Church leaders celebrate historic meeting of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew and Pope Francis

Church leaders celebrate historic meeting of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew and Pope Francis

National Council of Churches leadership express “joy and celebration”

Officers and staff of the National Council of Churches USA expressed “joy and celebration” at the historic meeting of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew and Pope Francis in Jerusalem this week.

While media coverage has focused on Pope Francis’ meetings with Israeli and Palestinian leaders, the NCC noted the original purpose of the visit was “ecumenical in nature.”

“The real significance is the fact that both Pope Francis and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew traveled to Jerusalem to embrace the unity that has been growing for fifty years,” said Jim Winkler, president and general secretary of the NCC.

It was only last year that Bartholomew attended the inauguration of Francis as pope, the first time an ecumenical patriarch had participated in a papal ceremony in almost one thousand years. Bartholomew took the occasion to invite Francis to join him in Jerusalem to continue the discussions their predecessors had started 50 years ago. The Pope accepted and this weekend’s visit to the Holy Land is the result.

Dr. Antonios Kireopoulos, NCC associate general secretary, Faith & Order and Interfaith Relations, said, “The trip was originally scheduled to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of the meeting in 1964 between Pope Paul VI and Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras in Jerusalem.”

“The meeting this week affirms future steps toward the closer relationships that began a half century ago,” according to Kireopoulos.

The meeting between the pope and the patriarch in 1964 led to the ending of the mutual excommunications and the lifting of the anathemas toward one another that had been in place since 1054.  This meeting broke the silence between the two churches and led to warmer relations.

Since 1964, there have been meetings between subsequent popes and ecumenical patriarchs, as well as a long-standing international Orthodox – Roman Catholic theological dialogue aimed at healing the divisions and reconciling theological differences.  

“The meeting this week reaffirms the direction set by their predecessors to build on the strengthening relationships in the search for church unity,” said Kireopoulos. Church unity is the goal of all ecumenical activity.

As central as the meeting of the pope and the ecumenical patriarch is, Kireopoulos said, “it does not diminish the calls for peace in Syria, Iraq, Egypt, and Israel and Palestine, or the interfaith outreach to Jewish and Muslim communities.”

The calls for peace and for closer interfaith collaboration were grounded in the ecumenical dream of one day proclaiming the gospel without division, Kireopoulos said.

“A fractured proclamation does not fully serve the Christian faithful, and it does not fully serve the Christian witness for peace in the world.  The search for unity between these two churches, and beyond them the search for unity among all Christian churches, serves the proclamation of the gospel and the witness for peace more profoundly.”

See also: “WCC General Secretary sees positive outcomes of meeting