On February 12, 2016, Pope Francis met with Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill at the airport in Havana, Cuba. It was the first time a Roman Pope has ever met a Russian Orthodox Patriarch. What now?
“In the contemporary world, which is both multiform yet united by a shared destiny, 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’” (Jn 17:21). —Pope Francis and Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill, Common Statement, February 12, Havana, Cuba
The document signed by Pope Francis and Kirill after their meeting at the airport in Havana, Cuba on February 12 offers guidelines for the common work of Catholics and Orthodox in coming years as we seek to return to full reunion as one, undivided Church.
The central point is that disunity of the Church is a scandal. If non-believers look at Christians in general and say, “See how they dislike one another, accusing one another of errors and evil actions,” then they often must conclude: “The Christian faith must not be true.” And this is precisely the reason why the unity of the Church, the unity of Christians, is a presupposition for evangelization, for prompting those with doubts to say, when they see Christians committing themselves to one faith, one baptism, one Lord Jesus Christ, and to one another as followers of the Lord, “This faith may be true, since it causes such unity of belief among so many from such different backgrounds and classes and nations.”
And this was precisely the final prayer of Jesus himself, on the night of the Last Supper, the night before he died. In John, chapter 17, Jesus prays to the Father: “I pray that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.”
This is the reason for seeking Christian unity. This is the reason for striving to find common ground among Catholics, Orthodox and Protestants, no matter how difficult the task. This is the reason why the meeting between Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill is something remarkable, historic, and a blessing. Because it helps in part to answer the final prayer of Christ: “that they may all be one.”
And this is precisely why we have set up a foundation alongside this magazine, which we have called the Urbi et Orbi Foundation (“To the City and to the World Foundation”) — to build bridges of understanding through common work and common projects like concerts, like exhibits, like conferences, like pilgrimages, so that some of the distance between us may be diminished and perhaps eventually overcome.
Please consider joining with us in this work. Write to us for further information at [email protected]. We would like you to “walk together” with us on this journey. It is a journey that has barely begun. There is still much to be done. Please join with us.
Here are excerpts from the common statement:
“It Is With Joy That We Have Met Like Brothers”
The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God the Father and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with all of you” (2 Cor 13:13).
1. By God the Father’s will, from which all gifts come, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, and with the help of the Holy Spirit Consolator, we, Pope Francis and Kirill, Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia, have met today in Havana. We give thanks to God, glorified in the Trinity, for this meeting, the first in history.
It is with joy that we have met like brothers in the Christian faith who encounter one another “to speak face to face” (2 Jn 12), from heart to heart, to discuss the mutual relations between the Churches, the crucial problems of our faithful, and the outlook for the progress of human civilization.
2. Our fraternal meeting has taken place in Cuba, at the crossroads of North and South, East and West. It is from this island, the symbol of the hopes of the “New World” and the dramatic events of the history of the twentieth century, that we address our words to all the peoples of Latin America and of the other continents…
4. …We share the same spiritual Tradition of the first millennium of Christianity. The witnesses of this Tradition are the Most Holy Mother of God, the Virgin Mary, and the saints we venerate. Among them are innumerable martyrs who have given witness to their faithfulness to Christ and have become the “seed of Christians.”
5. Notwithstanding this shared Tradition of the first ten centuries, for nearly one thousand years Catholics and Orthodox have been deprived of communion in the Eucharist. We have been divided by wounds caused by old and recent conflicts, by differences inherited from our ancestors… We are pained by the loss of unity, the outcome of human weakness and of sin, which has occurred despite the priestly prayer of Christ the Savior: “So that they may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you… so that they may be one, as we are one” (Jn 17:21).
6. Mindful of the permanence of many obstacles, it is our hope that our meeting may contribute to the re-establishment of this unity willed by God, for which Christ prayed. May our meeting inspire Christians throughout the world to pray to the Lord with renewed fervor for the full unity of all His disciples. In a world which yearns not only for our words but also for tangible gestures, may this meeting be a sign of hope for all people of goodwill!…
12. We bow before the martyrdom of those who, at the cost of their own lives, have given witness to the truth of the Gospel, preferring death to the denial of Christ. We believe that these martyrs of our times, who belong to various Churches but who are united by their shared suffering, are a pledge of the unity of Christians. It is to you who suffer for Christ’s sake that the word of the Apostle is directed: “Beloved… rejoice to the extent that you share in the sufferings of Christ, so that when his glory is revealed you may also rejoice exultantly” (1Pet 4:12–13)…
29. May our bold witness to God’s truth and to the Good News of salvation be sustained by the Man-God Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior, who strengthens us with the unfailing promise: “Do not be afraid any longer, little flock, for your Father is pleased to give you the kingdom” (Lk12:32)! Christ is the well-spring of joy and hope. Faith in Him transfigures human life, fills it with meaning. This is the conviction borne of the experience of all those to whom Peter refers in his words: “Once you were ‘no people’ but now you are God’s people; you ‘had not received mercy’ but now you have received mercy” (1 Pet 2:10)…
+ Francis + Kirill, Bishop of Rome, Pope of the Catholic Church, Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia
12 February 2016, Havana (Cuba)