On 23 June Pope Francis received in a private audience the members of the Joint International Commission for theological dialogue between the Catholic Church and the Oriental Orthodox Churches gathered in Rome for its 18th plenary session.
Bishop Kyrillos, Co‒President, presented to the Holy Father the document entitled “Sacraments in the Life of the Church”, which had been adopted the same day, as well as a Coptic icon of Saint Cyril of Alexandria and Pope Celestine of Rome, recalling in his address the warm relations between the Church of Alexandria and that of Rome at the time of the Ecumenical Council of Ephesus.
In his greeting, Pope Francis welcomed the new document “that shows the existence of a broad consensus and one that, with the help of God, will be able to mark a new step forward towards full communion”.
The Holy Father then reflected on three important dimensions of theological dialogue: baptismal, pastoral and local.
Firstly, “ecumenism is essentially baptismal.” It is in baptism that we find “the basis of the communion between Christians and our yearning for full visible unity”.
Secondly, “ecumenism always has a pastoral character”. Making reference to existing pastoral agreements, the Holy Father encouraged “to develop more fully a pastoral ecumenism”, asking whether it might not “be possible to extend and multiply such pastoral agreements, above all in those situations in which our faithful are a minority and in the diaspora?”
Lastly, Pope Francis highlighted that “ecumenism already exists as a primarily local reality”. Calling to mind that the faithful “already experience the ecumenism of life”, he emphasized that “theological ecumenism must therefore reflect not only on the dogmatic differences that emerged in the past, but also on the present experience of our faithful”. Thus, “the dialogue of doctrine must be theologically adapted to the dialogue of life that develops in the local, everyday relations between our Churches; these constitute a genuine locus or source of theology”.
In this regard, the Holy Father joyfully recalled the recent study visit of young priests and monks of the Oriental Orthodox Churches, received in a private audience on 3 June 2022. “It is a good thing, in this rapprochement of our Churches, to involve young people who are active in the local communities, so that the dialogue of doctrine may proceed together with the dialogue of life”, concluded Pope Francis, in conclusion inviting the Commission member to recite together the ancient prayer Sub Tuum.
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