Fr Mario Attard OFM Cap
The historic meeting between the two heads of the Catholic and the Russian Orthodox Church signalled a new phase in therelations between the western and eastern lungs of Christianity. Pope Francis and the Russian Orthodox leader Patriarch Kirill met on Friday, February 12, at Havana Airport in Cuba. There they appealed for an immediate end to conflict and the unjust persecutions of Christians throughout the Middle East.
The fraternal spirit of the two hour private conversation between Pope France and Patriarch Kirill was confirmed by theformer’s brief address to the members of their respective delegations together with members of the press. “We have spoken asbrothers. We have the same baptism. We are bishops. We have spoken of our Churches. We agree that unity is made in theprocess of walking forward. We have spoken clearly, without mincing words. I confess to you that I have felt the consolation of the Spirit in this dialogue”.
At the end of their private conversation the two leaders signed a common declaration which, as Pope Francis later told journalists, “was a pastoral and not a sociological declaration.” The Holy Father also said that it was “pastoral” because it was the result of “two bishops meeting about pastoral concerns.” Within this context, Pope Francis added that “possible activities in common” has been talked about. “Unity is a walk together.”
The 30-paragraph statement speaks about an array of subjects. The first three paragraphs both leaders show their appreciation for the meeting and also observe the particular significance that such an important encounter took place in the New World, Cuba, “at the crossroads of North and South, East and West” (no. 2). From the fourth till seventh paragraph the declaration gives a general review regarding the history of Orthodox and Catholics characterised by a millenium of unity and a millenium of division. The declaration admits that division occured because of “human weakness and of sin” (no. 5) even if Christ prayed that those who will believe in him “may be one” (no. 5). Christ’s prayer motivates both sides to work for unity and sort out their disagreements.
Paragraphs 8 till 12 reflect on the sufferings that Christians and others are experiencing in Middle East and Africa. At the end of these paragraphs there lies the statement that today’s martys are “a pledge of the unity of Christians” (no. 12). The next paragraph accentuates the relevance of interreligious dialogue and declaration that “no crime may be committed in God’s name” (no. 13). From paragraph 14 till 16 the declaration reminds of the threats against religious freedom and makes a heartfelt call to Europe to go back to its Christian roots. The following two paragraphs speak about those who are experiencing injustice in our world especially the poor, migrants and refugees.
The declaration clearly defends family and marriage and the undeniable right to life. “The family is based on marriage, an act of freely given and faithful love between a man and a woman” (no. 20). “The blood of the unborn cries out toGod (cf.Gen4:10)” (no. 21).
Paragraph 22 exhorts the youth not “to be afraid of going against the current, defending God’s truth, to which contemporary secular norms are often far from conforming”. The subsequent 3 paragraphs mention the different tensions between Orthodox and Catholics, involving notions of proselytism and evangelization, and speak about the problem of “uniatism,” and theconflict in Ukraine. Paragraph 28 recognises the need that our world demands a united witness. “Much of the future of humanity will depend on our capacity to give shared witness to the Spirit of truth in these difficult times.” The last two paragraphs affirm that “Christ is the well–spring of joy and hope” (no. 29) and present a prayer to Our Lady that she will “inspire fraternity in all those who venerate her, so that they may be reunited, in God’s own time, in the peace and harmony of the one people of God, for the glory of the Most Holy and indivisible Trinity!” (no. 30).
Those who treasure Christian unity deeply appeciate the very courageous decision of Patriarch Kirill to meet Pope Francis and the Holy Father’s readiness to meet Patriarch Kirill wherever he wanted. After all it is a meeting between two brothers!