In an exchange with reporters on November 30, Pope Francis spoke optimistically about prospects for ecumenical progress with the Orthodox churches and said that he is prepared to meet with Orthodox Patriarch Kirill of Moscow whenever the Russian prelate is ready.
In a question-and-answer session aboard his plane on the return flight after his visit to Turkey, where he had met with the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, the Pope stressed the importance of “spiritual ecumenism” and the common witness of Christian martyrs.
“There is the ecumenism of blood,” the Pope said. “When they kill Christians, bloods mix. Our martyrs are crying out: ‘We are one!’”
That powerful witness should be the impetus to resolve theological disputes, the Pope said. But while he offered his support for ecumenical dialogue, he expressed some impatience with the process. “If we wait for theologians to reach an agreement, that day will never come!” he said.
Nevertheless, Pope Francis observed that some theological disputes could be resolved. He said that the Orthodox churches already accept the notion of primacy, although they are not prepared to embrace the Catholic understanding of that concept. Following a suggestion made by St. John Paul II, he said that a final resolution to the question of Petrine primacy may require a return to the role of the papacy in the first millennium of Christianity.
The Pope also observed that the Orthodox churches, like the Catholic Church, faces internal tensions, with some more conservative groups resisting the changes that might lead toward Christian unity. The antidotes to those tensions, he said, are “patience, meekness, and dialogue.”
Regarding the relationship between the Holy See and the Russian Orthodox Church, the Pope said that he was ready to travel to Moscow. At the moment, he said, Patriarch Kirill is preoccupied with the violence in Ukraine. But he revealed that he had told the Russian primate, “we can meet wherever you want; you call me and I’ll come.”
Questioned about Christian-Muslim tensions, Pope Francis said that Islamic leaders must condemn terrorism and religious extremism.
Speaking more generally about the Middle East, the Pontiff said that the world now seems to be experiencing a third world war, although the fighting now is not concentrated in one time and place. He said that the war in Syria has been fueled by the arms traffic, and charged that there are always profiteers who exploit the opportunities created by war.