Today’s blog is a translation of an address given on Wednesday, March 20, by Pope Francis. He received the fraternal delegates of churches, ecclesial communities and international ecumenical bodies, representatives of the Jewish people and of non-Christian religions, all gathered in Rome for the celebration of the official start of his ministry as Bishop of Rome. Do not stumble over the words spoken to non-Christians. Each paragraph has a particular context that some hyper-conservative Catholics and evangelicals will miss if they read this too hastily. Note also the reference to the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity. This is the same office that I met with in March, 2011. In recent years this council has been marginalized, at least to some extent, so the clear mention of its importance at such a gathering gives me immense joy.
I do not think I have ever posted a blog based upon a sermon or address reprinted in its entirety but this is too historic an address to pass considering my vocation and call to the vision that is so plainly represented in this message. Please, as I’ve already written, read it very carefully. Not one word is off-pitch, not one sentiment is inconsistent with the gospel. Some will miss this point so I caution you to read prayerfully and with great care. if you cannot understand what he is saying please comment in the form of a question and I will do my best to help you understand why this address is so profoundly important.
Pope Francis delivered his address after His Holiness Bartholomew I, Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, greeted him.
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
First of all I thank my Brother Andrew [Bartholomew I] very much for what he said. Thank you very much! Thank you!
It is a cause for particular joy to meet today with you, delegates of the Orthodox churches, the Oriental Orthodox churches and ecclesial communities of the West. Thank you for having wanted to take part in the celebration that has marked the beginning of my Ministry as Bishop of Rome and successor of Peter.
Yesterday morning, during Holy Mass, through your persons I recognized as spiritually present the communities that you represent. In this manifestation of faith, I seemed to experience in an even more urgent way the prayer for unity among believers in Christ and together to see somehow foreshadowed that full realization, which depends on the plan of God and on our loyal collaboration.
I begin my Apostolic Ministry in this year which my venerable predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, with truly inspired insight, proclaimed the Year of Faith for the Catholic Church. With this initiative, which I want to continue and hope is a stimulus for the faith journey of all, he wished to mark the 50th anniversary of the beginning of the Second Vatican Council, proposing a sort of pilgrimage towards that which is most essential for every Christian: the personal and transforming relationship with Jesus Christ, Son of God, who died and rose for our salvation. The heart of the Council’s message resides precisely in the desire to announce this perennially valid treasure of faith to the men of our time.
Together with you I cannot forget how much that Council has meant for the road of ecumenism. I would like to recall the words of Blessed John XXIII, the 50th anniversary of whose death we will soon commemorate, which he pronounced in his memorable inauguration speech: “the Catholic Church considers it her duty to actively seek to fulfill the great mystery of that unity which Jesus Christ with most ardent prayers beseeched the Heavenly Father in the imminence of his sacrifice; It enjoys delightful peace, knowing itself to be intimately United with Christ in those prayers» (AAS 54 , 793). This is Pope John.
Yes, dear brothers and sisters in Christ, let us all feel intimately united to the prayer of our Savior in the Last Supper, to his invocation: ut unum sint. Let us ask the merciful Father to live in fullness that faith that we received as a gift on the day of our baptism, and to be able to bear free, courageous and joyful testimony to it. This will be our best service to the cause of unity among Christians, a service of hope to a world still marked by divisions, by contrast and rivalry. The more we are faithful to His will, in our thoughts, words and deeds, the more we will actually and substantially walk towards unity.
For my part, I wish to assure you, in the wake of my predecessors, of my determination to continue on the path of ecumenical dialogue and I would like to thank in advance the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, for the help that it will continue to offer, in my name, for this noble cause. I ask you, dear brothers and sisters, to bring my cordial greeting and the assurance of my remembrance in the Lord Jesus to the churches and Christian communities here represented, and request of you the charity of a special prayer for my person, to be a pastor according to the heart of Christ.
And now I turn to you distinguished representatives of the Jewish people, to which we are joined in a very special spiritual bond, since, as the Second Vatican Council affirms, the Church of Christ acknowledges that “the beginnings of her faith and her election are already, according to the divine mystery of salvation, in the Patriarchs, Moses, and the prophets” (Declar. Nostra aetate, 4). Thank you for your presence and I am confident that, with the help of the Almighty, we will be able to continue profitably that fraternal dialogue that the Council advocated (cf. ibid.) and that has actually been accomplished, bringing many fruits, especially in recent decades.
I then greet and cordially thank you all, dear friends belonging to other religious traditions; first of all the Muslims, who worship the one God, living and merciful, and call upon Him in prayer, and all of you. I really appreciate your presence: in it I see a tangible sign of the will to grow in mutual esteem and cooperation for the common good of humanity.
The Catholic Church is aware of the importance of promoting friendship and respect between men and women of different religious traditions – I wish to repeat this: promoting friendship and respect between men and women of different religious traditions – it also attests the valuable work that the Pontifical Council for interreligious dialogue performs. It is equally aware of the responsibility that we all have towards this world of ours, towards all of Creation, that we should love and protect. And we can do much for the sake of the poorest, those who are weak and who suffer, to promote justice, to promote reconciliation and to build peace. But, above all, we need to keep alive in the world the thirst for the absolute, not allowing to prevail a one-dimensional vision of the human person, according to which man is reduced to what he produces and consumes: this is this one of the most dangerous pitfalls for our time.
We know how much violence has been produced in recent history by the attempt to eliminate God and the divine from the horizon of humanity, and we experience the value of witnessing in our societies to the original opening to transcendence that is inherent in the human heart. In this, we feel close even to all those men and women who, whilst not recognizing themselves belonging to any religious tradition, feel themselves nevertheless to be in search of truth, goodness and beauty, this truth, goodness and beauty of God, and who are our precious allies in efforts to defend the dignity of man, in building a peaceful coexistence among peoples and in guarding Creation carefully.
Dear friends, thank you again for your presence. To everyone I extend my cordial and fraternal greeting. [Translation by Peter Waymel]