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Travel companions

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Travel companions

A Reflection by Pope Benedict XIII

My first close personal contact with the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew was granted in the year 2002 on the way to the World Meeting of Prayer in Assisi. It was Saint
Pope John Paul II”€™s idea to travel together by train to Assisi in order to
express our inner journey alongside the external trip. For me it was a joy to
learn that the patriarch had invited me to sit with him for a while in the same
compartment and, in this way, to become personally closer.

For me, this meeting”€”along the way”€”is more than an accidental expression for the state of the faith. I was also immediately moved by the personal openness and warmth of
the patriarch. It required no great effort for us to become close to one
another. His inner openness and simplicity immediately brought with it
comfortable intimacy. Naturally, what also contributed to this feeling was the
fact that he speaks all of the major European languages, not only French and
English, but also Italian and German. Even more surprising for me was the fact
that he has mastery of Latin and knows how to express himself in that language.
If one can converse with someone in one”€™s own language, there is an immediacy
of speaking heart to heart and thought to thought. The patriarch has studied
not only in the realm of the Orthodox Church, but also in Munich and Rome. To
the diversity of languages there also corresponds, in the process, a diversity
of cultures in which he moves. In this way, from its very depths, his thought
is a journey with others and toward others, which certainly does not degenerate
into a lack of direction, in which “€œbeing on the road”€ would simply lead
nowhere. Deep rootedness in faith in Jesus Christ, the Son of the living God
and our Redeemer, does not stand in the way of openness to the other because
Jesus Christ bears in himself all truth. At the same time, however, this
rootedness protects us from slipping into triviality and from an empty play of
vanity because it holds us in the truth, which belongs to all and desires to be
the way for all.

Thus, I somehow see in this our first meeting a picture of the entire personality of the ecumenical patriarch: living on the road toward a goal; living in the many dimensions of
the great cultures; living in encounter, borne by the fundamental encounter
with the truth that is Jesus Christ. In the end, the goal in all of these
encounters is unity in Jesus Christ.

Even if, of course, it cannot be the aim of this short reflection to delineate in some fashion the ministry of the patriarch in its entirety, I would at least like to underline a
point that is important for the characterization of this great man of the Church of God: his love for creation and his advocacy that it be dealt with in accordance with this love, in matters big and small. A shepherd of the flock of Jesus Christ is never oriented merely
to the circle of his own faithful. The community of the Church is universal
also in the sense that it includes all of reality. That becomes evident, for
example, in the liturgy, which signifies not only the commemoration and
realization of the saving deeds of Jesus Christ. It is on the way toward the
redemption of all creation. In the liturgy”€™s orientation to the East, we see
that Christians, together with the Lord, want to progress toward the salvation
of creation in its entirety. Christ, the crucified and risen Lord, is at the
same time also the “€œsun”€ that illumines the world. Faith is also always
directed toward the totality of creation. Therefore, Patriarch Bartholomew
fulfills an essential aspect of his priestly mission precisely with his
commitment to creation.

My election as successor of Saint Peter naturally has given our personal meeting a new
dimension. Responsibility for faith in the world and, simultaneously, responsibility
for the unity of divided Christianity are part of the office that has been
given us, but it is precisely also a personal obligation.

I feel it is particularly felicitous that, after my resignation, the patriarch has remained
ever close to me personally and has even visited me in my little cloister. In
many places in my apartment can be found memorable items from him. These items
are not only endearing signs of our personal friendship, but also signposts
toward unity between Constantinople and Rome, signs of hope that we are heading
toward unity.

His All-Holiness Bartholomew is a truly ecumenical patriarch in every sense of this word. In fraternal solidarity with Pope Francis, he is making additional important steps
on the path to unity. Dear brother in Christ, may the Lord grant you many more
years of blessed ministry as shepherd in God”€™s Church.


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