At the end of his general audience on Wednesday, November 30, Pope Francis greeted the Church of Constantinople, and the “beloved Patriarch Bartholomew” on the occasion of the Feast of the Apostle St. Andrew, traditionally held to be the founder of the See of Byzantium, which later became the Patriarchate of Constantinople.
Pope Francis expressed his desire to be united to the Patriarch and to the church of Constantinople, offering them his “best wishes for all possible goods, for all the blessings of the Lord, and a warm embrace.”
A delegation from the Holy See, bearing a message from Pope Francis, is in Istanbul for a visit to the Patriarchate on the Apostle’s feast day. The customary visit is reciprocated each year on the Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul in Rome.
The Holy See delegation was led by Cardinal Kurt Koch, the president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity. Cardinal Koch was accompanied by the Council’s secretary, Bishop Brian Farrell, and the Undersecretary, Monsignor Andrea Palmieri. The delegation was joined in Constantinople by the Apostolic Nuncio in Turkey, Archbishop Paul Russell.
The delegation took part in the solemn Divine Liturgy offered by the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, Bartholomew, in the patriarchal church of Saint George at the Phanar. They also met with the Patriarch, as well as with the synodal commission on relations with the Catholic Church.
Following the Divine Liturgy, Cardinal Koch delivered an autograph message of Pope Francis to the Ecumenical Patriarch, accompanied by a gift.
In the message, Pope Francis said the annual exchange of delegations is “a visible sign of the profound bonds that already unite us” as well as “an expression of our yearning for ever deeper communion.” In the journey toward full communion, he said, “we are sustained by the intercession not only of our patron saints, but by the array of martyrs from every age.”
Pope Francis also noted “the strong commitment” to re-establishing Christian unity expressed by the Great and Holy Council held in Crete in June. The Pope noted that relations between the churches have, at times, been marked by conflicts; “only prayer, common good works, and dialogue,” he said, “can enable us to overcome division and grow closer to one another.”
The Holy Father also wrote about the importance of theological dialogue, and especially the shared reflection on the relationship between synodality and primacy in the first millennium. This reflection, he said, “can offer a sure foundation for discerning ways in which primacy may be exercised in the Church when all Christians of East and West are finally reconciled.”
Finally, Pope Francis fondly recalled his meeting with Patriarch Bartholomew and other Christian leaders and representatives of various world religions in Assisi. The Assisi gathering, he said, was a joyful opportunity to deepen our friendship, which finds expression in a shared vision regarding the great questions that affect the life of the Church and of all society. He concluded his message with an assurance of prayer and best wishes for the Ecumenical Patriarch, and all those entrusted to his spiritual care.