The difficulties involved had for decades made it seem but a dream. Yet, the meeting between the Patriarch of Moscow and the Roman Pontiff was simple, like the reunion of two brothers. Kirill and Francis spoke quietly together for two hours in a private room at the airport in Havana. Later, on the flight to Mexico, the destination of his 12th international journey, the Pope described the meeting with journalists as having taken place “with complete candour” and “in total freedom”. It was “a conversation between brothers”, two Bishops discussing their Churches and the world they are called to serve. With them were only two interpreters and their closest collaborators: Metropolitan Hilarion and Cardinal Koch, who for over two years have patiently, one thread at a time, been weaving the fabric of collaboration that made this meeting possible.
Yet this weaving took even longer for it dates back more than 50 years to the affirmation of the ecumenical movement and the innovative Second Vatican Council. The meeting in Jerusalem between Athenagoras and Paul vi was historic, and strengthened the hope for unity. And today, in addition to the rapproachement of Kirill and Francis is the beautiful Joint Declaration, which the Pope defined as pastoral and which begins by giving thanks to “God, glorified in the Trinity, for this meeting, the first in history”.
The solemn tone of this expression is justified. Yes, “this meeting” is without precedent. Even the place where Kirill and Francis chose to meet “at last” is significant in itself: Cuba, a crossroads of the world and a symbol of hope and of tragedy, as the Pope stressed when thanking President Raúl Castro, who was present at the signing of the document. “Far from the longstanding disputes of the ‘Old World’”, the two religious leaders came together to affirm the need for Christians to look to the future and thus be an example for all humanity.
“Mindful of the permanence of many obstacles”, they likewise share the strong bond of one and “the same spiritual Tradition” formed in the first millennium of Christianity, whose witnesses are the Mother of God and the saints, especially the martyrs, the “seed of Christians”. Historically, even before the Schism, differences and bitter divisions had sprung up and deprived Orthodox and Catholics of communion in the Eucharist, which, the Declaration states, was “the outcome of human weakness and of sin”.
Today, in “a period of epochal change”, we are all faced with the tragic warning of the bloody persecution of Christians, especially in the Middle East and in Africa, where “whole families, villages and cities of our brothers and sisters in Christ are being completely exterm inated” by terrorism using blasphemous religious slogans. Meanwhile in Europe, religious freedom is being threatened by an aggressive form of secularism, which does not respect Christian roots of the continent, weakens the family founded on the marriage of man and woman, and destroys human life with abortion, euthanasia and assisted procreation.
The document, more strenuously than ever, condemns persecution and hostile secularism, and it indicates in a new way the need for reconciliation between Greek Catholics and Orthodox. It likewise presents the strong conviction that Orthodox and Catholics are already united: not only by a common Tradition but also by a common mission to proclaim the Gospel for which the world longs, without even realizing it. Thus, we can move forward, through encounter and by walking together, on the path to unity.
St. Peter’s Square
Jan. 22, 2019
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