Pope Francis welcomes Catholicos Baselios Marthoma Mathews III in shared journey of faith
By Francesca Merlo
Pope Francis welcomed His Holiness Baselios Marthoma Mathews III, the Catholicos of the East and Malankara Metropolitan of the Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church on 11 September 2023 during a visit to the Vatican.
In his address, Pope Francis expressed gratitude for their growing bonds since the Second Vatican Council and highlighted the historical visits and meetings between their respective predecessors. "May I say, Your Holiness, that here you are at home, as a beloved and long-awaited Brother," said Pope Francis.
The ancient faith
He acknowledged the ancient faith of the Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church, tracing its origins to the Apostle Thomas, and emphasised the shared faith in Jesus as Lord and God, expressing hope for unity as they approached the 1700th anniversary of the Council of Nicaea. In this regard, the Holy Father noted that the faith of Saint Thomas was inseparable from his experience of the wounds of the Body of Christ. "The divisions that have occurred throughout history between us Christians have been painful wounds inflicted on the Body of Christ that is the Church. We ourselves continue to witness their effects."
Pope Francis also recognised the wounds caused by historical divisions among Christians and the need to heal them together. He encouraged prayer, charity, and dialogue as means to bring them closer, stating, "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."
A historic agreement
The Holy Father then went on to mention mention the Joint International Commission's historic Christological agreement, emphasizing that differences in terminology should not divide when proclaiming Christ. He recalled that "the Declaration admirably states that, 'these differences are such as can coexist in the same communion and therefore need not and should not divide us, especially when we proclaim Christ to our brothers and sisters around the world in terms that they can more easily understand.'"
Contibution to synodality
Pope Francis highlighted the importance of synodality and the contribution of the Malankara Orthodox Church's synodal experience to the Catholic Church's synodal process. "I am convinced that we can learn much from the age-old synodal experience of your Church" said the Pope, adding "in a certain sense, the ecumenical movement is contributing to the ongoing synodal process of the Catholic Church, and it is my hope that the synodal process can, in turn, contribute to the ecumenical movement."
The Pope concluded by invoking Saint Thomas the Apostle's intercession for unity and witness, connecting it to Saint Thomas's transition from disbelief to belief upon seeing Jesus' wounds, saying "when the Lord showed him his wounds, Saint Thomas passed from disbelief to belief by what he saw. May our shared contemplation of the crucified and risen Lord lead to the complete healing of our past wounds, so that, before our eyes, transcending all distance and misunderstanding, he may appear, 'our Lord and our God' (cf. Jn 20:28), who calls us to recognize and adore him at a single Eucharistic altar."