We are committed to a work that Jesus Himself prayed for: “That all may be one.”
Achieving this unity among all Christians that Our Lord so desired, and yet is still so lacking in our world, takes many forms; but the one form that is foundational to our commitment is the unity between Eastern and Western Christianity — the reunification of the Catholic and Orthodox Churches, what St. John Paul II meant when he said, “The Church must breathe with her two lungs!”
That is why, in 2012, after years of work and reflection by our staff at Urbi et Orbi Communications and Inside the Vatican magazine, we formed the Urbi et Orbi Foundation, whose sole purpose is to work toward the reunification of the Church — to heal schism. Our western culture, lamentably, has turned from the “path of life” indicated to us by the Hebrew prophets, and by all the saints down through the ages, and, above all, by Christ himself. Our Church seems hesitant, and sadly divided. And the greatest, oldest division is that between Catholics and Orthodox, West and East, Latin and Greek.
The Vision of Pope Emeritus Benedict and, now, Pope Francis
During his pontificate, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI spoke eloquent and powerful words of faith, of self-sacrifice, and of holiness at a time when many did not want to hear those words.
One of the great themes of Pope Emeritus Benedict’s pontificate was the theme of Christian unity, especially unity between Catholics and Orthodox — and an end to the greatest schism in Christianity, dating from 1054 A.D. In his first homily as Pope, on April 20, 2005, he said his “primary” task would be to work tirelessly to unify all followers of Christ.
He repeated that pledge May 29, 2005, on his first journey as Pope, to Italy’s Adriatic seaport of Bari
- a pilgrimage site for many Russian Orthodox because it was the see of their beloved St. Nicholas
- and called on ordinary Catholics to join in this great and holy effort. We are among those who have taken up this cause.
Now, Pope Francis continues this effort with this untiring desire to overcome 1,000 years of division. In May 2014, Pope Francis and the Ecumenical Patriarch, Bartholomew, held private talks in Jerusalem and signed a Common Declaration in which they pledged to continue on the path towards unity between the Catholic and Orthodox Churches. In their joint declaration, Pope Francis and Patriarch Bartholomew said it is their duty to work together to protect human dignity and the family and build a just and humane society in which nobody is excluded. They also stressed the need to safeguard God’s creation and the right of religious freedom.
As Pope Francis told the Coptic Orthodox Pope Tawdros II in 2016, his hope is “to intensify our common efforts to persevere in the search for visible unity in diversity, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit…”
“Along this path, we are sustained by the powerful intercession and example of the martyrs. May we continue to advance together on our journey toward the same Eucharistic table, and grow in love and reconciliation,” he said.