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Pope wanted apostles’ relics united to encourage Christian unity

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VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Pope Francis said giving fragments of St. Peter’s bones to the head of the church founded by Peter’s brother, St. Andrew, was meant to be a reminder and encouragement of the journey toward Christian unity. In a letter to Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople, Pope Francis explained in detail the reasons he sent him a bronze reliquary containing nine bone fragments in late June. The unexpected gift had been presented to Archbishop Job of Telmessos, the patriarch’s representative, at the Vatican June 29, the feast of Sts. Peter and Paul. Addressing the patriarch as “Your holiness, dear brother,” the pope wrote that he wanted to give the bones, believed to be St. Peter’s, to the patriarch and “the beloved church of Constantinople over which you preside with such devotion. This gesture is intended to be a confirmation of the journey that our churches have made in drawing closer to one another: a journey at times demanding and difficult, yet one accompanied by evident signs of God’s grace,” he wrote. The letter, dated Aug. 30, was released by the Vatican Sept. 13. During a moment of prayer and reflection about “our mutual determination to advance together toward full communion,” the pope said he thought about their predecessors’ historic meeting in Jerusalem more than 50 years ago and the gift Patriarch Athenagoras gave to St. Paul VI — an icon depicting the brothers Peter and Andrew “embracing, united in faith and in love of their common Lord.”

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