The Orthodox Patriarch of Moscow (Russia) has not met with the Pope since 1054 A.D. …until February 12, 2016. The two religious leaders met in the airport at Havana as the Pope travelled to Mexico for an apostolic visit. They issued a joint declaration of thirty paragraphs clearly expressing their desire for unity, peace, and collaboration in facing some of the world’s most serious problems.
The meeting got minor attention from the media, and the joint declaration was given little attention except in the Vatican Radio’s News Release. Journalists politicized the meeting as a concession to president Putin of Russia or a mere photo opportunity. Ecumenists stress the historic nature of the meeting, its profound influence on Catholic-Orthodox relations, especially in view of the upcoming pan-Orthodox synod scheduled for 2016/2017.
The joint declaration begins with a statement of gratitude to God for bringing the leaders together and their hope for reintegration of two churches that have shared unity for an entire millennium from the time of Jesus Christ to the regrettable division between East and West at the beginning of the second millennium (1054 A.D.)
Much of the encyclical stresses the need for religious collaboration in combatting climate change, economic disparity, denial of religious freedom, and the persecution of Christians in the war torn region of the Middle East. The leaders deplore the hostilities in the Ukraine and invite all those involved in the conflict to prudence, social solidarity and action aimed at constructing peace. They also plead for the release of two bishops, one a Catholic and the other an Orthodox kidnapped by the ISIS terrorists.
The joint declaration reminds readers of the call of Jesus and his prayer for unity among Christians, and the command to unconditioned love and forgiveness. The declaration’s theme and tone reflect a desire for reconciliation and a new approach to the problems facing all peoples in a world that is interdependent and requires the contribution of all to a better world for the future.
Other topics treated by the joint declaration concern immigration and refugees from Iraq and Syria suffering from war in the Mideast. Family life, human rights, especially the right to life and religious freedom are emphasized. Both leaders express their concern for young people and their need to grow in faith and religious values received from parents and forbears.
The declaration ends with a prayer of thanksgiving to God for the gift of mutual understanding during the meeting and the hope that the Blessed Virgin Mary will inspire fraternity in all who invoke her so that they may be united in God’s own time “in peace and the one people of God for the glory of the Most Holy and indivisible Trinity.”