Magazine article The Christian Century

Pope and Patriarch Enter 'Shared Labor'

Magazine article The Christian Century

Pope and Patriarch Enter 'Shared Labor'

Article excerpt

After two years of secret talks aimed at healing ties broken during the Great Schism of 1054, Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill, head of the Russian Orthodox Church, met in Cuba.

It was the first time in history that the leader of the Catholic Church has met with a Russian patriarch.

"It is with joy that we have met like brothers in the Christian faith," the patriarch and pope wrote in a joint statement, "to discuss the mutual relations between the churches, the crucial problems of our faithful, and the outlook for the progress of human civilization."

Kirill was in Cuba on an official visit and Francis was on his way to Mexico when the pair had a private talk for two hours on February 12 at Havana's Jose Marti International Airport.

Cuba was also chosen as neutral ground. It is a long-standing ally of Russia, and both Russian leader Vladimir Putin and the Russian Orthodox Church, which generally supports Putin and his nationalist aims, are deeply suspicious of appearing to defer to the West.

"By meeting far from the long-standing disputes of the 'Old World,' we experience with a particular sense of urgency the need for the shared labor of Catholics and Orthodox," they wrote.

Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill called for work together on global poverty, the sanctity of human life, and the persecution of Christians and the migration it has compelled. They mentioned particular concern for kidnapped Orthodox metropolitan Paul Yazigi and archbishop Yohanna Ibrahim of Aleppo, Syria, who have been captive since April 2013.

The metropolitan and archbishop are from two of the independent churches in Orthodox Christianity, which are largely based in Eastern Europe or the Middle East and are grouped by nationality, language, and cultural traditions as well as theology.

About two-thirds of people in the Orthodox tradition are Russian Orthodox, a church that often asserts its autonomy, though the ecumenical patriarch of Constantinople is the formal leader of Eastern Orthodoxy, the "first among equals."

Pope Paul VI met with the patriarch of Constantinople, Athenagoras, in Jerusalem in 1964 in a historic first, and subsequent popes--including Francis--have met with Athenagoras's successors.

In their joint statement, Francis and Kirill addressed the rift in Christian history, especially noting that their two churches have been "deprived of Communion in the Eucharist" for nearly a thousand years. …

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