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At ecumenical service, Pope reflects on Christ’s resurrection, prays for Christian unity

Catholic World News - May 26, 2014

As the second day of Pope Francis’s three-day pilgrimage to the Holy Land drew to a close, Pope Francis and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople, who holds a primacy of honor in the Orthodox world, took part in an ecumenical service at the Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem.

The service took place 50 years after their predecessors, Venerable Paul VI and Patriarch Athenagoras I, met in Jerusalem and lifted the mutual excommunications imposed in 1054.

In his address, Pope Francis said that “it is an extraordinary grace to be gathered here in prayer. The empty tomb, that new garden grave where Joseph of Arimathea had reverently placed Jesus’ body, is the place from which the proclamation of the resurrection begins.”

“This proclamation, confirmed by the testimony of those to whom the risen Lord appeared, is the heart of the Christian message, faithfully passed down from generation to generation,” Pope Francis continued. “This is the basis of the faith which unites us, whereby together we profess that Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of the Father and our sole Lord, ‘suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried; he descended into hell; on the third day he rose again from the dead.’”

A “powerful summons to unity,” Pope Francis continued, “rings out from this very place”:

Clearly we cannot deny the divisions which continue to exist among us, the disciples of Jesus: this sacred place makes us even more painfully aware of how tragic they are. And yet, fifty years after the embrace of those two venerable Fathers, we realize with gratitude and renewed amazement how it was possible, at the prompting of the Holy Spirit, to take truly significant steps towards unity. We know that much distance still needs to be travelled before we attain that fullness of communion which can also be expressed by sharing the same Eucharistic table, something we ardently desire; yet our disagreements must not frighten us and paralyze our progress.

Citing St. John Paul II, Pope Francis said that “I reiterate the hope already expressed by my predecessors for a continued dialogue with all our brothers and sisters in Christ, aimed at finding a means of exercising the specific ministry of the Bishop of Rome which, in fidelity to his mission, can be open to a new situation and can be, in the present context, a service of love and of communion acknowledged by all.”

Pope Francis then called for prayers for the suffering and the persecuted, adding:

When Christians of different confessions suffer together, side by side, and assist one another with fraternal charity, there is born an ecumenism of suffering, an ecumenism of blood, which proves particularly powerful not only for those situations in which it occurs, but also, by virtue of the communion of the saints, for the whole Church as well. Those who kill, persecute Christians out of hatred, do not ask if they are Orthodox or Catholics: they are Christians. The blood of Christians is the same.

“And when disunity makes us pessimistic, distrusting, fearful, let us all commend ourselves to the protection of the Holy Mother of God,” Pope Francis concluded. “When there is spiritual turmoil in the Christian soul, it is only by seeking refuge under her mantle that we can find peace. May the Holy Mother of God help us on this journey.”

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