Will the pope with one lung bring unity with the East?


I’m no theologian and I’m sure Stephen White will correct any mistakes or errors that I’ll make here. But I think that each of the last four popes have made important symbolic gestures towards their brother bishops which are rooted in humility. And these actions have helped the Catholic Church is her relationship not only with the post-modern West, but also with the Eastern Orthodox.

Pope Paul VI’s papacy began in 1963, and he wore a papal tiara for his coronation.



But Pope Paul VI did not wear the papal tiara much after that. He made a conscious effort to focus on the papacy’s spiritual aspect and to downplay the papacy’s regal splendor. In fact, he donated his tiara to National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, DC.


Pope John Paul I carried on this same sense of humility, and took it a step further. His Mass was not a coronation, but an installation. And he never wore a tiara.


His successor, Pope John Paul II, likewise was installed instead of crowned. He also never wore a papal tiara. And when he was elected pope, he did not sit on his throne to have the Cardinals kneel before him. From George Weigel’s book Witness to Hope:

“He walked vigorously back to the Sistine Chapel to receive the homage of the cardinals and immediately broke his first precedent. When the papal master of ceremonies indicated that he should sit in front of the altar for the ceremony, John Paul II replied, ‘I receive my brothers standing…’

These gestures suggest a notion of the Pope not a king or a lord over the rest of his bishops, but as a first among equals.

Pope John Paul II also tried to extend an olive branch to the Eastern Orthodox. And he talked repeatedly about the need for unity between the East and West. In Ut unum sint, he said: “The Church must breathe with her two lungs!”

Patriarch Teoctist of the Romanian Orthodox Church invited Pope John Paul II to his country. In May 1999, Pope John Paul II became the first pope to visit a predominantly Eastern Orthodox country since the Schism in 1054.

john paul - patriarch teoctist

In 2001, Pope John Paul II visited Greece and met with Patriarch Christodoulos. Their meeting started a bit chilly when the Patriarch mentioned “13 offenses” of the Roman Catholic Church against the Eastern Orthodox, including the pillaging of Constantinople. The Patriarch told John Paul: “Until now, there has not been heard a single request for pardon” for the “maniacal crusaders of the 13th century.”

The Pope replied, “For the occasions past and present, when sons and daughters of the Catholic Church have sinned by action or omission against their Orthodox brothers and sisters, may the Lord grant us forgiveness.” The Patriarch immediately applauded the Pope for his remarks.

pope jp2 in greece

When Pope Benedict XVI was elected, he likewise was installed and not crowned. He also wore no tiara. In fact, his papal coat of arms had no tiara at all. It had instead a bishop’s mitre. It was a way of emphasizing the primacy of Peter in a way more acceptable to the Orthodox.



And relations with the East continued to improve during the papacy of Benedict XVI. Here is Pope Benedict XVI with the Patriarch of Constantinople.

patriarch and benedict

We have yet to see what Pope Francis will do with his papal coat of arms. There’s no doubt that he will be installed and not crowned. And this humble archbishop who rode the bus is certainly  not going to wear a tiara. (I prefer traditional priestly vestments like the cassock, but not the royalty associated with the tiara).

And in fact, relations with the East are improving already for the new pope. For the first time since the Great Schism, the Patriarch of Constantinople will attend the inaugural Mass of Pope Francis.

As a teenager, an infection caused Pope Francis to lose a lung. Wouldn’t it be fitting if this Pope with one lung would get the Church to breathe with both lungs again?

Ut unum sint! Let us pray!

The views expressed here are those of the author, and do not necessarily represent the views of CatholicVote.org


About Author

Joshua Mercer is a co-founder of CatholicVote.org, where he serves as Political Director. Mercer is also regular contributor with Catholic Pulse. Mercer previously served as Washington Correspondent for the National Catholic Register and Chairman for Students for Life of America. He lives in Michigan with his wife and six children.

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