In a hugely historic meeting, Pope Francis met with the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Kirill, in Havana, Cuba on Friday.
The result of the meeting – which took place at Jose Marti international airport – was a joint declaration from the two religious leaders calling for reconciliation and agreement between their two respective traditions and followers.
Seeking a unity of message, the two heads of Church said “we are not competitors, but brothers”, and went on to urge Catholics and Orthodox followers everywhere to live in “peace and love.” Both decried a perceived disappearance in spirituality worldwide, with the topic of conflict in the Middle East – and the plight of Christians – also figuring high in their thoughts.
The perceived increase in persecution and violence committed against believers in the region concerns both leaders, who called for the world to “unite against terrorism.” In their 135-minute discussion, the leaders also were said to have talked on the topic of Syria, and the role of the international community in helping with the refugee crisis caused by war.
Other items featuring in the statement involved the “crisis in the family.” The Pope and Patriarch consider this an increasing concern in many countries, with the traditional model of cohabitation and “distinct vocation” of a woman and a man to be together in marriage, under threat.
The meeting between Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill ends what many see as centuries of estrangement between the Catholic and Orthodox branches of Christianity. The so-called Great Schism of Christianity took place in 1054 – since then little-documented talk or collaboration has taken place between the two traditions.
The Pope continues his visit to Latin America and the Caribbean region with a 5-day stay in Mexico. He was seen yesterday in Mexico City greeting people from his popemobile, earning a rapturous reception from the assembled faithful.