"Today the concept of truth is viewed with suspicion, because truth is identified with violence. Over history there have, unfortunately, been episodes when people sought to defend the truth with violence. But they are two contrasting realities. Truth cannot be imposed with means other than itself! Truth can only come with its own light. Yet, we need truth. ... Without truth we are blind in the world, we have no path to follow. The great gift of Christ was that He enabled us to see the face of God".Pope Benedict xvi, February 24th, 2012

The Church is ecumenical, catholic, God-human, ageless, and it is therefore a blasphemy—an unpardonable blasphemy against Christ and against the Holy Ghost—to turn the Church into a national institution, to narrow her down to petty, transient, time-bound aspirations and ways of doing things. Her purpose is beyond nationality, ecumenical, all-embracing: to unite all men in Christ, all without exception to nation or race or social strata. - St Justin Popovitch

Friday 15 September 2017



Along with the majority of our readers, "I believe in one, holy, catholic and apostolic church," as is proclaimed in the Creed, but I do not believe in the schisms that divide us, at least, not in the same way as I believe in what the Creed proclaims.  I know they exist and would not cross any line that is forbidden to cross by any of our sister churches: I respect them too much. However, I know these barriers were erected by us human beings because our opinions of each other had passed beyond the limits of our charity into the darkness of self-satisfied ignorance. As the Divine Liturgy implies, because we had ceased to love one another, we became unable to sing the Creed together with one mind; and we called this inability "orthodoxy".

If God had abandoned us, this would have been a terrible error, a victory for Satan, and a large part of the Christian world would have been swept clear of God's grace.   But Christ promised that where two or three are gathered together in His Name, He would be in our midst; that if anyone asked for the gift of the Holy Spirit, it would be granted; that He would be with us until the end of time and that the gates of hell would not prevail against the Church.  Moreover, at the very centre of history is the Cross, with the Holy Spirit pulsating outwards to all human beings and human events everywhere; with the crucified Christ stretching out to all sinners, bringing about humility where once there was pride, a humility that allows us to share in his sacrifice.   Also, in spite of our unworthiness, Christ has allowed us to humbly  him by celebrating his Eucharist down the ages; and it is here where we become his body that we find our visible unity in Christ which none of us can destroy because it is not our work but His. 

Whoever celebrates the Eucharist celebrates with all others who celebrate, or have celebrated or will celebrate the Eucharist, because there is only one Eucharist.  The ecumenical problem is how to live out in our everyday ecclesial life what we celebrate in the Eucharist.  For us Catholics, at this moment, Pope Francis is leading the way.

After Pope Francis attended the Armenian Orthodox Mass during his visit to Armenia, he said,
“We have met, we have embraced as brothers, we have prayed together and shared the gifts, hopes and concerns of the Church of Christ,” Francis told Karekin on Sunday, after taking part in an Orthodox Divine Liturgy staged at the headquarters of the Apostolic Church in Etchmiadzin.

“We have felt as one her beating heart, and we believe and experience that the Church is one,” he said.

He said that, even though he could not communicate, he felt the beating heart of the Catholic Church in the Eucharist, and that, in that experience, Catholics and Armenians together, "We believe and experience that the Church is one."

It is as assertion of absolute unity in Christ through the Eucharist that is contradicted by the schism.  It is an urgent challenge to Catholics, Armenians and anyone else who finds themselves in this position, like Fr Peter Heers and the Greek Orthodox, to try to solve the problems that keep us apart.  This teaching doesn't justify the schism, but shares out both the blame and the responsibility to love one another that the Eucharist implies and, within the context of ecclesial love, to jointly seek the solution. It means that

 Schism contradicts the deepest self of every church that is involved.  

