Vatican City, 30 November 2013 (VIS) – Cardinal Kurt Koch, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, is leading a delegation sent by the Holy See to Istanbul to participate in celebrations marking the Feast of St. Andrew, patron of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople. The Holy See and the Patriarchate exchange regular annual visits for the feast days of their respective patrons – the Saints Peter and Paul, celebrated on 29 June in Rome and St. Andrew, celebration on 30 November in Istanbul.
The Holy See delegation to the celebration is made up of Cardinal Koch; Bishop Brian Farrell, secretary of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity; Fr. Andrea Palmieri, an official of the same dicastery, and Archbishop Antonio Lucibello, apostolic nuncio to Turkey. The group attended a solemn divine liturgy celebrated by Bartholomew I in the patriarchal church of Fanar, then met with the Patriarch and the synodal commission which oversees relations with the Catholic Church.
Cardinal Koch presented a gift and a message from Pope Francis to Bartholomew I following the divine liturgy. The delegation also visited the Holy Theological School of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Halki, closed by the Turkish authorities in 1971 and awaiting permission to reopen.
In his message, the Pope writes: “Your Holiness, beloved brother in Christ, this is the first time that I address you on the occasion of the feast of the Apostle Andrew, the first-called. I take this opportunity to assure you of my intention to pursue fraternal relations between the Church of Rome and the Ecumenical Patriarchate. It is for me a source of great reassurance to reflect on the depth and the authenticity of our existing bonds, the fruit of a grace-filled journey along which the Lord has guided our Churches since the historic encounter in Jerusalem between Pope Paul VI and Patriarch Athenagoras, the fiftieth anniversary of which we will celebrate shortly. God, the source of all peace and love, has taught us throughout these years to regard one another as members of the same family. For indeed we have one Lord and one Saviour. We belong to him through the gift of the good news of salvation transmitted by the apostles, through the one baptism in the name of the Holy Trinity, and through the holy ministry. United in Christ, therefore, we already experience the joy of authentic brothers in Christ, while yet fully aware of not having reached the goal of full communion. In anticipation of the day in which we will finally take part together in the Eucharistic feast, Christians are duty-bound to prepare to receive this gift of God through prayer, inner conversion, renewal of life and fraternal dialogue.
“Our joy in celebrating the feast of the Apostle Andrew must not make us turn our gaze from the dramatic situation of the many people who are suffering due to violence and war, hunger, poverty and grave natural disasters. I am aware that you are deeply concerned for the situation of Christians in the Middle East and for their right to remain in their homelands. Dialogue, pardon and reconciliation are the only possible means to achieve the resolution of conflict. Let us be unceasing in our prayer to the all-powerful and merciful God for peace in this region, and let us continue to work for reconciliation and the just recognition of peoples’ rights.
“Your Holiness, the memory of the martyrdom of the apostle Saint Andrew also makes us think of the many Christians of all the Churches and Ecclesial Communities who in many parts of the world experience discrimination and at times pay with their own blood the price of their profession of faith. We are presently marking the 1700th anniversary of Constantine’s Edict, which put an end to religious persecution in the Roman Empire in both East and West, and opened new channels for the dissemination of the Gospel. Today, as then, Christians of East and West must give common witness so that, strengthened by the Spirit of the risen Christ, they may disseminate the message of salvation to the entire world. There is likewise an urgent need for effective and committed cooperation among Christians in order to safeguard everywhere the right to express publicly one’s faith and to be treated fairly when promoting the contribution which Christianity continues to offer to contemporary society and culture”, the Pope concluded.