Ecumenical outreach by Pope Francis


05 February 2016 | by Christopher Lamb – ‘THE TABLET’

Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill of Moscow will meet in Cuba next week

Pope announces "first in history" meeting with Russian Patriarch Kirill

The Vatican has announced that Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill of Moscow will meet in Cuba on 12 February.

The historic encounter will take place over two hours at Havana airport on Francis’ way to Mexico and include the signing of a joint declaration.

It will be seen as an important step in trying to heal the 1,000-year-old rift between Eastern and Western Christianity which split during the great schism of 1054.

A meeting between the Pope and the Patriarch has been on the cards for some time although it has always been envisaged that such an encounter needed to take place on neutral territory.

Patriarch Kirill is visiting Cuba at the invitation of President Raul Castro at the same time that the Pope is in Mexico (12-18 February).

A statement from the Holy See said: “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.”

Fr Federico Lombardi, the director of the Holy See Press Office, said that Pope Francis would be accompanied by Cardinal Kurt Koch, the President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity and the meeting will take place with the use of Spanish and Russian interpreters.

While the “de facto” leader of the the Eastern Orthodox Church is the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, the Russians hold a key influence in Orthodoxy.


This Pope will not let the grass grown under his feet – for want of ecumencial outreach to other Churches of both East and West – during his pontificate.

This meeting with the Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill of Moscow marks a new attempt to help reconcile the Churches of East and West, which have been separated for the last 1,000 years. That the meeting should have been arranged to take place while the Russian Patriarch is in Cuba and Pope Francis is on his way to Mexico might seem to be a strange coincidence. Nevertheless, the fact that both Church leaders have agreed to this meeting on ‘neutral ground’ seems auspicious, giving hope for further communication between leaders of the two largest Churches in Christendom.

However, this is not the only evidence of the Pope’s willingness to engage in ecumencial activity. While on a visit to Sweden later in the year, Pope Franhcis will join with leaders of the Swedish Lutheran Church to celebrate the 500th Anniversary of the Protestant Reformation:

“Intense media interest surrounds Pope Francis’ forthcoming visit to Sweden later this year with the Church expressing the hope that it will lead to greater ecumenical cooperation and to Christians becoming “more visible” in a strongly secularised country”. – (‘TABLET’ article)

While we in the world-wide Anglican Communion seem unable to maintain our Unity in Diversity – over matters of internal disagreement – here we have the Roman Pontiff making positive attempts to reconcile the previously estranged Church bodies that have separated out on much greater and more contentious issues than we struggle with. One wonders why, when the Bishop of Rome seeks reconciliation, we Anglicans find difficulty in living together because of  differences of opinion on gender and sexuality.

Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand

About kiwianglo

Retired Anglican priest, living in Christchurch, New Zealand. Ardent supporter of LGBT Community, and blogger on 'Thinking Anglicans UK' site. Theology: liberal, Anglo-Catholic & traditional. regarding each person as a unique expression of Christ, and therefore lovable.
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