Vatican City, 29 February 2016 (VIS) – This morning, Pope Francis welcomed His Holiness Abune Mathias, Patriarch of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church. During the meeting the Bishop of Rome emphasized that the patriarch's visit strengthens the fraternal bonds that already unite both churches. He mentioned as milestones of the common path towards unity His Holiness Abune Paulos' encounters with St. John Paul II in 1993 and with Benedict XVI in 2009, who invited him to participate in the Synod of Bishops for Africa as was common practice in the early Church for representatives to be sent to the synods of other Churches. Likewise, a delegation from the Holy See was present at the 2012 funeral of Patriarch Abune Paulos.
Moreover, as Francis explained, since 2004 the Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Churches have deepened their communion through theological dialogue in the International Joint Commission, which over the years has analysed the fundamental concept of the Churches' communion understood as participation in the communion between Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Many things have been found in common: one faith, one baptism, one Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, and many elements of the monastic traditions and the liturgy. "What unites us," the Pope said, "is greater than what divides us."
He continued, "We truly feel that the words of the Apostle Paul apply to us: 'If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honoured, all rejoice together.' Shared sufferings have enabled Christians, otherwise divided in so many ways, to grow closer to one another. Just as in the early Church the shedding of the blood of martyrs became the seed of new Christians, so today the blood of the many martyrs of all the Churches has become the seed of Christian unity. The martyrs and saints of all the ecclesial traditions are already one in Christ. Their names are inscribed in the one martyrologium of the Church of God. The ecumenism of the martyrs is a summons to us, here and now, to advance on the path to ever greater unity."
The Pope recalled that the Orthodox Tewahedo Church has been, from the beginning, a Church of martyrs and that still today "you are witnessing a devastating outbreak of violence against Christians and other minorities in the Middle East and in some parts of Africa. We cannot fail, yet again, to implore those who govern the world’s political and economic life to promote a peaceful coexistence based on reciprocal respect and reconciliation, mutual forgiveness and solidarity." He also acknowledged the great strides being made in Ethiopia "to improve the living conditions of its people and to build an ever more just society, based on the rule of law and respect for the role of women". In particular, he noted the problem of access to water, with its grave social and economic repercussions. "There is great room for cooperation between the Churches in the service of the common good and the protection of creation," he stated, certain of "the readiness of the Catholic Church in Ethiopia to work together with the Orthodox Tewahedo Church".
"it is my fervent hope that this meeting will mark a new chapter of fraternal friendship between our Churches. We are conscious that history has left us with a burden of painful misunderstandings and mistrust, and for this we seek God’s pardon and healing. Let us pray for one another," the pontiff concluded, "invoking the protection of the martyrs and saints upon all the faithful entrusted to our pastoral care. May the Holy Spirit continue to enlighten us and guide our steps towards harmony and peace. May he nourish in us the hope that one day, with God’s help, we will be united around the altar of Christ’s sacrifice in the fullness of Eucharistic communion."