Pope Francis meets with Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople in the library of the Apostolic Palace at the Vatican Sept. 30, 2023, ahead of an ecumenical prayer vigil for the Synod of Bishops in St. Peter's Square. (CNS photo/Vatican Media)
VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The journey of reconciliation between Catholics and Orthodox began with an embrace almost 60 years ago, a sign of how important personal contact and time spent together are in the search for Christian unity, Pope Francis said. In a letter to Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople for the Nov. 30 feast of St. Andrew, the patriarchate's patron saint, Pope Francis focused on the anniversary of the meetings of St. Paul VI and Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras I in Jerusalem Jan. 5-6, 1964. Their meeting, the pope said, "was a vital step forward in breaking down the barrier of misunderstanding, distrust and even hostility that had existed for almost a millennium." Today, he continued, people do not remember the statements of "those two prophetic pastors" as much as "their warm embrace." "Indeed, it is highly significant that this journey of reconciliation, increasing closeness and overcoming of obstacles still impeding full visible communion, began with an embrace, a gesture that eloquently expresses the mutual recognition of ecclesial fraternity," Pope Francis wrote in the letter delivered by a delegation led by Cardinal Kurt Koch, president of the Dicastery for Promoting Christian Unity. "With God's help, we have been able to continue along the path laid out by our venerable predecessors, renewing many times the joy of meeting and embracing each other," the pope wrote to Patriarch Bartholomew. The pope and the patriarch send delegations to the celebrations of each other's patron feast days. The patriarchate's delegation meets with the pope and attends Mass each year for the feast of Sts. Peter and Paul June 29. In addition to personal contact, Pope Francis said that "friendly dialogue, common prayer and joint action in service to humanity, especially those affected by poverty, violence, and exploitation" help members of different churches discover "their shared trust in the loving providence of God the Father, their hope in the coming of the kingdom inaugurated by Jesus Christ, and their common desire to exercise the virtue of charity inspired by the Holy Spirit." Addressing Patriarch Bartholomew as his "beloved brother in Christ," Pope Francis also prayed for the world, especially "that the clamor of arms, which brings only death and destruction, may cease, and that government and religious leaders may always seek the path of dialogue and reconciliation."