By Lisa Zengarini
Pope Francis on Thursday received in audience the members of the International Joint Commission for Theological Dialogue between the Catholic Church and the Oriental Orthodox Churches.
In his address, the pope thanked the Commission for its precious work which has allowed substantial progress in the dialogue process towards a full communion.
He greeted, in particular, its latest achievements in the discussion on the Sacraments which, he said, “could mark a new step forward” towards this goal.
Ecumenism is essentially baptismal
In this regard, Pope Francis shared his reflections on three points. The first point he highlighted is that ecumenism is essentially baptismal: “It is in Baptism that the foundation of communion between Christians and the yearning for full visible unity is found”, Pope Francis said.
Deepening pastoral ecumenism
In the second place, Pope Francis remarked that the broad consensus reached by the Commission not only on Baptism, but also on the other Sacraments, should encourage Catholic and Oriental Orthodox Churches to deepen pastoral ecumenism.
Noting that many pastoral agreements have already been signed over the past decades with some Eastern Orthodox Churches, which allow the faithful to participate in the Sacraments, even without being in full communion, Pope Francis expressed hope that “the Holy Spirit may inspire ways to continue walking along this path”. This path, he emphasized, focuses on “the good of God’s people and not on moral, theological or ideological distinctions”.
Ecumenism of life
The Pope went on to highlight that ecumenism already exists as a primarily local reality, not only in the Middle East, but also in Western countries where Christians from this region have emigrated , in the form of “ecumenism of life”.
Pope Francis, therefore, said that “theological ecumenism should reflect not only on the dogmatic differences that arose in the past, but also on the current experience of our faithful.
Walking together and involving the younger generations
To increase a greater fraternal knowledge, the Pope further emphasized the importance of involving the younger generations, active in local communities, “so that the dialogue on doctrine proceeds together with the dialogue of life”.
Taking his cue from the theme of the next phase of discussion at the Commission, which will focus on the Virgin Mary in the teaching and life of the Church, Pope Francis concluded his address with the words of the ancient prayer to the Mother of God, invoking her protection and support.
The International Joint Commission for Theological Dialogue between the Catholic Church and the Oriental Orthodox Churches was established in January 2003, by a joint initiative of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, and the authorities of the Coptic Orthodox Church; the Syriac Orthodox Church; the Armenian Apostolic Church, represented by the two Catholicossates of Etchmiadzin and Cilicia, the Ethiopian Orthodox Church; the Eritrean Orthodox Church; and the Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church.