Schism must be tackled because it makes the Church invisible to the world. Only unity in love makes it visible to   ordinary people (Jn 17, 21)

In this post, the only papal visits that shall be mentioned are those to Armenia and Egypt.  This isn't because his meetings with the Patriarchs of Constantinople and Moscow, or his meeting with the head of the Assyrian Church are any less importance.  In fact, his friendship with Patriarch Bartholomew is extremely important as is hisdesire for a friendship with Moscow.  But there is enough material to show us what Pope Francis' ecclesiology is, what doctrine underpins the ecumenical dimension of his pontificate.   He considers it the first task of the Petrine ministry to work for unity, both within and without the Roman Communion, whether people believe in the papacy or not.  There were different understandings of the papacy in the first thousand years, but that didn't stop the pope exercising his ministry.  That wasn't a problem, and it shouldn't be now.

There isn't anything here about his attitude towards Protestants whose separation from ecclesial structures were much more radical and involved the rejection of Tradition in favour of sola scriptura.  Pope Francis says that the absolute essential for being a Christian is a personal relation with Christ.   In this relationship, Christ always gives himself to the believer fully, motivated by divine mercy and - to quote Luther - in actu fidei Jesus Christus adest.  Hence, there is already an implicit connection with and benefit from the celebration of Mass from which history has excluded them, and this benefit is mediated to them through their own ecclesial structures, even through their communion services that are, from a Catholic point of view, are objectively invalid.   This is already implicit in Catholic practice that will give to a Protestant holy communion in cases of extreme need if he believes in the real presence, but not if his own objectively invalid sacrament is available.   We don't know how God benefits them through their communion service, but we do know that God is infinite in his Mercy and Christ is infinite in his divine ability to act, so we can hope for the best.   The basis for Pope Francis' whole theology about anything is the absolute generosity of God's Mercy in every concrete circumstance. This is the reason why he accepts the Orthodox distinction between acribia, strict observance of the Church's rules, and economia, an appeal to the overall purpose of the Christian Mystery - the salvation of each person.   Both are important - the Church cannot do without either - and, in the Church, it is up to the bishops in each region to decide, not the individual conscience. However, in cases outside the Church's control, God's Mercy has the last word.

my source in this blog

I don't know if Pope Francis has ever read Thomas Merton or whether Thomas Merton ever helped to mould Pope Francis's ideas; but I do know that understanding one will help us to understand the other.   The basic belief of both is in the incarnate God whose presence and salvific activity finds its fullness of expression in the Catholic Church.   The Church is uniquely Catholic and true because it is the body of him who is the universal Cause and Source of salvation.   However, they are both conscious that, when God became man , he was united to the whole human race by the power of the Spirit.

 A change took place at the very heart of each human being, at the point, deep down, where God's creative action across time and space results in each person's continued existence .   At the very point where Infinite Love loves us into existence, a link was made  by the Holy Spirit at the Incarnation between each person and Christ, a link that unites us all to Christ and to what he did to save us.  This link allowed Christ to take all our suffering and all our sin on himself, and gave his sacrifice the capacity to be our sacrifice too, his death and resurrection to be ours.   Thus, in Christ, the whole human race became one in a new way, an organism brought about by Grace.

