VATICAN CITY (CNS) — The bloodshed of Christians in the Middle East and Africa have allowed once-divided Christians to grow closer to one another, Pope Francis said.

“Just as in the early church the shedding of the blood of martyrs became the seed of new Christians, so today the blood of the many martyrs of all the churches has become the seed of Christian unity,” the pope said Feb. 29 during an audience with Patriarch Mathias of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church.

Patriarch Mathias expressed his gratitude to the pope for his solidarity following the murder of Ethiopian Orthodox Christians by Islamic State militants in Libya last year.

“Your Holiness’ message and ultimate recognition of the massacres as (a martyrdom) was of great significance for our church,” he said.

The Ethiopian patriarch said that before the challenges of extremism and environmental degradation, the joint prayers and solidarity of both churches was essential “for the sake of human dignity and the creation of a peaceful world.”

Recalling the strides in theological dialogue between the Catholic Church and the patriarch’s Oriental Orthodox church, Pope Francis said both “have almost everything in common” through baptism and through their “rich monastic traditions and liturgical practices.”

“We are brothers and sisters in Christ. As has often been observed, what unites us is greater than what divides us,” the pope said.

The martyrdom of Ethiopian Orthodox Christians, he added, “is a summons to us, here and now, to advance on the path to ever greater unity.”

He also appealed to world leaders to promote peaceful coexistence based on mutual respect in the Middle East and in parts of Africa where there has been a “devastating outbreak” in violence against Christians and religious minorities.

Pope Francis said there is room for both churches to work together for the sake of the common good and for the protection of creation.

“Let us pray for one another, invoking the protection of the martyrs and saints upon all the faithful entrusted to our pastoral care. May the Holy Spirit continue to enlighten us and guide our steps toward harmony and peace,” the pope said.