Pope Francis meets the Patriarch of Moscow, Kirill I in Cuba

Source: FSSPX News

On February 12, 2016, during his visit to Mexico, Pope Francis made a stop in Cuba to meet the patriarch of Moscow, Kirill I.

After speaking for a few minutes with the Cuban president, Raul Castro, the Sovereign Pontiff met with the Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church in a room at the airport in Havana. “Finally, we meet, we are brothers,” Pope Francis rejoiced according to Radio Vatican on February 12. The Patriarch of Moscow replied, “Things will be easier now…” Jean-Marie Guénois commented in the Figaro of February 13 that they “still did not go so far as to pray together, or at least not in public as Francis and the other great Orthodox patriarch, Bartholomew of Constantinople in May 2014, in Jerusalem, in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.” Along the same lines, the Pope did not “publicly make a profound bow before the Russian cleric, a gesture of striking deference that he had made before Patriarch Bartholomew in Istanbul, in November 2014.”

The two men then conversed privately, away from the cameras but in the presence of Raul Castro, for approximately two hours. “In the memory of prelates, no pope has ever granted such a lengthy audience to a personage either at the Vatican or abroad, except privately,” Jean-Marie Guénois added.

A “historic” meeting?

“For once, the qualifier ‘historic’ seems appropriate,” commented daily Le Monde on February 13. “This event is one of great significance. It represents one more step down the path of ecumenism, taken by the Catholic Church following the Second Vatican Council,” stated journalist Constance Colonna-Cesari told the Point on February 12. “Nearly 1,000 years after the Great Schism between Rome and Constantinople split Christianity in two, in 1054, these two men embraced,” enthused Radio Vatican on the same day.

More measured—or better informed—was Roberto de Mattei’s piece in Corrispondenza Romana, which upheld that “it is not true that a thousand years of history separate the Church of Rome from the Patriarchate of Moscow, seeing that this came about only in 1589.” In this February 17 article, translated into English by Rorate Caeli, “Shortly afterwards, in 1453, the Byzantine Empire was conquered by the Turks and in its collapse, the Patriarchate of Constantinople was swept away. The idea arose then that Moscow had to pick up the legacy of the Byzantium and become the new centre for the Orthodox Christian Church. (…) The Russians became the new defenders of “orthodoxy”, announcing the advent of a “Third Rome”, following the Catholic and Byzantine ones.”

“It would be a major error to think that this is a historic encounter for the Catholic and Orthodox Churches,” opines likewise Jean- François Colosimo, professor of Orthodox theology at the Institut Saint-Serge in Paris and head of Cerf publishing. On France 24, February 13, he pointed out that “the historic meeting took place in 1964 in Jerusalem, when the Orthodox Patriarch of Constantinople Athenagoras met with Pope Paul VI.

The event is nonetheless noteworthy. Jean- François Colosimo admits it, “It is the first time that a pope meets with a patriarch of the Russian Church. This church is not the most important of the Orthodox Church from a hierarchical point of view, but it is in terms of faithful and resources. Its members make up 50% of the orthodox world.”

On his return from this meeting with his “dear brother Kirill,” the Sovereign Pontiff insisted on offering up “special praise,” in his own words, quoted on the website of the Catholic Church in Belgium the next morning. “This event is also a prophetic light of the Resurrection that the world needs,” stated the Holy Father. And he led the faithful gathered in St. Peter’s Square in a Hail Mary, asking them to pray “especially” to Our Lady of Kazan in Russia, that “she may continue to guide us on the path of unity.”

A common declaration

After their private meeting, Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill signed a common declaration, “a dense text of which each word was weighed, showing convergence on a number of points,” according to Radio Vatican. Recognizing the fact that “human civilization has entered into a time of transition between eras,” Francis and Kirill affirmed, in this thirty-paragraph text, their common desire to arrive at unity—“determined to undertake everything necessary to overcome the historical divergences we have inherited”—and the necessity for Catholics and Orthodox to “learn to bear unanimous witness to the truth in the domains where it is possible and necessary.”

Bishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk.

The issue of the Uniates

The statement touches on the issue of the Uniates, the Eastern Catholics who recognize Catholic doctrine and the supreme power of the Pope, the while keeping their eastern rites. They are chiefly found in Ukraine. The statement specifies in paragraph 2 that this method is “of the past,” not a “means for regaining unity.” As observers noted, this article follows the line laid down by the “declaration of Balamand” (Lebanon) of June 23, 1993, on the occasion of the “7th meeting for theological dialogue between the Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church.”