The moment when Father Louis (Thomas Merton) realised this has become famous.   Here is his own account of his experience:
In Louisville, at the corner of Fourth and Walnut, in the center of the shopping district, I was suddenly overwhelmed with the realization that I loved all those people, that they were mine and I theirs, that we could not be alien to one another even though we were total strangers. It was like waking from a dream of separateness, of spurious self-isolation in a special world, the world of renunciation and supposed holiness. The whole illusion of a separate holy existence is a dream. Not that I question the reality of my vocation, or of my monastic life: but the conception of “separation from the world” that we have in the monastery too easily presents itself as a complete illusion: the illusion that by making vows we become a different species of being, pseudo-angels, “spiritual men,” men of interior life, what have you.Certainly these traditional values are very real, but their reality is not of an order outside everyday existence in a contingent world, nor does it entitle one to despise the secular: though “out of the world,” we are in the same world as everybody else, the world of the bomb, the world of race hatred, the world of technology, the world of mass media, big business, revolution, and all the rest. We take a different attitude to all these things, for we belong to God. Yet so does everybody else belong to God. We just happen to be conscious of it, and to make a profession out of this consciousness. But does that entitle us to consider ourselves different, or even better, than others? The whole idea is preposterous.This sense of liberation from an illusory difference was such a relief and such a joy to me that I almost laughed out loud. And I suppose my happiness could have taken form in the words: “Thank God, thank God that I am like other men, that I am only a man among others.” To think that for sixteen or seventeen years I have been taking seriously this pure illusion that is implicit in so much of our monastic thinking.It is a glorious destiny to be a member of the human race, though it is a race dedicated to many absurdities and one which makes many terrible mistakes: yet, with all that, God Himself gloried in becoming a member of the human race. A member of the human race! To think that such a commonplace realization should suddenly seem like news that one holds the winning ticket in a cosmic sweepstake.I have the immense joy of being man, a member of a race in which God Himself became incarnate. As if the sorrows and stupidities of the human condition could overwhelm me, now that I realize what we all are. And if only everybody could realize this! But it cannot be explained. There is no way of telling people that they are all walking around shining like the sun.This changes nothing in the sense and value of my solitude, for it is in fact the function of solitude to make one realize such things with a clarity that would be impossible to anyone completely immersed in the other cares, the other illusions, and all the automatisms of a tightly collective existence. My solitude, however, is not my own, for I see now how much it belongs to them — and that I have a responsibility for it in their regard, not just in my own. It is because I am one with them that I owe it to them to be alone, and when I am alone, they are not “they” but my own self. There are no strangers!Then it was as if I suddenly saw the secret beauty of their hearts, the depths of their hearts where neither sin nor desire nor self-knowledge can reach, the core of their reality, the person that each one is in God’s eyes. If only they could all see themselves as they really are. If only we could see each other that way all the time. There would be no more war, no more hatred, no more cruelty, no more greed…I suppose the big problem would be that we would fall down and worship each other. But this cannot be seen, only believed and “understood” by a peculiar gift.
He wrote on another occasion:
Life is this simple: we are living in a world that is absolutely transparent and the divine is shining through it all the time. This is not just a nice story or a fable, it is true. ”
He also said that Christ is everywhere, absolutely everywhere, and we must dig to find him in every situation.

 As a Desert Father put it, just as a change in the weather affects both good and bad alike, so Christ's death and resurrection brought all human beings into a radically new situation.   However, it is a situation which we must poritively choose whenever the opportunity arises.
We were brought into the world without our consent; but, as far as possible, we will be saved by Christ only in so far as we consent to his action in us.

 To this end, Christ founded the Church which proclaims the Truth and celebrates the Christian Mystery, becoming one body with Christ, Christ's visible presence on earth.   It is the place where the Christian life can be consciously chosen and lived.   It is also the place for absolute values arising from our relationship with the absolute authority of God. We can assent to them because membership of the Church offers us the possibility of sharing in Christ's mind, mainly through our sharing in the Liturgy and in Catholic Tradition.   Hence the Church is a place for clear, authoritative teaching.  

In contrast, we live in a world in which each person has to decide what is good and pursue it, find out what is bad and reject it.   No one is exempt from this; no one can stop thinking and simply passively accept other peoples' judgements.   In the words of Thomas Merton, we must all stand on our own feet.   Even when we come to realise the necessity for a teaching Church with clear moral principles, we arrive at that position, swimming against the current, by our own individual choice, by following what we believe to be good and rejecting what we believe to be evil.   Cardinal John Henry Newman came to accept the authority of the Catholic Church,  but only after a long pilgrimage and a chain of highly personal decisions.

