Patriarch Bartholomew: 'Tremendous strides' taken in ecumenism

May 26, 2014

VATICAN CITY – When Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople meets Pope Francis in Jerusalem May 25, one of their main discussion topics will be the "diminishing Christian minorities in the Middle East," the patriarch told Catholic News Service.

Patriarch Bartholomew, first among equals by Orthodox bishops, also expressed concern over Ukraine's "fragile democracy that has barely emerged from the crushing atheistic Soviet era."

The patriarch replied to a series of written questions submitted by Catholic News Service.

Some of the questions and answers follow:

the letter q

What is the significance of your upcoming meeting with Pope Francis in Jerusalem, particularly in terms of promoting closer relations between the churches and more effective cooperation on issues of common concern?


the letter a

The meeting of the pope and the ecumenical patriarch in Jerusalem 50 years after the historic encounter of our ever-memorable predecessors, Paul VI and Athenagoras, should not be underestimated by anyone. Since that ground-breaking meeting, tremendous strides have been made in the relations between the Orthodox and the Roman Catholic Church.

Together, we have envisioned the real possibility of a fully shared ecclesial life, which is our vocation in Christ. The dialogues of love and truth that followed that fateful beginning have made important breakthroughs, even though the final goal of full and unbroken communion is yet to be achieved.

But as in all worthy endeavours, the journey is as important as the goal. Therefore, we and Pope Francis have committed to this sacred pilgrimage to the holy city of Jerusalem, to manifest the fraternal bonds between us.

There, in Mother Zion, we shall bear witness to the faith of Christ in the place where such faith was born.

the letter q

In your encyclical of Feb. 21, 2010, you strongly criticized some Orthodox Christians' resistance to ecumenism. Does such resistance pose a significant obstacle to dialogue with the Roman Catholic Church?


the letter a

All Orthodox autocephalous churches have agreed in engaging the theological bilateral dialogues with the other Christian churches. We are continuing in the same way to bear witness with our Orthodox faith so that "all may be one."

We are called by the apostle to "speak the truth in love." So when we call out brethren for their lack of love and of commitment to the wholeness of the Gospel, we do so with love, knowing that only love can remove the knots that bind the human heart in fear.

For resistance to encounter with the other is ultimately based in fear. Fear, left to its own devices, can degenerate into hatred and even violence. Why else do we see religious war rearing its terrible face in the world today?

the letter q

Would you comment on recent events in Ukraine and their impact on the Orthodox Church, both internally and in relations with Ukrainian Catholics?



the letter a

The situation in Ukraine is in every beat of our heart. We pray without ceasing for peaceful and nonviolent means to be employed by all parties. We know there are those who would divide the Ukrainian people along religious lines – Catholic against Orthodox and even Orthodox against Orthodox. Such a sad and cynical strategy will fail, because it underestimates the nobility of Ukraine and her glorious Christian history.

The roots of faith go deep in the rich soil of Ukraine, which has brought forth great exemplars of faith. How their identity shapes their national consciousness and spiritual values must be allowed to evolve in a positive and peaceful way.

Any other solution for Ukraine will destroy the fragile democracy that has barely emerged from the crushing atheistic Soviet era.