· Vatican City ·

Catholicos of the East’s words to the Holy Father

A journey marked by shared values and unyielding commitment to Christian unity

 A journey marked by shared values and unyielding commitment to Christian unity  ING-037
15 September 2023

The following is the English text of the speech by His Holiness Baselios Marthoma Mathews iii , Catholicos of the East and Malankara Metropolitan of the Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church, addressed to Pope Francis during their meeting at the Vatican on Monday, 11 September. In his address, the Catholicos eloquently highlighted the significance of their dialogue, reflected on the teachings of Pope Francis’ Encyclical ‘Fratelli Tutti’, and extended heartfelt invitations for further collaboration and understanding between the two Churches.

Your Holiness,
Your Eminences,
Officials of the Dicastery for Promoting Christian Unity and
dear Fathers and brothers:

As we gather together in awe of God’s boundless mercy and providence, we are reminded of the words of the Apostle Paul in Ephesians 4:4-6: ‘There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.’ Holy Father, as we come together, we are humbled by the guiding hand of our Heavenly Father, which has united us in this sacred encounter. This meeting marks a continuation of the longstanding dialogue between our two Churches, a journey that has been marked by shared values, mutual respect, and the unyielding commitment to Christian unity.

Your Holiness has eloquently expressed in your encyclical ‘Fratelli Tutti,’ saying, “The Samaritan who stopped along the way departed without expecting any recognition or gratitude. His effort to assist another person gave him great satisfaction in life and before his God, and thus became a duty. All of us have a responsibility for the wounded, those of our own people and all the peoples of the earth. Let us care for the needs of every man and woman, young and old, with the same fraternal spirit of care and closeness that marked the Good Samaritan” (Fratelli Tutti, 79). I would like to gather my inspiration in what Your Holiness has pronounced for us while aiming to strengthen our fraternal bonds between us. This sentiment motivates deeply the shared path we should be walking and it emphasizes the need of unity and compassion in a world that often seeks division. Moreover, the need for caring for the world should remain as the strong reason for the Christian leaders across the globe to come together.

When we reflect on the principles outlined in the encyclical, in the context of our meeting, we are reminded that our journey toward greater harmony and understanding is not only a dialogue between leaders but a testament to the commitment of our congregations to promote peace, justice, mutual care and the dignity of every human person. I pray and hope that our coming together today should become an embodiment of this commitment. Let us strive together in weaving the threads of unity and fraternity into the fabric of our shared faith.

As we assemble in this hallowed space, we cannot help but look back with thanksgiving on the series of meetings that have transpired between the heads of our Churches, spanning back to that momentous year of 1964. These encounters have not only strengthened our ecclesiastical bonds but have also served as a beacon of hope for Christians around the world, demonstrating that unity is not only achievable but also essential in these challenging times.

I must extend my heartfelt appreciation to the Dicastery for Promoting Christian Unity, an institution that has tirelessly worked to foster bilateral relations between our Churches. Their dedicated efforts have borne fruit in the form of bilateral agreements that reflect our shared commitment to the Christian faith. These agreements encompass the sharing of the sacred places, as well as the sacraments of confession and anointing of the sick in extraordinary situations. I consider these agreements, dear brethren, as not mere legal documents, but manifestations of our shared devotion to Christ and His message of love.

The ongoing dialogues between our two Churches stand as a testament to our resolve in strengthening our relations even further. It is through these dialogues that we find the fertile ground for fostering understanding, empathy, and a shared pursuit of spreading the Gospel’s message. We are happy to highlight the active participation of the Malankara Orthodox Church in the dialogue between the Catholic and Oriental Orthodox families of Churches. We extend our heartfelt gratitude to Your Holiness and the Dicastery for Promoting Christian Unity for their unwavering commitment to these dialogues, which have enabled us to stand united in our witness to Christ’s love, even in a world that often seems fractured.

In the face of a world that sometimes prioritizes fleeting freedoms over eternal truths, we, as leaders of traditional Christian Churches, must raise our collective voice in the defense of moral values and Gospel principles. It is our duty to guide the present generation towards a life rooted in the teachings of Christ, showing them that true liberty lies in the embrace of these timeless values.

On this occasion I would like to briefly reflect upon the forthcoming General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops in October 2023, bearing the profound theme, “Synodal Church: Communion, Participation, and Mission.” In an era where unity and collaboration are indispensable, the theme of this Synod resonates profoundly with our beliefs and aspirations. For our Church, synodality is not merely a contemporary concept but is embedded in the very fabric of our ecclesiastical identity. We affirm with unwavering conviction that the synodal dimensions are not only deeply rooted in sacred scripture but also doctrinally pivotal for the Church’s growth and spiritual well-being. Through the ages, we have seen how the Holy Spirit guides and empowers the Church when its members come together in true communion and participation, as exemplified by the first Apostolic Council in Jerusalem. We express our heartfelt prayers for the successful accomplishment of the Synod.

I take this moment to extend a heartfelt invitation to Your Holiness to pay a visit in witnessing the rich traditions of St. Thomas’ land. Our doors are open, and we eagerly anticipate the day when we can welcome Your Holiness to our sacred land, steeped in the legacy of our patron apostle.

Furthermore, I am pleased to acknowledge the Dicastery’s initiative in organizing group pilgrimages of young priests from the Oriental Orthodox Churches to the Holy See. In this spirit of exchange and learning, I express our desire to host young priests, monks, nuns, and academicians from the Catholic Church to our Malankara Orthodox Church. We wish for them to immerse themselves in the vibrant tapestry of our St. Thomas Apostolic traditions, thereby strengthening the bonds of fellowship and knowledge.

As we conclude, let us draw inspiration from the words of the Apostle Paul, who reminds us in Colossians 3:14: “And above all clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.” With these words echoing in our hearts, let us continue on this journey of unity, strengthened by our shared faith and commitment to Christ’s message of love and salvation.

May the Almighty bless this meeting, guide our future interactions, and empower us to witness His love together in this fractured world. With hearts full of prayerful wishes and boundless gratitude, we look forward to the path ahead.

May the love, grace and indwelling of the blessed Holy Trinity be with us now and always, forever. Amen.