In Pope Francis's interview with Scafari,  the following dialogue took place:
He [the Pope] is still smiling and replies: "Proselytism is a solemn foolishness, it makes no sense. We must get to know each other, listen to each other, and increase the understanding of the world that surrounds us. It happens to me that after one encounter I have the desire for another, because new ideas emerge and new needs are discovered. This is important: to get to know one another, listen to one another, broaden the circle of thought. The world is covered with roads that come together and draw apart, but the important thing is that they lead toward the good."
Your Holiness, is there a single vision of the good? And who establishes it?
"Each one of us has his own vision of good and also of evil. We must incite him to proceed toward that which he thinks is the good."
Your Holiness, you have already written about this in the letter you addressed to me. Conscience is autonomous, you said, and each must obey his own conscience. I think that this is one of the most courageous passages spoken by a pope.
"And I repeat it here. Each one of us has his own idea of good and of evil, and he must choose to follow the good and fight the evil as he understands them. This would be enough to improve the world."
Pope Francis is only following the teaching of John Henry Newman who wrote: "It is as absurd to argue men, as to torture them, into believing."   He also said,"I shall drink to the Pope, if you please, still, to conscience first, and to the Pope afterwards."
Thomas Merton also put emphasis on the individual's personal quest.  He wrote:

In the last analysis, the individual person is responsible for living his own life and for 'finding himself.' If he persists in shifting his responsibility to somebody else, he fails to find out the meaning of his own existence.
Both Pope Francis and Thomas Merton choose dialogue as the main means for communicating with the world around them.   Teaching Catholic Truth about faith and morals is only apt for those who have attained enough communion in Christ and the Church for the teachings to make sense.   When this is not so, and it is not so for most people in the modern world, what Pope Benedict called the "Tyranny of Relativism" is often the only option.   Hammering away at them with our absolute prohibition of abortion, for example, will not convince them.  Neither will hiding our conviction that abortion is wrong.   However, there are other, more basic subjects that have to be agreed between us for our conviction against abortion to make sense to them

What drives both Pope Francis and Thomas Merton to dialogue is the conviction that Christ is already present anonymously in the people who are struggling to discover what is good and reject what is evil, even when they are in disagreement.   We look for Christ in them, look for common ground; knowing that, if we discover this common ground and the work of grace in them, we will also learn more about what it is to be a disciple of Christ.   Humble obedience to Christ, wherever he is, and however he presents himself, is the secret of growth.   The dialogue partner of Pope Francis is "modern man"; while the dialogue partner of Thomas Merton was, so often, Buddhist and Hindu holy men.   Dialogue can only take place if we believe that, in Christ, God united himself to the whole human race, and that God's activity in the heart of each human being complements the Church's task of proclaiming the Gospel.  What is offered by God to all is a reality above and beyond words: in the heart, God acts at  deeper level than the place where words are formed; and, in the proclamation by the Church, it is not the arguments so much as the witness of those who proclaim the Gospel that tells people that there is a Reality beyond the message that reveals itself through the message, nothing less than a share in the divine Life.
We are used to Popes who teach faith and morals as though all those who listen are sufficiently "Catholic" to simply accept what they say because they share the same faith as the Pope.   For some time, both Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI have urged the necessity for a New Evangelisation.   Perhaps they did not realise that it would be necessary to speak to the "de-evangelised" in a different way from the way they were accustomed to speak to the faithful.   That is what Pope Francis is doing.

by Yelena Ambartsumian
my source: Public Orthodoxy

Ahead of Pope Francis’s recent visit to Armenia (June 24-26), there was much speculation as to whether he would again use the word “genocide” in reference to the massacres of 1.5 million Armenians by the Ottoman Turks in 1915. The prepared remarks, released by the Vatican, appeared to omit that politically charged designation—instead opting for words such as “tragedy,” “slaughter,” and “immense suffering.” Nevertheless, once in Armenia, Pope Francis departed from the prepared text and said, “Sadly, that tragedy, that genocide, was the first of the deplorable series of catastrophes of the past century, made possible by twisted racial, ideological or religious aims that darkened the minds of the tormentors even to the point of planning the annihilation of entire peoples.”

