Finally - brothers from East and West meet in Cuba

Pope Francis & Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill embrace in Havana, Reuters/Alejandro Ernesto/Pool
Pope Francis & Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill embrace in Havana, Reuters/Alejandro Ernesto/Pool

Pope Francis and Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia embraced each other in Cuba yesterday, describing each other as ‘brothers’ and vowing to work together towards reconciliation, while recognising their differences. The statement signed by the Pope and the Patriarch acknowledged that obstacles and difficulties still remain between the Eastern and Western branches of the Catholic Church, but said their hope was that the meeting “may contribute to the re–establishment of this unity willed by God, for which Christ prayed.” They then went on to highlight areas of the world of mutual concern.

The Pope and the Patriarch first referred to those regions of the world where Christians are victims of persecution, especially the Middle East and North Africa, where, they said, whole families, villages and cities are being exterminated. “Their churches are being barbarously ravaged and looted, their sacred objects profaned, their monuments destroyed ... It is with pain that we call to mind the situation in Syria, Iraq and other countries of the Middle East, and the massive exodus of Christians from the land in which our faith was first disseminated and in which they have lived since the time of the Apostles, together with other religious communities.”

The statement went on to call upon the international community to act urgently in order to prevent the further expulsion of Christians from the Middle East, to defend persecuted Christians, to seek a peaceful settlement to the conflicts in the region and to provide humanitarian aid to the afflicted populations. “In raising our voice in defence of persecuted Christians,” the statement continued, “we wish to express our compassion for the suffering experienced by the faithful of other religious traditions who have also become victims of civil war, chaos and terrorist violence.”

United in a shared witness to the GospelThe Pope and the Patriarch sign the joint statement

Pope Francis had stopped in Cuba en route to a five-day apostolic visit to Mexico. He had previously invited the Russian Orthodox Patriarch “anytime, anywhere”. Patriarch Kirill was on his way to visit his communities in Latin America and the meeting between the two Catholic leaders was confirmed only a week ago. On greeting each other with a warm embrace, the Pope said: “Finally - we are brothers!”

Other issues addressed by Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill in the statement included young people, whom they urged to defend God’s truths, the right to life and the importance of the traditional family structure, and the integration of Europe. “We call upon Christians of Eastern and Western Europe to unite in their shared witness to Christ and the Gospel, so that Europe may preserve its soul, shaped by two thousand years of Christian tradition,” the statement said.

On the subject of Ukraine, the two Christian leaders said they hoped their meeting meeting would “also contribute to reconciliation wherever tensions exist between Greek Catholics and Orthodox ... We invite our Churches in Ukraine to work towards social harmony, to refrain from taking part in the confrontation, and to not support any further development of the conflict.”

“In the contemporary world, which is both multiform yet united by a shared destiny,” the statement concluded, “Catholics and Orthodox are called to work together fraternally in proclaiming the Good News of salvation, to testify together to the moral dignity and authentic freedom of the person, ‘so that the world may believe’ (John 17:21).”