In commenting on paragraph 25, Roberto de Mattei notes nonetheless that “the Uniates constitute the most numerous group of Catholics in the Eastern Rite and represent a living witness to the universality of the Catholic Church. According to the Italian academic, the declaration is “ungenerous” towards communities who, throughout the centuries, have produced “numerous martyrs.”

This same passage has provoked lively criticism from Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk. According to the primate of the Greek Catholic Church of Ukraine, quoted by news agency Apic on February 18, Moscow demanded of Rome that this passage should be in the statement, as a “condition, an ultimatum, for the possibility of a meeting between the Pope and the Patriarch.” According to Apic, Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk is “even more critical of paragraph 26 of the declaration,” which exhorts “all parties to the conflict” in Ukraine to “prudence” and calls on “our Churches in Ukraine to abstain from participating in the confrontation.” The primate of the Greek Catholic Church declared that the Havana statement has caused “grave disappointment” among his faithful, who feel “betrayed by the Vatican.” He tempered his words, however, by suggesting that “its importance in the life of the Church not be exaggerated.”

A geopolitical rapprochement?

The issue of the Uniates is not the only point addressed in the declaration. It also discusses “major contemporary issues” such as “religious liberty, family, destruction of Creation, unity of Europe,” as well as “conflict in the Middle East.” In paragraphs 8, 9 and 10, the document clearly describes the “persecution” to which these Christians “are subjected”: “our brothers and sisters in Christ are exterminated by families, cities and whole villages. Their churches are destroyed and looted in barbaric fashion, their sacred objects are profaned, their monuments are destroyed.” In L’Express of February 15, Christian Makarian points out that “the fraternizing between Francis and Kirill is not aimed at the unity of Churches, but rather a united front against the jihadi threat, whose goal is to wipe out all the Christians of the Middle East.” Jean- François Colosimo feels that “for Francis, the situation of Catholics in Syria and Iraq is urgent. He is speaking of an ecumenism of blood. Moscow and Rome will gloss over the past to make common cause against new threats, such as Islamism.”

According to Jean-Marie Guénois, this geopolitical explanation is “the key to this rapprochement between the Russian patriarchate and the Vatican, because Russia is currently seeking a way out of its diplomatic isolation due to its support of the Damascus regime in Syria.” Mario Proietti confirmed this on February 12, in Italian online daily La Nuova Bussola. Translated into French by Benoit & Moi, the article suggests that the meeting was under the “patronage” of Russian president Vladimir Putin, “who not only authorized but wished for this meeting, from the perspective of the geopolitical interests of Russia.” Moreover, the Italian journalist writes, “Patriarch Kirill is very close to the president, and this is nothing new.”

Cuba President Raul Castro, on the right of the picture.


Cuba, “neutral ground”?

Interviewed by Aid to the Church in Need, (ACN), Peter Humeniuk, their expert on Russia, believes “this meeting between the Pope and the Patriarch of Moscow had to take place on neutral ground. The European countries were not ideal, because they are related with too many historical events and dark memories.” In their common statement, the two spiritual leaders dwelt on the importance of Cuba, the symbol of the hopes of the “New World,” “where North and South, East and West intersect.” Pauline Mille said on February 15 on the website Reinformation.tv that this amounts to a “real declaration of globalist progressivism.” This site also mentions the presence of Raul Castro, “notorious atheist, brother of a bloody Communist dictator…” all of which makes the journalist feel that “behind the expressed desire of reconciliation between Catholics and Orthodox, in support of excellent things such as the defense of life and of Middle-Eastern Christians, is hidden a clear step towards syncretism and world revolution.”

According to Roberto de Mattei, “the importance of the meeting, according to the words of Francis himself, was not in the document - of a merely “pastoral” nature - but in the convergence towards a common destination, not political nor moral, but religious. As for the traditional Magisterium of the Church, articulated in documents, Pope Francis seems to want it substituted by a Neo-Magisterium, transmitted through symbolic events.” De Mattei, professor at the European University of Rome, adds that “this embrace with Kirill tends above all towards the acceptance of the Orthodox principal of synodality, needed “to democratize” the Roman Church.” He concludes with an announcement that is just as much a warning: “As regards the [actual] substance of the faith and not the Church’s structure itself, the most important symbolic event of the year will be perhaps Francis’ commemoration of the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, scheduled for next October in Lund, Sweden.”

(Sources: kipa-apic.ch – Le Monde – ACN – Benoit et moi – Le Figaro – L’Express – Le Point – France 24 – Radio Vatican – Reinformation.tv – Corrispondenza Romana – DICI no. 331, dated February 26 2016)

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