Turkey responded by suggesting that Pope Francis and his Papacy possess “all the reflections and traces of [a] crusader mentality.” Last year, after Pope Francis had referred to the massacres as what is “widely considered ‘the first genocide of the 20th century’” at a centennial commemoration in Saint Peter’s Basilica, Turkish President Recep Erdogan swiftly condemned the Pope and recalled Turkey’s ambassador to the Holy See for ten months.

Given this context, Pope Francis’s visit to Armenia came at a critical time.  Armenia is a landlocked country of about 3 million people. It is bordered by Turkey, Azerbaijan, Iran, and Georgia. Two of its borders—those with Turkey and Azerbaijan—have been closed to Armenia since the majority-Armenian populated region of Nagorno Karabakh sought independence from Azerbaijan and reunification with Armenia in the early 1990’s. That conflict remains unresolved: in April of this year, Azerbaijan tried, unsuccessfully, to take back Nagorno Karabakh by force.

In many ways, Armenia’s isolation transcends its current physical boundaries. Even though the Armenians were the first people to accept Christianity as their official religion (301 AD), their church has been sacramentally independent of Roman and Eastern Christianity since its rejection of the Council of Chalcedon in 451. Despite the pressures from its geographic and economic isolation, however, Armenia has demonstrated to the rest of the Christian world that it takes its moral responsibilities seriously. Indeed, Armenia has welcomed 20,000 refugees from Syria over the past few years.

The sites chosen during Pope Francis’s visit have both religious and political significance to the Armenian people. Most evident of this was Pope Francis’s trip to Khor Virap with Karekin II (Supreme Patriarch and Catholicos of All Armenians). Khor Virap (meaning “Deep Pit”) is the site of Armenia’s conversion to Christianity: it is where Saint Gregory the Illuminator was imprisoned for thirteen years before miraculously healing King Tiridates of a mysterious illness and then baptizing the King. Khor Virap is also the vantage point of Armenia’s great territorial losses.  If one looks toward the west, one can see Mount Ararat—a symbol of Armenia—which is now located within the closed borders of modern-day Turkey. At Khor Virap, Pope Francis and Karekin II released white doves toward Turkey, as a gesture of peace. In fact, throughout his visit, Pope Francis repeatedly called on Armenia and Turkey to reconcile.

Pope Francis’s visit was also ecumenically important.  Reflecting on his time praying with Karekin II, Pope Francis said, “We have felt as one [the Church’s] beating heart, and we believe and experience that the Church is one.”  Karekin II, addressing the faithful in Gyumri, Armenia, noted that “Gyumri and the church of the Holy Mother of God (Yotverk) became a tangible provider and preacher for ecumenism, years before the modern definition of ecumenism was established.”  Indeed, throughout the Soviet period, the parish was a refuge for Armenian Apostolic, Catholic, and Eastern Orthodox Christians alike.

Cementing the ecumenical purpose of the trip, at a final Mass on June 26th, Pope Francis said, “May an ardent desire for unity rise up in our hearts, a unity that must not be the submission of one to the other, or assimilation, but rather the acceptance of all the gifts that God has given to each,” and then asked Karekin II to, “Bless me, bless me and the Catholic Church, and bless this path toward full unity.”

Pope Francis’s respect for and handling of the Armenian Church demonstrates a sophisticated understanding of the Armenian people. After centuries of constant external pressure, the Armenian self-identity has developed in a way that looks largely inward.  Indeed, due to Armenia’s vacillating status as a regional  power, buffer state, and finally a subjugated and persecuted people, the Armenians have learned to rely on themselves and to distrust others.

