After almost a thousand years
By Guillermo Nova
HAVANA TIMES — Pope Francis and Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill, sealed today in Cuba a historical approach within Christianity, reported dpa news.
Francis and Kirill made a joint call to defend Christians from the persecution and violence unleashed by current world conflicts. The meeting held in Havana was the first meeting between the leaders of the two churches since a rupture occurred nearly a thousand years ago.
Cuba, undergoing its own political thaw with Washington, this time was scene of one of the historic pages of Christianity.
“We call on the international community to take immediate action to prevent further displacement of Christians in the Middle East,” said Francisco and Kirill after meeting for about two hours in a protocol room at the Havana airport.
A joint statement spoke directly to the “violence” and “terrorism” against Christians in countries such as Syria and Iraq.
Francis and Kirill called on the international community to provide “large scale” humanitarian aid for refugees fleeing violence in the countries of the Near East and North Africa, where “entire families of Christians are being exterminated.”
“We regret the loss of unity” in the past that divided the two churches, noted the religious leaders in their 30-point declaration signed after the meeting behind closed doors.
The meeting focused on the defense of Christians leaving aside the most contentious issues that still divide the two Churches. The historic meeting is intended to be a gesture of detente in the heart of Christianity.
The Orthodox Churches, with more than 200 million members worldwide, represent the third Christian Church globally behind Catholics and Protestants.
Francis said after signing the document that the two religious leaders spoke “clearly as brothers, without mincing words.”
“We talked about our churches, we agree that the path is made by walking,” said the Argentine priest of 79 years.
“I confess that I felt the comfort of the spirit in this dialogue, I appreciate the humility of His Holiness and good wishes of unity,” Francis said, referring to Kirill.
“It was a conversation with a lot of content,” said Kirill for his part. The meeting left the impression that “you can cooperate together to defend Christians worldwide,” he added.
The signing of the document was attended by representatives of the hierarchy of both Churches and Cuban President Raul Castro, who served as host of the meeting.
Immediately following the press conference Francis continued his journey to Mexico, where he will make a five-day pastoral visit.
“I want to stress once again that it is by God’s will,” Kirill said. “The impression that we met at the right time and place remains,” the patriarch told the Russian media.
Francisco also made a nod to the host country.
“If this continues, Cuba will be the capital of unity,” Francis said when he appeared before the press after signing the declaration with Kirill.
Francis played a crucial role as a mediator for the historic thaw between the island and the United States announced in December 2014. Because of its good ties with Havana, the Vatican supported the election of Cuba as a “neutral place” to hold the meeting.
The Moscow Patriarchate, meanwhile, looks kindly on the socialist island for good ties between Russia and Cuba since the days of the Soviet Union.
The Catholic Church and the Orthodox Churches split in 1054 in what is known as the Great Schism, the first major split within Christianity. Since the schism there are several autonomous Orthodox Churches.
Although the pope has already met in the past with Orthodox patriarchs, this is the first meeting since 1054 between the Catholic Pope and Russian Patriarch. With about 150 million faithful according to their own figures, the Russian is the largest of the Orthodox Churches.
Kirill, 69, is considered an advocate of dialogue between Christian religions or ecumenism. The Russian patriarch is also an advocate of traditional family values and is close to Russian President Vladimir Putin, who considers the Orthodox Church as part of its power apparatus.
Francis has been a strong advocate for dialogue between Christian churches.