Ahead of attending a major Catholic-Lutheran commemoration of the Reformation in Sweden at the end of the month, Pope Francis reiterated today that Christians are already united when they are persecuted in an “ecumenism of blood.”

Speaking off-the-cuff to participants at the Conference for Secretaries of the Christian World Communions, an international ecumenical organization, the Pope said ecumenism is about journeying alongside others with Christ.

“Often we think that ecumenical work is only that of theologians,” the Pope said. “It is therefore important that theologians study, they agree, and they express their disagreement: this is very important. But in the meantime ecumenism journeys on. It journeys with Jesus, not ‘my Jesus against your Jesus’, but with our Jesus.”

He added: “The journey is simple: it is consists of prayer, with the help of others. Praying together: the ecumenism of prayer, for each other and all for unity. And then, the ecumenism of work for the many who are in need, for many men and women who today suffer as a result of injustice, wars, these terrible things. … All together, we must help. Love for our neighbour. This is ecumenism. This is already unity. Unity in journeying with Jesus”.

The Pope then went on to add that there is another form of ecumenism that typifies our age: that of blood. “When terrorists or world powers persecute Christian minorities or Christians”, he observed, “they do not ask: ‘Are you Lutheran? Are you Orthodox? Are you Catholic? Are you Reformed? Are you Pentecostal?’ No. ‘You are Christian’. They recognise one only: the Christian.

“The enemy is not wrong,” the Pope continued. “He recognises where to find Jesus. And this is the ecumenism of blood. Nowadays we are witnesses to this, and I think of the Orthodox brethren beheaded on the beaches of Libya, for example: they are our brothers. They gave witness to Jesus and they died saying, ‘Jesus, help me!’. With His name: they confessed the name of Jesus”.

“Therefore, ecumenism in prayer, ecumenism in our journey, and the enemy teaches us the ecumenism of blood,” Francis said.

Since 2013, the Pope has often spoken about an “ecumenism of blood”, most notably in a joint declaration with Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, and in a speech to Armenian Patriarch Karekin II.

The term has been widely welcomed as an important contribution to Christian unity and reflective of Francis’ ardent wish for communion among Christians. Critics, however, have expressed concern that it directly contradicts the Council of Florence of the 15th century which stated that “no one, whatever almsgiving he has practiced, even if he has shed blood for the name of Christ, can be saved, unless he has remained in the bosom and unity of the Catholic Church.” Benedict XIV, pope from 1740 to 1758, later stated that if someone lives in “invincible ignorance” and is “ready to believe in any proposal of legitimate authority, he may be considered a martyr before God (coram Deo), but not before the Church (coram Ecclesia).”

The Conference of Secretaries of Christian World Communions meets annually in October to “improve mutual awareness.”

It is made up of the Anglican Communion, the World Baptist Alliance, the Disciples Ecumenical Consultative Council, the Ecumenical Patriarchate (Eastern Orthodox), General Conference of Seventh-Day Adventists, the International Old Catholic Bishops’ Conference, the World Lutheran Foundation, the Mennonite World Conference, the Moravian Church Worldwide Unity Board, the Patriarchate of Moscow (Eastern Orthodox), the Pentecostals, the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity (Catholic Church), the Reformed Ecumenical Council, the Salvation Army, the Friends World Committee for Consultation (Quakers), the World Convention of Churches of Christ, the World Evangelical Alliance and the World Methodist Council. A representative of the World Council of Churches is also usually present.