This year, due to the pandemic of the coronavirus, the Ecumenical Patriarchate was unable to send a delegation to the Church of Rome on the occasion of her Thronal Feast, the feast of the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul, on 29 June 2020. Nevertheless, His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew sent the following letter to Pope Francis:
His Holiness Francis, Pope of Elder Rome: rejoice in the Lord.
In concelebrating with You the all-sacred memory of St. Peter, Chief among the Apostles, along with St. Paul, Preacher to the Nations and “Apostle of freedom,” who joyously proclaimed the Gospel of the all-saving Divine Oikonomia and gave their lives as martyrs in Rome, we address to Your Holiness our wholehearted wishes and greet You in godly embrace.
The prevailing pandemic of the novel coronavirus COVID-19 has rendered impossible the commission and presence of a formal Delegation of the Ecumenical Patriarchate to Your See for the Thronal Feast of the Church of Rome, as customary over the last decades. We participate from a distance in this festive joy and venerate here with devotion the sacred relics of Peter, the founder of Your Church, the brother of Andrew, our Patron and First-Called among the Apostles, as we also draw strength and blessing from those relics that You kindly gifted to the Church of Constantinople.
We pray and work without ceasing, Most Holy Brother, for the progress of the bilateral theological dialogue between our Churches and for the journey toward unity. This process is enriched by our shared initiatives and joint declarations before the great contemporary challenges and global problems. We share a common approach for these issues, which is grounded “on the rock” of faith and on the fundamental Christian virtues of love and justice. The creation of man “in the image” of God and his eternal destiny in Christ complement him with unsurpassable value.
Throughout the period of the pandemic, we have been struck by the suffering of countless fellow human beings, as well as by the self-sacrifice and heroism of doctors and nurses. We hear the cry of the sick and their loved ones, and we feel the anguish of the unemployed and those in hardship due to the financial and social consequences of this crisis. In the face of this painful situation, the Church is called to give its own witness in word and in deed.
The texts of the New Testament are filled with accounts of healing of the sick, which refers to existential fullness and human salvation. Christ is the “physician of souls and bodies” and at the same time the One who “took our infirmities and bore our illnesses” (cf. Matt. 8:17). In theological language, sin is described as sickness, while medical terminology is widely employed for the portrayal of the incorporation and renewal of man in the Church, which is the infirmary and hospital of souls and bodies. The Church Canons exist and serve “for the healing of souls and cure of passions” (Canon 2, Council in Trullo). For us Christians, therapy and healing are a foretaste of the definitive victory of life over corruption and of the final transcendence and abolition of death. It is not by chance that the Church assesses the contribution of the doctor as a sacred task, emphasizing the relationship of trust between doctor and patient, and rejecting outright the perception of the sick as an impersonal entity, as an “object” and “case.”
It is in this spirit that the Church also approaches economic and social problems, highlighting the negative aspects of the dominant current model of financial activity and development, at whose core lies the “maximization of profit.” If this principle unilaterally prevails also during the phase of addressing the economic consequences of the pandemic, then humanity will be led to an unprecedented impasse. The future cannot belong to economism and the “production of money through money,” without reference to the real economy. It belongs to a sustainable economy based on the principles of social justice and solidarity. The solution is not “having” or “having more,” but “being,” which always implies “being together.” The Church preaches the priority of “relationship” over “acquisition.”
With these thoughts and with sincere fraternal sentiments, we hope for a swift overcoming of the problems created by the pandemic even for the life of the Church, as well as joyous the praised day of Your Thronal Feast, as we pray that the Giver of all good things may grant You, beloved Brother, through the intercessions of the holy, glorious and all-laudable Apostles Peter and Paul, sturdy health, many years, and every blessing from above, for the benefit of the fullness of the Church, of the Christian witness in the world, and of all mankind, and we remain with special honor and profound love in the Lord.
June 29, 2020
Your Holiness’ beloved brother in Christ
Bartholomew of Constantinople
On that day, His Holiness Pope Francis called the traditional exchange of “fraternal visits” on the Thronal Feasts of the Churches of Rome and Constantinople a “beautiful tradition”. He added that when he visited the tomb of Saint Peter, he felt “in [his] heart” the closeness of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew. “They are here with us,” he said, even if they could not be present in person. Later, at the Angelus address, Pope Francis again expressed his spiritual closeness to the Ecumenical Patriarch. “I spiritually embrace my dear brother, the Patriarch Bartholomew,” he said, “in the hope that our reciprocal visits may resume as soon as possible.”