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Physical and spiritual strength

· In Cuba the Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia ·

“It will be a long and difficult journey” and “it will require physical and spiritual strength”, Patriarch Kirill said, before boarding a helicopter on Thursday morning, 11 February, as he set off for Cuba the day before the historic meeting with Pope Francis. The Ria Novosti agency reported that the Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia departed from the Vnukovo International Airport accompanied by an entourage of approximately 100 people, which included 30 journalists and 20 choristers of the Eparchy of the Moscow region. Russian television showed images of the the beginning of his first official visit to Latin America, which will last 11 days and will will include stops in Paraguay and Brazil.

Cardinal Kurt Koch, President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity also landed in Cuba on Thursday, 11 February, accompanied by Fr Hyacinthe Destivelle, OP, an official of the Dicastery. In an interview with Vatican Radio the day prior to his departure, Cardinal Koch defined the meeting in Havana as “a courageous step that will bear good fruit in the ecumenical dialogue”. In response to questions asked by Mario Galgano, he remarked on “the fact that for the first time in history a Russian Orthodox Patriarch and the Bishop of Rome, as the Pontiff of the Universal Church” have decided to meet. The Cardinal then emphasized that in the upcoming meeting it would not be possible to discuss everything, “but certainly issues that concern the two Church leaders, from a personal and ecclesial point of view”.

Cardinal Koch said that he felt confident that the meeting between Francis and Kirill would surely help “to forge relations” within the Orthodox realm: “we are not as yet in contact with many Orthodox Patriarchs, and this encounter could also contribute to deepening intra-Orthodox relations, in view of the Pan-Orthodox Council that will meet in Crete this June”. Surely, the Cardinal indicated, this “will bear good fruits for the theological dialogue, which we conduct not only with single Churches but together with the whole orthodoxy”.

Lastly, when asked about any possible concerns or reservations, the Cardinal cleared the field of any doubt: “I believe that the Russian Orthodox Patriarch is deeply aware of this atmosphere, of these reactions, and this is an even firmer confirmation of the willingness to forge ahead with this meeting”. In this sense, Cardinal Koch concluded, this is certainly a courageous step Patriarch Kirill is taking.

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