September 18, 2015

That All May Be One / Fr. Rick Ginther

Let’s continue to prayer for unity with our sister churches

Moments pass us by very quickly; even days and weeks can be gone before we make much note of them.

Some of those moments are significant. Some are weighted with meaning. And still others are “historical” markers.

And we don’t always see their significance, meaning or historical significance until much later.

I wonder if for many of us Sept. 1, 2015, passed us quickly by with little notice of its significance—and its roots in other ecumenical historical moments of the last 50 years?

What was Sept. 1, 2015? It was the day that Pope Francis called upon all Catholics to pray for the “Care of Creation.” It was the day when he asked us to be in prayerful solidarity with our Orthodox brothers and sisters.

Considering the pope’s recent encyclical “Laudato Si’, ” praying for the care of creation should have come as no surprise. That document flows with love for all creation, from the smallest creature to the human being trapped in a favela (slum) in Buenos Aires, the human being sold for profit, and the human resting comfortably amid wealth and good health.

Urging all Catholics of the world to be in prayer with our Orthodox brothers and sisters, ahhh, there was the surprise.

Oh, we have prayed together from time to time. The Church’s Directory for the Application of Principles and Norms on Ecumenism, which was published in 1993, encourages such prayer.

Historically, popes of the last 50 years have shown us the way.

It began when St. John XXIII and Blessed Paul VI invited Orthodox bishops to attend as observers at the Second Vatican Council.

It continued when Paul VI met with Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras I in 1964 in Jerusalem. From this flowed the rescinding of the excommunications of the Great Schism, which took place in 1054.

Continuing the tradition established by Paul VI, St. John Paul II traveled to Istanbul in 1979 to meet with Ecumenical Patriarch Dimitrios, senior bishop of the Orthodox Church. Together, these two leaders established the Joint International Commission for Theological Dialogue between the Orthodox Church and the Catholic Church.

Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew joined with Pope John Paul II at an historic meeting in Assisi, Italy, in 2002, for a “Day of Prayer for Peace in the World.”

On Nov. 27, 2004, these two presided at an historic celebration in St. Peter’s in Rome. This marked the return to the Orthodox of the relics of St. Gregory the Theologian and St. John Chrysostom, honored by both Orthodox and Roman Catholics alike. The return of the relics stood as a vivid reminder of how much the two Churches share, including the veneration of the saints, and showed that the relationship between the Churches had improved. 

When Pope John Paul died in 2005, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew led the Orthodox delegation at the funeral in Rome.

In 2006, Pope Benedict XVI signed a joint statement with Patriarch Bartholomew that renewed their commitment to building Christian unity and working together for the common good of humanity.

On Nov. 30, 2014, in an address upon the conclusion of a liturgy celebrated by Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I at the Orthodox Church of St. George in Istanbul, Pope Francis said, “The one thing that the Catholic Church desires and that I seek as Bishop of Rome … is communion with the Orthodox Churches.”

The quest for unity continues among our sister Churches. Let us pray for that great day when it will be so.

(Father Rick Ginther is director of the archdiocesan Office of Ecumenism. He is also dean of the Terre Haute deanery and pastor of St. Patrick and St. Margaret Mary parishes, both in Terre Haute. E-mail him at

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