Brotherly embrace brings pope and patriarch together
By Cindy Wooden
Catholic News Service
At long last, Pope Francis and Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill of Moscow embraced, kissing each other three times.
“Finally,” the pope told the patriarch Feb. 12 as they met in a lounge at Havana’s Jose Marti International Airport. “We are brothers,” he told the patriarch.
Amid the clicking of cameras and multiple flashes, Patriarch Kirill was overheard telling the pope, “Things are easier now.”
“It is clearer that this is God’s will,” Pope Francis told him.
A flight of almost 12 hours capped months of intense negotiations and more than two decades of Vatican overtures to bring a pope and a Russian patriarch together for the first time.
Cuban President Raul Castro played host to the pope and patriarch, who was on a visit to Russian Orthodox communities on the island-nation. Pope Francis had a pastoral visit to Mexico planned for months; the stop in Havana was announced only a week before the meeting.
Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill signed a joint declaration that emphasized the things the two churches have in common.
Addressing the situation in the Middle East and North Africa, they said that “whole families, villages and cities of our brothers and sisters in Christ are being completely exterminated.” They called on the international community “to act urgently in order to prevent the further expulsion” of Christians, to end violence and terrorism and to ensure that large amounts of humanitarian aid reach the victims of violence.
“In raising our voice in defense of persecuted Christians, 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,” they said.
“Attempts to justify criminal acts with religious slogans are altogether unacceptable,” they said. “No crime may be committed in God’s name.”
They called those who have died “martyrs of our times” and said they helped unite various churches “by their shared suffering.”
They spoke of the need to be vigilant against European integration that is “devoid of respect for religious identities.” They also spoke of extreme poverty, the “millions of migrants and refugees knocking on the doors of wealthy nations” and consumerism.
They spoke of life issues: abortion, euthanasia, new reproductive technologies and threats against the churches’ view of marriage.
After they signed the document, the two leaders embraced, and each spoke briefly.
Patriarch Kirill said they had a two-hour, “open discussion with full awareness of the responsibility we have for our people, for the future of Christianity, and for the future of human civilization itself. It was a conversation filled with content that gave us the opportunity to understand and hear the position of the other. And the results of the conversation allow me to assure that currently both churches can cooperate together to defend Christians around the world; with full responsibility to work together so that there may be no war; so that human life can be respected in the entire world; so that the foundations of human, family and social morality may be strengthened through the participation of the church in the life of human modern society.”