The first meeting in centuries between the Pope and the Patriarch of Moscow took place in a relaxed and fraternal atmosphere. Two hours of private talks were followed by the signing of a Joint Declaration. As he thanked Raul Castro, the pope said, "If things continue like this, Cuba will be the capital of unity." Both leaders are committed to defending Christians around the world and support "the foundations of morality, the family and the person".
Havana (AsiaNews) – “Finally!” is the first thing Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill said to each other when they met and hugged in a VIP room at Havana Airport.
Across centuries of excommunications, theological differences and mutual acrimony, the first meeting ever between a Roman Pontiff and the head of the Russian Orthodox Church took place in a plain “secular” room. The only touch of colour came from the green flag of the Moscow Patriarchate, and the white and yellow flag of the Vatican.
In a relaxed and fraternal atmosphere, the two leaders sat down and started talking. Kirill stressed the "long way" it took for them to meet, adding right away that it was all the work “of the Holy Trinity." Both said they had wanted and "waited so long for this meeting".
The patriarch mentioned the difficulties of "the past ten years", which "have not gone away," i.e. charges of proselytising and the problem of the Greek Catholic Church. Nevertheless, "Today we have the opportunity of filling our hearts."
For his, Pope Francis said, "We are brothers. We have everything in common. The Lord sent us to Cuba to unite ourselves further."
In fact, the Cuba meeting has something quite providential. Kirill is on the island nation on a pastoral visit to the local Orthodox community. Francis’ plane made a technical stop in Havana ahead of his 11th apostolic trip outside of Italy.
Walking together, pope and patriarch met in private for nearly two hours. Afterwards, they went back to the VIP room and sat at a table where they signed two copies of the Joint Declaration, which they then proceeded to exchange followed by another hug. Behind them stood a large icon of the Virgin Mary, a Hodegetria (literally: "She who shows the Way").
In the presence of the two delegations as well as Cuban President Raul Castro, Patriarch Kirill and Pope Francis spoke briefly without a written text, in a very relaxed manner.
Kirill, who spoke first, said that the meeting "gave us the opportunity to understand and hear the position of each other."
"The result of the conversation,” he noted, “is that our Churches can actively work together and with full responsibility defend Christians around the world as well as ensure no more war and respect for human life everywhere, so that the foundations of morality, the family, and the person can be reinforced, and the holy name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit can be glorified through the participation of the Christian community in the human community."
In his address, Francis also insisted on the brotherly spirit of the meeting. "We spoke like brothers. We have the same baptism. We are bishops. We spoke about our Churches.”
The pontiff went on to say that “unity is built as we move along. We spoke clearly, without mincing our words. I confess I felt the consolation of the Spirit in our talk," he explained.
The pope thanked Patriarch Kirill for "his brotherly humility and strong desire for unity," and mentioned “a number of feasible initiatives [. . .] that can be implemented."
In his final thoughts, the pontiff turned to President Castro, whom he thanked "for his active readiness," noting that "If things continue like this, Cuba will be the capital of unity." On the island in fact, relations between Orthodox and Catholics are good.
Like Kirill, Francis also ended his address with a doxology. "May all this be for the glory of God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, and for the good of the people of God under the mantle of the Holy Mother of God."
Lastly, the two delegations were introduced, gifts were exchanged and the two leaders held a final private moment together. After that, Pope Francis walked back to his plane for the final leg of his trip to Mexico City.