“In the face of the suffering of so many innocent people, children, women, mothers, families”, and in battered Syria, devastated by the earthquake of 6 February, Pope Francis reiterated his hope that “everything possible will be done for the people, that there will be no reasons or sanctions to hinder the urgent and necessary aid to the population”. He expressed this wish in his prepared address to a delegation of young priests and monks of the Eastern Orthodox Churches, with whom he met in the Vatican Apostolic Palace on Thursday morning, 23 February. Due to a bad cold, the Holy Father did not read the text but consigned it to those present and invited them to pray an Our Father together. The following is a translation of his consigned speech.
I greet you with joy in the Lord. I am pleased to welcome you for the third edition of this good initiative of visits to Rome by young priests and monks of the Eastern Orthodox Churches. You are welcome! This year you have come at the beginning of Lent, the itinerary followed by Christians in preparation for the Pasch of Christ, the heart of our faith. Another journey comes to mind: the one that two disciples made together with the Risen One on Easter Day (cf. Lk 24:13-35). That journey to Emmaus can in a way symbolize the ecumenical path of Christians towards full communion. Indeed, I see common points between the two journeys, three elements that I would like to share with you today.
The first is that, if Christians walk together, like the two disciples of Emmaus, they will be accompanied by Christ, who will support, motivate and bring to completion their journey. In fact, Jesus reaches those two disciples, distraught and disoriented, along the road; he approaches them incognito, becoming a wayfarer with them. Then the journey becomes a pilgrimage. Certainly, sadness and withdrawal into themselves prevented their eyes from recognizing him (cf. v. 16); similarly, discouragement and self-referentiality prevent Christians of different denominations from seeing what unites them, from recognizing the One who unites them. Therefore, as believers we must believe that the more we walk together, the more we will be mysteriously accompanied by Christ, because unity is a shared pilgrimage.
The Evangelist says that those two disciples were “talking with each other about all these things that had happened” and “talking and discussing together” (vv. 14-15). This is the second element, dialogue: dialogue of charity, dialogue of truth, dialogue of life, to reprise the three dimensions indicated in the Ecumenical Vademecum of the Dicastery for Promoting Christian Unity. The dialogue of the pilgrims of Emmaus leads to the dialogue with Jesus, who becomes their exegete; on the basis of their conversations, Christ speaks to their hearts, awakens them, inflames them by explaining in all the Scriptures what refers to Him (cf. v. 27). This shows us that dialogue between Christians is based on the Word of God, which the Lord Jesus lets us understand with the light of His Spirit.
To journey together as pilgrims and to dialogue. We come to the third element: the Evangelist explains that when the disciples drew near to Emmaus, Jesus “appeared to be going further” (v. 28). The Lord does not impose his presence, but the disciples beg him to stay: “Stay with us, for it is toward evening and the day is now far spent” (v. 29). They wished to be together with Christ. They did not each go to their own home, but wanted to prolong their their fellowship with Jesus and with one another; they urged him; they insisted. Here is the third element: one must desire unity with prayer, with all one’s heart and strength, with insistence, without tiring. Because if the desire for unity fades, walking and dialogue are not enough. Everything becomes dutiful and formal. If, instead, the desire drives one to open the door to Christ together with one’s brother and sister, everything changes. Scripture reminds us that Jesus does not break the Bread with disciples who were defeatist and divided; it is up to them to invite Him, to welcome Him, to desire Him together. This is perhaps what Christians of the various Confessions lack most today: a burning desire for unity that comes before partisan interests.
Dear brothers, unity is pilgrimage, unity is dialogue, unity is desire. If we live these three dimensions on the ecumenical journey, then, like those disciples, we will succeed in recognizing Christ together in the breaking of the Bread and we will benefit from communion with Him at the same Eucharistic banquet (cf. vv. 30-31). And, just as the two of Emmaus who ran back to Jerusalem to recount with joy and amazement what they had experienced, so too will we be able to bear credible witness to the Risen Crucified One, “so that the world may believe” (Jn 17:21). Dear brothers, you have set out a journey to come here. I thank you for this. In your pilgrimage to Rome, I hope that you will be able to feel the living presence of the Risen Lord, that our communion will grow in fraternal dialogue, that an fervent desire for unity may be renewed in each one of you.
May the Lord bless you, and may the Mother of God keep you. I ask you to convey my greetings to your Bishops and your Churches. Some of you come from suffering Syria; I would like to express a particular closeness to that dear people, sorely tried not only by the war but also by the earthquake which, as in Turkey, has claimed so many victims and caused terrible devastation. In the face of the suffering of so many innocent people, children, women, mothers, families, I hope that everything possible will be done for the people, that there will be no reasons or sanctions to hinder the urgent and necessary aid to the population.
Dear brothers, I thank you and I keep you in my prayers; I ask you, please, not to forget to pray for me as you turn to the Lord. If it pleases you, we can now pray the Lord’s Prayer together, each one in his own language.