now to the point of extreme distress, compel us to proceed more rapidly along the path of reconciliation and communion between Catholics and Orthodox, precisely so that they may be able to proclaim credibly the Gospel of Peace that comes from Christ.

For these many reasons I am very happy that the twenty-fifth anniversary of the election of my friend and brother Bartholomew as patriarch of the ancient and glorious See of Constantinople is being celebrated by so many who give thanks to the Lord for his life and ministry. I consider it to be both a grace and a privilege to walk together with Patriarch Bartholomew in the hope of serving our one Lord Jesus Christ, counting not upon our meager strengths, but on the faithfulness of God, and sustained by the intercession of the saintly brothers, the apostles Andrew and Peter.

It is in this certainty and with an unfailing remembrance in prayer that I express to His All-Holiness Patriarch Bartholomew my heartfelt and fraternal good wishes for a long life in the love and consolation of the Triune and One God.

Pope Francis

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St. Peter’s Square

Dec. 15, 2017

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