The journeys of Francis are of vital importance and, as such, they take as their main model those of his Predecessor Paul VI, who made them an innovative feature of the contemporary papacy half a century ago. Clearly, essentiality marked his journey to Turkey as it did those to Lampedusa and, more recently, to Strasbourg, in accordance with Bergoglio’s personal style: the logic of personal encounter.
The Pope referred to this concept at the end of the Divine Liturgy celebrated in the phanar for the Feast of St Andrew, and the entire itinerary which led the Pontiff from Ankara to Istanbul should be read in the context of encounter. The journey was, on the one hand, directed toward Muslims and, on the other, toward Sister Orthodox Churches. And holding the two facets of this encounter together was a mysterious truth: the Holy Spirit.
It is in fact the Spirit who gives life to the Church, Francis recalled as he celebrated a Holy Mass for the Catholic faithful from various rites who gathered in the Cathedral of Istanbul. Here too, since it had turned out to be impossible for him to visit one of their refugee camps, the Pope had wished to meet, before his departure, a number of the refugees, especially from Syria and Iraq, who had fled to Turkey to escape from the terrorist brutality.
As the soul of the Church — and thus of the mission, to which one can only truly respond by going out of oneself — the Spirit moves her by the breath “which does not transmit a power, but rather an ability to serve in love, a language which everyone is able to understand”. Here, in the breath of the divine Spirit, also lies the root of his journey, repeated forcefully ever since the Conciliar years and directed toward friendly encounter with every human being, without distinction of faith or of ideology.“Only the Holy Spirit is able to kindle diversity, multiplicity and, at the same time, bring about unity”, Francis observed, adding that it is the same Spirit who brings harmony.
And the logic of personal encounter was again made manifest during these days in Turkey, the destination of four papal journeys in fewer than 50 years and the place where Francis trustingly extended his open hand to shake those of eminent Muslim leaders, as the Pope recalled during the return flight press conference. We need to “take a qualitative leap ahead” in the dialogue between Christians and Muslims, the Pontiff said among other things, and it is essential that all Islamic leaders, without delay, condemn violence and intolerance, which are incompatible with authentic faith in God.
As a journey of friendship, the Pope’s three days in Turkey marked a milestone — correctly termed ‘historical’ — on the path toward union between the Churches of Rome and of Constantinople, and more generally between Catholic and Orthodox faithful. The gestures and words of Francis and Bartholomew truly recalled to mind the insights and actions of Athenagoras and Paul VI who, half a century ago and after a millennium of division and enmity, had the courage to set off on a new path: one followed by their Successors, Demetrius, John Paul II and Benedict XVI, for the light of Christ shines only in unity.
St. Peter’s Square
April 22, 2019
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