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"We are united in blood ... Unity is a gift that we need to ask for."
Pope Francis embraces Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople, spiritual leader of Orthodox Christians, at the Vatican March 20. (CNS photo/L'Osservatore Romano via Reuters)
In a recent interview with Vatican Insider’s, Andrea Tornielli, Pope Francis talked about Christmas and addressed a few popular misconceptions about his new exhortation. For example, the Pope confirmed that Marxism “is wrong”, supported breast-feeding in public, and said that those who think there will someday be women Cardinals “suffer from clericalism.”

These snippets you have, no doubt, already read in the press, but what you may not have seen are the sections in which Pope Francis reaffirms his commitment to Christian unity.

The Pope draws attention to what he calls an “ecumenism of blood.” Francis reminds us that: “Those who kill Christians don't ask for your identity card to see which Church you were baptized in.” The following segments are from Tornielli’s interview:

Is Christian unity a priority for you?

Pope Francis: Yes, for me ecumenism is a priority. Today there is an ecumenism of blood. In some countries they kill Christians for wearing a cross or having a Bible and before they kill them they do not ask them whether they are Anglican, Lutheran, Catholic or Orthodox. Their blood is mixed. To those who kill we are Christians. We are united in blood, even though we have not yet managed to take necessary steps towards unity between us and perhaps the time has not yet come. Unity is a gift that we need to ask for. 

I knew a parish priest in Hamburg who was dealing with the beatification cause of a Catholic priest guillotined by the Nazis for teaching children the catechism.  After him, in the list of condemned individuals, was a Lutheran pastor who was killed for the same reason. Their blood was mixed. The parish priest told me he had gone to the bishop and said to him: "I will continue to deal with the cause, but both of their causes, not just the Catholic priest's." This is what ecumenism of blood is. It still exists today; you just need to read the newspapers. Those who kill Christians don't ask for your identity card to see which Church you were baptized in. We need to take these facts into consideration.

This coming January marks the 50th anniversary of Paul VI’s historic visit to the Holy Land. Will you go?

Pope Francis: Christmas always makes us think of Bethlehem, and Bethlehem is a precise point in the Holy Land where Jesus lived. On Christmas night, I think above all with the Christians who live there, of those who are in difficulty, of the many people who have had to leave that land because of various problems. But Bethlehem is still Bethlehem. God arrived at a specific time in a specific land; that is where God’s tenderness and grace appeared. We cannot think of Christmas without thinking of the Holy land. Fifty years ago, Paul VI had the courage to go out and go there and this marked the beginning of the era of papal journeys. I would also like to go there, to meet my brother Bartholomew, the Patriarch of Constantinople, and commemorate this 50th anniversary with him, renewing that embrace which took place between Pope Montini and Athenagoras in Jerusalem, in 1964. We are preparing for this. 

Patriarch Twal of Jerusalem confirmed today in his Christmas message that in May 2014, Pope Francis plans to visit Jordan, Israel, and Palestine. This is an historic visit since Pope Paul VI embraced Patriarch Athenagoras in Jerusalem 50 years ago this January. Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople will meet him there to renew their fraternal bonds and discuss the way ahead for Christian unity.

Returning to the interview:

You announced a "conversion of the papacy". Did a specific path emerge from your meetings with the Orthodox Patriarchs?

Pope Francis: John Paul II spoke even more explicitly about a way of exercising the primacy which is open to a new situation. Not just from the point of view of ecumenical relations but also in terms of relations with the Curia and the local Churches. Over the course of these first nine months, I have received visits from many Orthodox brothers: Bartholomew, Hilarion, the theologian Zizioulas, the Copt Tawadros. 

The latter is a mystic, he would enter the chapel, remove his shoes and go and pray. I felt like their brother. They have the apostolic succession; I received them as brother bishops. It is painful that we are not yet able to celebrate the Eucharist together, but there is friendship. I believe that the way forward is this: friendship, common work and prayer for unity. We blessed each other; one brother blesses the other, one brother is called Peter and the other Andrew, Mark, Thomas.

Also see:

Peter and Andrew: Brother Pilgrims to Jerusalem (March 22, 2013)
• Building Bridges Between Orthodox and Catholic Christians (May 01, 2013)
Mark and Peter: Coptic Pope Tawadros II visits Pope Francis (May 13, 2013)
• “Sister Churches” Revisited (June 12, 2013)

 
About the Author
Christopher B. Warner 

Christopher B. Warner, a former Marine Corps officer and veteran, is a graduate student of Orthodox theology at the Antiochian House of Studies. Christopher has a BA in Catholic theology from Franciscan University of Steubenville, Ohio. He has worshipped with the Eastern Christian community since 2001, and currently serves as a cantor for his parish of St. George in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Christopher and his wife, Katy, are both teachers at Trinity Academy.
 
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