JERUSALEM — At an ecumenical celebration in Jerusalem during his visit to the region, Pope Francis told interdenominational Christians that the risen Christ unites them all in a message of hope for the world.
“Each of us, everyone baptized in Christ, has spiritually risen from this tomb, for in baptism, all of us truly became members of the body of the One who is the firstborn of all creation,” Pope Francis said.
The Pope encouraged those gathered to “pause in reverent silence before this empty tomb in order to rediscover the grandeur of our Christian vocation,” since “we are men and women of [the] Resurrection and not of death.”
“Let us not allow ourselves to be robbed of the basis of our hope! Let us not deprive the world of the joyful message of the Resurrection! And let us not be deaf to the powerful summons to unity, which rings out from this very place!”
Pope Francis made his remarks on May 25 at the Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre, after a private meeting with Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople Bartholomew I at Mount Scopus.
The Holy Father’s three-day visit to the area took him first to Jordan, Palestine and, now, Jerusalem. Aside from stressing peace, an end to the arms trade and a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the Pope has insisted on the importance of Christian unity during his trip.
Building New Fraternal Relationships
In his address to faithful gathered at the church built where Christ was crucified, Pope Francis underscored the basis “of the faith which unites us,” given by the empty tomb of the risen Lord.
The Pope then stressed that “the divisions which continue to exist among us, the disciples of Jesus,” cannot be denied and that “this sacred place makes us even more painfully aware of how tragic they are.”
Conscious that “much distance still needs to be traveled before we attain that fullness of communion,” Pope Francis said that “our disagreements must not frighten us and paralyze our progress.”
“Every time we ask forgiveness of one another for our sins against other Christians and every time we find the courage to grant and receive such forgiveness, we experience the Resurrection!”
“Every time we put behind us our long-standing prejudices and find the courage to build new fraternal relationships, we confess that Christ is truly risen! Every time we reflect on the future of the Church in the light of her vocation to unity, the dawn of Easter breaks forth!” said the Pope.
Pope Francis reiterated the hope of a continued dialogue “with all our brothers and sisters in Christ, aimed at finding a means of exercising the specific ministry of the Bishop of Rome, which, in fidelity to his mission, can be open to a new situation and can be, in the present context, a service of love and of communion acknowledged by all.”
In his address, Patriarch Bartholomew invited the faithful not to be afraid of death nor of evil, because “the cross of Christ amassed all the arrows of evil.”
“However, rest assured — all of you who are crucified in this life — that, just as in the case of Christ, the Resurrection follows the cross.”
According to Patriarch Bartholomew, the message that emanates from the tomb is that “history cannot be programmed” and that “the ultimate word in history does not belong to man, but to God.”
Bartholomew then stressed that the tomb “invites us to shed” the “fear of the other, fear of the different, fear of the adherent of another faith, another religion or another confession.”
While different forms of discrimination, often “permeating the religious life of people,” are “still widespread in many of our contemporary societies,” Patriarch Bartholomew underscored that “the message of the life-giving tomb is urgent and clear: Love the other, the different other, the followers of other faiths and other confessions.”
Recalling the historic 1964 meeting between Paul VI and Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras, Bartholomew I stressed that “they cast away from themselves the fear which had prevailed for a millennium, a fear which had kept the two ancient Churches, of the West and East, at a distance from one another, sometimes even setting them up against each other.”
On the footsteps of their predecessors, Bartholomew and Pope Francis have “exchanged the embrace of love,” since “no other way leads to life except the way of love, reconciliation, genuine peace and fidelity to the truth,” the patriarch affirmed.
Patriarch Bartholomew said that the way of love is that “Christians are called to follow in their relations among themselves — whatever church or confession they belong to — thereby providing an example to the rest of the world.”
“The way may be long and arduous; indeed, to some, it may occasionally seem like an impasse. However, it is the only way the leads to the fulfillment of the Lord’s will “that his disciples may be one.”