The Armenian identity thus conceives of its people’s inherent uniqueness, based on a common ethnicity, language, religion, and historical experience. Armenia’s adoption of Christianity coupled with its independence from Byzantium—its powerful neighbor—helps to explain this paradoxical self-identity. As historian Nina Garsoian writes, “The conversion of Armenia to Christianity was probably the most crucial step in its history.  It turned Armenia sharply away from its Iranian past and stamped it for centuries with an intrinsic character as clear to the native population as to those outside its borders, who identified Armenia almost at once as the first state to adopt Christianity.” Moreover, the creation of the Armenian alphabet in the early 5th century helped to further homogenize and differentiate Armenian culture from its Christian neighbors, allowing its churches to conduct their Liturgies in Armenian, rather than in Greek or Syriac. Centuries later, the persecution and massacres of the Armenian people during the Ottoman Empire’s decline, undoubtedly, pushed the Armenian identity further inward. The vast territorial losses that accompanied these massacres left the surviving Armenian population clinging to the highlands of modern-day Armenia and, failed by the great powers, to each other.

Pope Francis appeared fully cognizant of this history and underscored these themes when he addressed the Armenian people, stating, “Your own people’s memory is ancient and precious. Your voices echo those of past sages and saints; your words evoke those who created your alphabet in order to proclaim God’s word; your songs blend the afflictions and the joys of your history. As you ponder these things, you can clearly recognize God’s presence.  He has not abandoned you.” Pope Francis also challenged the Armenian faithful to strive for unity, so that—with the assistance of God’s mercy—we might all overcome divisions.

Thus far, Pope Francis has shown the Armenians that he stands with them and is willing, despite political pressure, to challenge Turkey’s denialist narrative. While Armenia has been understandably reluctant to look outside of itself or beyond its diaspora, the country would be well served to continue to strengthen its ties with Pope Francis and the Roman Catholic Church. This visit was a promising start.

Yelena Ambartsumian is a graduate of the Fordham College at Lincoln Center Honors Program (2010) and Fordham Law School (2013).

by Massimo Faggioli                                my source: Public Orthodoxy

Pope Francis’ trip to Egypt (April 28-29, 2017) has been one of the most important and difficult for this pontificate, given the international political situation and the plight of Coptic Christians in Egypt and of all Christians between Africa and the Middle East. It is not easy to look at this trip through one single interpretive lens, and therefore it requires the attempt to read it in the context of the pontificate.

A first level was the trip of Francis as expression of the modern magisterium of the pope of the Catholic Church on the relationship between religion as defensor of human rights and political rights in an age of evident crisis of faith not only in God, but also in our fellow human beings – the crisis of democracy. Interestingly, in his speech to the strongman of Egypt, general Al Sisi, and to the political authorities, Francis quoted from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948 but also from the Egyptian Constitution of 2014, delivering a blunt reminder to Egyptian political authorities: “It is our duty to proclaim together that history does not forgive those who preach justice, but then practice injustice.” Francis walked a very fine line between the need to avoid the impression of a papal blessing of the post-Islamist regime of Al Sisi in Egypt, more friendly to Christians than the brief period of Morsi on one side, and on the other side the need not to be silent before the disturbing record of the present regime in terms of the respect of democratic rights and of freedom.

The second level was the inter-religious relations. Pope Francis had to deal with the difficult legacy of the Regensburg address of Benedict XVI in 2006, which was a typical example of the divided and mutually opposed and deeply misguided, ideological receptions of Ratzinger’s most important public pronouncements (similarly to what happened to the famous speech on the “two hermeneutics of Vatican II” of December 2005). For hardliner, “occidentalist” Catholics the Regensburg speech was the gold standard of the Catholic response to Islam, while for some Muslims it was the manifestation of the crusading mentality of the Vatican. Despite the attempts to frame Bergoglio’s response to the invitation to the peace conference organized by Al Azhar as “Francis’ Regensburg speech”, the tone and the content were significantly different. In his speech to the international peace conference at Al Azhar, Francis quoted from the Second Vatican Council (the declaration Nostra Aetate on non-Christian religions and the constitution Gaudium et Spes on the Church in the modern world) and from John Paul II’s visits to Egypt in 2000 and from the first interreligious meeting of prayer in Assisi in 1986).

