Francis: “I told Patriarch Kirill, we can meet wherever you want…”

Here are key excerpts from the Pope’s interview with journalists on his flight back from Turkey on November 30.

Pope Francis stands next to Father Federico Lombardi, S.J., during the Pope’s airplane press conference on November 30, returning from Istanbul to Rome. His remarks about his willingness to meet with Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill raised eyebrows...

Pope Francis stands next to Father Federico Lombardi, S.J., during the Pope’s airplane press conference on November 30, returning from Istanbul to Rome. His remarks about his willingness to meet with Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill raised eyebrows…

“Last month, Metropolitan Hilarion attended the Synod as a delegate and he spoke to me not as a Synod delegate but as the President [actually head of the Moscow Patriarchate’s delegation] of the commission for Orthodox-Catholic dialogue. We spoke for a while. I believe we are moving forward in our relations with Orthodoxy; they have the sacraments and apostolic succession; we are moving forward. If we wait for theologians to reach an agreement, that day will never come! I am skeptical: theologians work well but Athenagoras said: ‘Let us put theologians on an island to discuss among themselves and we’ll just get on with things!’ Unity is a journey we need to go on together; it is spiritual ecumenism, praying together, working together. Then there is ecumenism of blood: when they kill Christians, bloods mix. Our martyrs are crying out: we are one. This is what ecumenism of blood is. We must follow this path courageously and carry on moving forward. Perhaps some are not able to understand this. The Eastern Catholic Churches have a right to exist, but uniatism is a dated word; another solution needs to be found.”

“I told Patriarch Kirill, we can meet wherever you want, you call me and I’ll come. But he has a lot on his plate at the moment with the war in Ukraine. Both of us want to meet and move forward. Hilarion suggested the commission hold a study meeting [presumably the planned 2015 meeting of the Commission’s Coordinating Committee] on the primacy issue. We have to continue along the footsteps of John Paul II: help me to find a solution to the primacy issue that is also acceptable to the Orthodox Churches.”

“The thing I feel most deeply about on this path toward unity, I mentioned in yesterday’s homily on the Holy Spirit: the path of the Holy Spirit is the only right path. He is full of surprises, he is creative. The problem — and as I said in the general congregations before the Conclave, this may be self-criticism  — is that the Church has the bad and sinful habit of being too inward-looking, as if it believes it shines of its own light. The Church does not have its own light; it needs to look at Jesus Christ. Divisions exist because the Church has been focusing on itself too much. At table today, Bartholomew and I were talking about the moment when a cardinal went to communicate the Pope’s excommunication to the Patriarch: the Church was focusing on itself too much at that moment. When one focuses on oneself, one becomes self-referential.”

“The Orthodox accept the primacy: in today’s litanies they prayed for their pastor and primate, ‘he who leads the way.’ They said this in my presence today. We have to look back at the first millennium to find an acceptable solution. I am not saying the Church did everything wrong (in the second millennium), no, no! It paved its historic path. But now the way forward is to follow John Paul II’s request.

“Allow me to say that this problem [of conservatives who look suspiciously upon open approaches] is not only ours. This is also a problem they face, the Orthodox, some monks and some monasteries. For example, ever since the days when the Blessed Paul VI was Pope, there has been an ongoing discussion regarding the date of Easter and we still haven’t reached an agreement. At this rate, our great-grandchildren risk celebrating it in August. The Blessed Paul VI had suggested a set date, a Sunday in April. Bartholomew was courageous: in Finland, where there is a small Orthodox community, he said they could celebrate on the same day as the Lutherans.

“Once I was in Via della Scrofa; Easter preparations were underway and I heard a member of the Eastern Church say: ‘My Christ will rise from the dead in a month’s time.’ My Christ, your Christ. Problems do exist. But we must be respectful and not tire of engaging in dialogue, without insulting others, without dirtying ourselves, without gossiping. If someone does not want dialogue, well… But, patience, meekness and dialogue.”

—Selected by Peter Anderson, Seattle, Washington, USA

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