By Charles Igwe
Pope Francis extended a warm welcome to His Holiness Baselios Marthoma Mathews III, the Catholicos of the East and Malankara Metropolitan of the Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church, during his visit to the Vatican on September 11, 2023. In his address, Pope Francis expressed deep gratitude for the growing bonds between their respective traditions since the Second Vatican Council.
The Pope emphasized the historical significance of their meeting and the visits between their predecessors. He affectionately referred to Catholicos Baselios Marthoma Mathews III as “a beloved and long-awaited Brother,” highlighting the sense of belonging and unity within the Christian faith.
Pope Francis acknowledged the ancient roots of the Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church, tracing its origins back to the Apostle Thomas. He underscored the shared faith in Jesus as Lord and God, expressing hope for unity, particularly as they approached the 1700th anniversary of the Council of Nicaea. The Pope recognized that divisions among Christians throughout history had inflicted painful wounds on the Body of Christ, which is the Church, and stressed the need to heal these divisions collectively.
Addressing the wounds caused by historical divisions, Pope Francis called for prayer, charity, and dialogue as essential means to bring Christians closer together. He stated, “In the meantime, dear Brother, let us advance together in the prayer that purifies us, in the charity that unites us, and in the dialogue that brings us closer to one another.”
Pope Francis also mentioned the historic Christological agreement reached by the Joint International Commission, emphasizing that differences in terminology should not create division when proclaiming Christ. He commended the declaration for recognizing that these differences can coexist within the same communion and should not hinder the shared mission of proclaiming Christ worldwide.
Highlighting the importance of synodality, the Pope praised the synodal experience of the Malankara Orthodox Church and its potential contributions to the Catholic Church’s synodal process. He expressed his conviction that the ecumenical movement and synodal process could mutually enrich each other.
The Pope concluded his address by invoking the intercession of Saint Thomas the Apostle for unity and witness. He drew a poignant connection between Saint Thomas’s transition from disbelief to belief upon seeing Jesus’ wounds and the hope for complete healing of past wounds within the Christian community. Pope Francis prayed that, through their shared contemplation of the crucified and risen Lord, transcending distance and misunderstanding, Christ would be recognized and adored at a single Eucharistic altar.
The meeting between Pope Francis and Catholicos Baselios Marthoma Mathews III exemplifies the spirit of ecumenism and the shared commitment to unity within the Christian faith.