Pope Francis' trip to the Holy Land will be known for many significant moments (which will be discussed in this space in the coming days), but for the sake of Christian unity, perhaps no moment can be seen as more important in that regard than the Pope's meeting with the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, Bartholomew I, on Sunday at Mount Scopus in Jerusalem. The meeting was held to mark the 50th Anniversary of a similar meeting between Pope Paul VI and the then-Patriarch of Constantinople, Athenagoras. At that meeting, the two patriarchs lifted the centuries' old mutual excommunication between Rome and Constantinople.
At this meeting, Francis and Bartholomew signed a joint declaration in which they said that Catholic and Orthodox brethren look forward “in eager anticipation to the day in which we will finally partake together in the Eucharistic banquet...preparing to receive this gift of Eucharistic communion through the confession of the one faith, persevering prayer, inner conversion, renewal of life and fraternal dialogue.”
The Pope and Patriarch were keen that the declaration and their continuing dialogue not be seen to confuse the faithful, saying that their efforts toward total unity of orthodox Christendom in East and West “does not seek a theological lowest common denominator on which to reach a compromise, but is rather about deepening one’s grasp of the whole truth that Christ has given to his Church,” both primates said in the document. “Our faithfulness to the Lord demands fraternal encounter and true dialogue, a common pursuit that does not lead us away from the truth, rather, through an exchange of gifts, it will lead us into all truth.” The joint declaration also outlined ways in which the Papacy and the Patriarchate could work together for the betterment of humanity, which included calling attention to the plight of the unborn, the hungry, the poorest of the world's poor, and caring for our environment.