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Visible unity of Christians, a need for a troubled world, says Pope

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Pope Francis. Credit: Lauren Cater/CNA.

To act and speak as brothers, despite different confessions, in order to respond to current issue: this is the mission Pope Francis entrusted to the bishop-friends of the Focolare Movement on Friday. “The fact that in many countries lack of the freedom to publicly express their religion and to openly live according to the needs of Christian ethics; persecution of Christians and other minorities; the sad phenomenon of terrorism; the plight of displaced persons caused by war and other reasons; the challenges of fundamentalism and, on the other hand, an exasperated secularism; all of these realities prick our conscience as Christians and as pastors,” the Pope said Nov. 7 in the Vatican's Consistory Hall. He then stressed that these challenges are “an appeal to seek, with renewed commitment, constancy and patience, the path toward unity.” Pope Francis was speaking to the ecumenical convention of the bishop-friends of the Focolare Movement; the group has gathered annually for more than 30 years to foster Church unity. This year’s meeting was the on Eucharist, and gathered 39 bishops coming from 29 countries. Before the papal speech, Archbishop Xavier Kriengsak Kovithavanij of Bangkok underscored that “the lack of unity weakens us, such that we cannot respond in an effective way to today’s challenges such as the persecution of Christians, terrorism, and the plight of displaced persons.” Christian Krause, a Lutheran bishop and president emeritus of the World Lutheran Federation, asked Pope Francis to celebrate together with him the 500th anniversary of the Protestant reformation, which will occur in 2017. This common celebration, he claimed, may be “a witness for all the Christianity on earth.” Bishop Theophilose Kuriakose, a metropolitan bishop of the Syriac Orthodox Church (which is Oriental Orthodox) who is responsible for the Indian diaspora in Europe, mentioned the April 2013 abduction of the Syriac and Greek Orthodox bishops of Aleppo, Yuhanna Ibrahim and Boulos Yazigi. Nothing is known of their whereabouts, or indeed if they are alive, 19 months since their kidnapping near the Syria-Turkey border. “We live this period of extreme obscurity and persecution with a strong faith in the crucified, abandoned, and risen Jesus,” Metropolitan Theophilose said. He also asked the Pope to advocate for these bishops with authorities during his upcoming trip to Turkey, scheduled for Nov. 28-30. “When I went to greet the Pope, the Pope told me that he will personally take care regarding the bishops and he will make all the efforts he can to free them,” Metropolitan Theophilose told CNA Nov. 7. At the end of the three interventions, Pope Francis underscored the “smart awareness of the value, in our troubled world, of a clear testimony of unity among Christians and of an explicit attestation of esteem, respect and more precisely fraternity among us.” “This fraternity is a glaring and attractive sign of our faith in the risen Christ,” the Pope said.

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