There is then the third level of the ecumenical and ecclesial relations, where the intra-Catholic and the inter-Christian relations are more interconnected than before. There are technical aspects of his visit and agreement with Pope Tawadros II that will have to be evaluated in time, especially about re-baptism: “Today we, Pope Francis and Pope Tawadros II, in order to please the heart of the Lord Jesus, as well as that of our sons and daughters in the faith, mutually declare that we, with one mind and heart, will seek sincerely not to repeat the baptism that has been administered in either of our Churches for any person who wishes to join the other.” In this respect, also pope Tawadros has to deal with the “dubia” raised through the media by his opponents.

What is most important is that Francis’ visit to Egypt has confirmed the complex nature of the ecumenical dimension of this pontificate, where we can see three kinds of ecumenism. The first ecumenism is that of bilateral relations between Churches: commissions of theologians and prelates who discuss documents that the Churches will have to approve or reject, or approve and put in a drawer. Francis sees a role for this ecumenism of bilateral commissions and official joint declarations, but without being driven or bound by this kind of relationship that is typical of the ecumenism of the post-Vatican II period and which has brought significant fruits, especially on the basis of relations of the Catholic Church with Lutherans, Anglicans, and Orthodox, but also with non-Chalcedonian Churches (the 1973 Common Declaration of Pope Paul VI and the Pope of Alexandria Shenouda III). Francis is aware of the different roles of the official ecumenical dialogues and of the ecumenical dialogue that is related to his “ecclesiology of the people”: an ecclesiology of the people endowed with an infallibilitas in credendo (exhortation Evangelii Gaudium of November 24, 2013, par. 119) – the people’s infallibility in the foundations of its faith. The ecumenical relations between different Churches need solemn acts and official texts, but without the reception of them by the people they would be meaningless. Francis knows that post-Vatican II ecumenism has been made and received by the lay Christian faithful and that there is no hermeneutical re-discussion of Vatican II that can stop this progress.

Then there is a second type of ecumenism, of which Francis has often spoken: “the ecumenism of blood” (from the beginning of his pontificate: see his interview with Andrea Tornielli of the Italian newspaper La Stampa, 14 December 2013), the brotherhood and sisterhood of Christians of every church and theological tradition in the face of persecutions, especially in the Middle East, Africa, and Asia. On this score, it is significant that the Ecumenical Patriarch, Bartholomew I, joined Francis in Egypt in a show of solidarity with Coptic Christians.  Martyrdom as a theological source is redefining ecumenism more than the theological and ecclesiastical systems in the West can comprehend. The issue of refugees escaping persecution is a humanitarian and political issue, but also an interfaith and ecumenical one. From discussions about “Eucharistic hospitality” (giving communion to Christians who are members of another Church, not Catholic-Roman) we have moved on to the problem of hospitality tout court of those who (including many Christians, Catholics and not) flee from death and destruction: it is not a theologically less relevant question than that of Eucharistic communion. Christianity is now put to the test more by its response to the humanitarian crisis of today than by the dogmatic obstacles in the full communion between Churches.

Finally, there is the third type of ecumenism, the one it is most difficult to speak in the Catholic Church, for it is the most difficult and delicate: intra-Catholic ecumenism, among Catholics of devotions and different “obediences” and idiosyncratic identities. Francis insistently called to dialogue and rejection of sectarianism between Churches, but also within the Catholic Church. Francis has repeatedly appealed to the various Catholic movements to coexist in local churches without temptation to occupy spaces or claim primogeniture rights. His trip to Egypt was a powerful reminder against the Catholic temptation to see Christianity through a West vs. East lens: it has been a subtle message against the Catholic “Orientalization” of the Eastern Churches – the temptation to see in them something like a museum of exotic, pre-modern and anti-modern Christianity – as well as against the Catholic “Occidentalization” of itself – Catholicism as an essentially Western religion. In this sense, Francis’ ecumenism is challenging different kinds of Catholics certainly not less than non-Catholic Christians.

Massimo Faggioli is Professor of Theology and Religious Studies at Villanova University.

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