In-flight press conference of Pope Francis returning from Greece

7 Dec 2021

The in‒flight press conference of the Holy Father on 6 December during his return from Greece offered the opportunity to respond to different issues regarding ecumenical relations with the Orthodox Church.


In particular, Pope Francis commented on the apology to Archbishop Hieronymos:

Yes, thank you. I apologized, I apologized before Hieronymos, my brother Hieronymos. I apologized for all the divisions among Christians, but above all for those caused by Catholics. I also wanted to apologize after reflecting on the war of independence. Hieronymos pointed out to me that some Catholics sided with European governments against Greek independence, while the Catholics of the islands supported independence, they went to war, some gave their lives for their country. But the centre, let’s say, at that moment sided with Europe. … And I also ask pardon for the scandal of division, at least for that for which we are to blame. It is the spirit of self-sufficiency — we keep our mouths shut when we hear that we must apologize — but it always makes me think that God never tires of pardoning, never. It is we who tire of asking for pardon, and if we do not ask God for forgiveness, we will hardly be able to ask our brothers and sisters. It is more difficult to ask forgiveness from a brother than from God, because we know that He says: “Yes, go forth, you are forgiven.” Instead, with brothers, there is shame and humiliation. But in today’s world, we need the attitude of humiliation and asking for pardon. So many things are happening in the world, so many lives lost, so many wars. … Why do we not apologize?

Returning to this, I wanted to apologize for the divisions, at least for those that we caused. For the others, it is their responsibility to ask forgiveness, but I apologize for ours. And also for that episode in the war where some Catholics sided with the European government, and those on the islands went to war to defend. I don’t know if that’s enough.

And one last apology — this one came from my heart — an apology for the scandal of the crisis of migration, for the scandal of so many lives drowned at sea.


Regarding the synodal dimension of the Church, the Holy Father affirmed:

Yes, we are one flock, it is true. This division between clergy and laity is a functional one, of type, but there is unity, a single flock. And the dynamics among the differences inside the Church are expressed through synodality, that is, listening to one another and walking together, “Syn odòs”: journeying together. This is the sense of synodality that our Orthodox Churches, and the Eastern Catholic Churches as well, have preserved. Instead, the Latin Catholic Church had forgotten the synod, and it was Saint Paul VI who restored the synodal path, 54, 56 years ago. We are now journeying towards acquiring the habit of synodality, of walking together.


Responding to a question of the TASS Agency, Pope Francis stated:

A meeting with Patriarch Kirill is not far on the horizon. I think next week [Metropolitan] Hilarion will be visiting me to arrange a possible meeting because the Patriarch will be travelling — I don’t know where, perhaps Finland, but I’m not sure. I am always willing, I would be willing to go to Moscow, there are no protocols when it comes to dialogue with a brother. A brother is a brother, before any protocols. And when I am with an Orthodox brother ‒ whether he be Kirill, or Chrysostomos, or Hieronymos, a brother ‒ we are brothers and we say things face to face. We don’t dance a minuet, no, we speak face to face. But as brothers. There is a beauty to brothers arguing, it is beautiful because they belong to the same mother, Mother Church, but they are a bit divided, some due to questions of inheritance, some to historical reasons. But we must seek together and try to work and walk in unity and for unity. I am grateful to Hieronymos, to Chrysostomos, to all the Patriarchs who aspire to walking together. In unity ... the great Orthodox theologian Zizioulas —  who studies eschatology — once said jokingly that “we will find unity in the Eschaton” [the end of the world]. But it’s a saying. It does not mean that we have to stand still waiting for the theologians to come to an agreement. It’s a catchphrase, a manner of speaking, and it’s what they say Athenagoras said to Paul VI: “Let’s put all the theologians on an island while we go somewhere else”. It’s a joke. But let theologians continue to study, because this is good for us and leads us to understand better, and to find unity. But in the meantime, let’s move on together. But how? Yes, praying together, doing charity together. For example, Sweden comes to mind, where Lutherans and Catholics together operate Caritas. They work together. Working together and praying together: we can do that. Let the rest be done by the theologians, because we do not understand how to do it. But let’s do what can be done: unity begins today, on this path.


Photo © Servizio Fotografico | Vatican Media

[Translation by PCPCU]