Vatican City (AsiaNews) – Francis will meet Kirill, said an announcement released today in the Vatican.
In their joint statement, “The Holy See and the Patriarchate of Moscow are pleased to announce that, by the grace of God, His Holiness Pope Francis and His Holiness Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia will meet on February 12 next.
“Their meeting will take place in Cuba, where the Pope will make a stop on his way to Mexico, and where the Patriarch will be on an official visit. It will include a personal conversation at Havana’s José Martí International Airport, and will conclude with the signing of a joint declaration.
“This meeting of the Primates of the Catholic Church and the Russian Orthodox Church, after a long preparation, will be the first in history and will mark an important stage in relations between the two Churches.
“The Holy See and the Moscow Patriarchate hope that it will also be a sign of hope for all people of good will. They invite all Christians to pray fervently for God to bless this meeting, that it may bear good fruits.”
Holy See Press Office Father Federico Lombardi said that the meeting took “a couple years to prepare”. Originally, “the idea was to hold it in a neutral place that would be neither Russia nor the Vatican. For those who can remember, the names of various places in Europe were mentioned at the time of John Paul II . . .
“The idea was always about neutral but meaningful places for both sides, and Cuba is certainly a crossroad in today’s world. [. . .] Obviously, it is a place well known to the Russian Orthodox Church as well as the Catholic Church. Three popes have visited Cuba in recent times”: John Paul II in 1998; Benedict XVI in 2012; and Francis in September 2015.
For Father Lombardi, "the fact that Cuba is outside Europe is an interesting aspect." The meeting will take place in “two separate venues”. In one, “the patriarch and the pope will hold private talks”. In an adjoining room, “the two delegations will meet” and the “two leaders sign a joint declaration”.
“During the private meeting, Metropolitan Hilarion will accompany the Patriarch and Cardinal Koch, the Holy Father. Since the two are expected to speak in Russian and in Spanish, two interpreters will also be present.”
"The private talk is expected to be somewhat long, a couple of hours. Afterwards, at around 4:15 pm, local time, gifts will be exchanged. The Patriarch and the Pope will move to the adjoining room for the signing of the joint declaration. Cuban President Raul Castro, Metropolitan Hilarion and Cardinal Koch will be present.
“The original declaration will be in Russian and Italian. The Pope and the Patriarch will sign the two versions and then proceed to exchange them. Both Patriarch Kirill and the Pope will make a brief speech. Neither is expected to read from a long prepared text but rather express their personal thoughts and feelings about this extraordinary and wonderful event."
Responding to a question from a journalist who asked if the meeting in Cuba opens the doors to a papal trip to Moscow, Father Lombardi said that "every step in the direction of dialogue, mutual understanding, [and] shared journey against a past of separation, division and controversy represent an important step for the world.”
The Catholic and Russian Orthodox Churches “are two very large communities of faith,” he explained. “This is big news because Francis and Kirill are meeting after failing to do so in the past. Now we can start to hope for a trip to Moscow."
The Holy See Press Office director did not address the issues that divide Rome and Moscow, first of all Eastern Catholics, derogatively labelled ‘Uniate’ by the Orthodox, an issue that has been characterised by persecution and violence in the past.
For the Moscow Patriarchate, the matter until now represented an insurmountable obstacle to a meeting between the pope and the patriarch. Now, Fr Lombardi said, “the fact that this meeting has been agreed upon can lead one to think that on some points dialogue with a positive outcome is possible and that what were considered not yet surmountable obstacles can now be overcome.”
Father Lombardi added that "informed about the upcoming meeting between the Pope and the Patriarch of Moscow Kirill, the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I expressed his satisfaction and joy for this embrace between the head of the Catholic Church and that of the largest Orthodox community in world".
In order to make the meeting with Kirill possible, Father Lombardi said that the plane taking the Pope to Mexico will leave earlier, at 7.45 am instead of the planned 12:30 pm, so as to make a stopover in Cuba possible.
However, “No changes are planned” for the Mexico trip. The pope’s plane will arrived in Mexico at the scheduled time.