29 April 2017


During the return flight from Egypt to Rome on Saturday 29 April, Pope Francis participated in the customary on-board question-and-answer session with journalists. The session was led by Greg Burke, Director of the Holy See Press Office, who thanked the Pontiff and invited him to the microphone. Before taking questions, the Pope greeted and thanked the press corps. We publish here an extract of the press conference.


[…] Vera Shcherbakova (Itar-Tass):

Holy Father, I thank you, first of all for your blessing: you blessed me, I had knelt down a few minutes ago, here in the front. I am Orthodox and I do not see any contradiction… I wanted to ask you: what are the prospects for relations with the Orthodox – obviously Russian, but also, yesterday, in the Common Declaration with the Orthodox Coptic Patriarch – there is the date of Easter in common, and it also speaks about the recognition of Baptism… At what point are we? And one more thing: how do you evaluate the relations between the Vatican and Russia, as a State, also in light of the defence of the values of Middle Eastern Christians, especially in Syria?

Pope Francis:

Christòs anèsti! [Christ is Risen] Since Buenos Aires, I have always had a great friendship with the Orthodox. For example, every 6 January I would go to Vespers, in your Cathedral, to Patriarch Plato – who now is in the area of Ukraine, he is the Archbishop – two hours and forty minutes in a language that I did not understand, but I was able to pray well! And then there was dinner with the community, three hundred people, a Christmas Eve dinner – not Christmas dinner but for the Vigil – they were still not able to eat dairy products or meat, but it was a wonderful meal… And then bingo and games… friendship. Also the other Orthodox. At times they needed legal assistance: they would come to the Catholic Chancery, because their community was small, and they came to see the lawyers… I always had a fraternal relationship: we are sister Churches. I have a special friendship with Patriarch Tawadros: for me he is a great man of God. Tawadros is a Patriarch, a Pope who will take the Church forward, the name of Jesus forward… He has great apostolic zeal. He is one of the most, allow me to use the word but in inverted commas, “fanatical” in finding a fixed date for Easter. Me too but… we’re trying to find a way. He says “we struggle on, we struggle on!” He is a man of God. He is a man who, as a bishop far away from Egypt, used to feed disabled persons; he is a man who was sent to a diocese with five churches and he left twenty-five, with I’m not sure with how many Christian families, and he did this with apostolic zeal. You know how their election works; they find three, they are chosen, and then their names are put into a bag, a child is called up with eyes bandaged and picks out a name… and there is the Lord! Clearly he is a great Patriarch. The unity of baptism moves forward. The blame, regarding baptism, has historical roots, because during the time of the first Councils it was shared. Afterwards, because the Coptic Christians baptized children in sanctuaries, when they wanted to get married and came to us to marry a Catholic, they were asked for proof which they didn’t have, and so they were baptized conditionally: it was us, therefore, who started this practice, not them. But now the door has been opened and we are on a right path to face this problem, to overcome it. In the Common declaration, the penultimate paragraph speaks about this.

The Russian Orthodox recognise our baptism and we recognise theirs. I was very friendly with the Bishop in Buenos Aires, with the Russians. Also with the Georgians, for example. The Patriarch of the Georgians is a man of God, Ilia II, a mystic! We Catholics musts learn also from this tradition of mysticism in the Orthodox Churches. On this trip we had an ecumenical meeting: and Patriarch Bartholomew was also present, the Greek-Orthodox Patriarch was present, and there were other Christians: Anglicans, and the Secretary of the World Council of Churches in Geneva… Everything that contributes to ecumenism is in motion. Ecumenism is achieved by moving forward, with acts of charity, with the commitment to help, doing things together when things can be done together… There is no such thing as a static ecumenism. It is true that the theologians must study and agree amongst themselves, but this will never have a successful outcome unless we move forward. What can we do now? We must do what is possible: pray together, work together, exercise acts of charity together… But together! This is what it means to move forward. Relations with Patriarch Kirill are good, they are good. The Metropolitan Archbishop Hilarion has also come on several occasions to speak to me, and we have a good relationship. […]


ORE, 5 May 2017