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Blood of martyrs will bring new ecumenical era, says Francis

Pope Francis greets Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury, last year (Photo: CNS)

Divided Christians honour the sacrifice of their martyrs when they try to live according to the Gospel and work together to share the Gospel, Pope Francis has said.

The witness of modern martyrs, “victims of persecution and violence simply because of the faith they profess”, is a bond among Christians that is stronger than anything still dividing them, the Pope said during a meeting with members of the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission.

The recent experience of Christians in the Middle East is not the only example of the “ecumenism of martyrdom”, he said. “I think also of the martyrs of Uganda, half Catholics and half Anglicans,” who were killed in the 1880s.

Pope Francis told commission members that he was certain that “the blood of these martyrs will nourish a new era of ecumenical commitment” and “a fervent desire to fulfil the last will and testament of the Lord: that all may be one”.

As the dialogue commission, commonly known as ARCIC, continued its discussions about Church processes for facing moral and ethical questions, Pope Francis said the witness of Christians who died for their faith “demands that we live in harmony with the Gospel and that we strive with determination to fulfil the Lord’s will for his Church”.

“Today the world urgently needs the common, joyful witness of Christians” on issues from “the defence of life and human dignity to the promotion of justice and peace,” he said.

Pope Francis acknowledged the existence of “new difficulties and challenges” that have arisen in relations between Catholics and Anglicans; he did not specify what they were, although Anglican and Catholic leaders have expressed concern about how differing attitudes toward homosexuality, divorce, abortion and other issues could impact the search for full unity.

“The cause of unity is not an optional undertaking” for any Christian community, he said, and “the differences which divide us must not be seen as inevitable. Some wish that, after 50 years, greater progress toward unity would have been achieved. Despite difficulties, we must not lose heart, but we must trust even more in the power of the Holy Spirit, who can heal and reconcile us, and accomplish what humanly does not seem possible.”