CWN - In a January 27 message to a joint commission of Catholic and Oriental Orthodox theologians, Pope Francis offered the hope that the suffering of believers in the Middle East today will bring Christians closer to full unity.
The Oriental Orthodox churches are the ancient Christian communities that broke with Rome in the 5th century, after the Council of Chalcedon. They are based mostly in the Middle East, and Pope Francis remarked that many of their communities “witness daily the spread of violence and acts of brutality perpetrated by fundamentalist extremism.” Without explicitly mentioning the influence of radical Islamic ideology, the Pope said that such extremism can “more easily take root in the context of great poverty, injustice, and social exclusion,” and said that foreign interests aggravate the problem.
The Pope said that his “heart goes out to the bishops, priests, consecrated men and women, and the lay faithful who have been cruelly abducted, taken hostage, or enslaved.” He went on to say that the faithful can take courage from the knowledge that the blood of martyrs has always enriched the Church. He prayed: “in our day may the blood of so many martyrs be a seed of unity between believers.” The witness of martyrs, he said, could spur the faithful toward “that greatly desired day when we will have the grace of celebrating the Lord’s sacrifice at the same altar, as a sign of fully restored ecclesial communion.”