Another surprise from Pope Francis has come these days. After the news of the visit to Sweden at the end of the year on the occasion of the anniversary of Luther’s reform and the first ever interview made by a pope fully on China to AsiaTime online and published in the past few days, here comes the joint announcement of the meeting between Francis and Kirill on February 12. A meeting that was discussed, desired and prepared for a long time, but its realization still comes with surprise and emotion.
The Risen Lord says: “you must go and tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you to Galilee’” (Mk 16.7). The Risen Lord goes before us everywhere, as he did at the upper room and at Emmaus, wherever men build their cities, everywhere they love. Today the Risen Lord precedes us in the land of Cuba, where through the encounter between the Bishop of Rome and the Patriarch of Moscow the Christian people becomes even more and more visibly one flock in the footsteps of the one shepherd. In the land of Cuba, land traditionally atheist, which a few months ago had rejoiced for the “reconciliation” with the United States thanks to the mediation of the Pope. Cuba today seems almost “return” the favor in an evolving history where faith exceeds doubt and human logics. Furthermore, it should not be overlooked that Francis and Kirill will meet at an airport, that is a meeting place, a place of passage, a crossroad between people in an increasingly interconnected and globalized world.
A history of division and excommunications is the one between the Catholics and Orthodox, which has not only hurt the Church and the Christian community as a whole, but also offended the faith of the simple and questioned the credibility and the “feasibility” of Christian love and brotherhood. As Christians, how can we announce the brotherly love and peace if we are separated? Here is the scandal that it is now time to stop, overcoming old divisions and claims, while looking with pragmatism and mutual respect to the history and tradition of each side.
Today Pope Francis builds on Paul VI’s legacy. In his well-known trip to the Holy Land, in fact, Paul VI embraced the Patriarch of Constantinople Athenagoras and together they cancelled their mutual excommunications. Pope Francis collects the seeds sown by the Second Vatican Council, of which he even further confirms the centrality in the life of the Church – not only in words, but with concrete, objective, field choices that leave no room for doubt or ambiguous interpretations, unless there are improbable manipulations.
Kirill makes this gesture of reconciliation in a time when the bishops of the Orthodox churches agreed to convene this year a pan-Orthodox Synod. Since the second Council of Nicea (787 a.C.) it has been for more than twelve centuries that the various Eastern Churches do not meet together on the occasion of a council. This is also a sign of the times, a hope for reconciliation and unity.
The next February 12 in Cuba Francis and Kirill will show that the Christian way to overcome the “hostility” and break down the “barriert” is reconciliation. Revived strongly through the extraordinary Jubilee of mercy, reconciliation becomes the ordinary way to follow for each of us, a via sacra that exceeds the boundaries of individual churches to reunite ideally in the one Church of Christ. Francis and Kirill are well aware that reconciliation and unity must be pursued with all means not only as basic conditions of the Christian community, image of Christ’s body. In fact, how to deal with the challenges and evils of the modern world by proclaiming and bringing the Gospel if first we the Christians are not united? Poverty, which still affects a large part of humanity; international migration and in particular the growing number of refugees fleeing from wars and totalitarian regimes; the side effects of globalisation, which affects the weakest and contribute to consolidate an economic system based on profit and social inequalities; the crisis of values because of rampant materialism and consumerism, which invade even emerging countries and the Western world of Christian tradition; the plight of Christians living in the Middle East and in many parts of the world where they are a persecuted minority; the difficulties of the Christian churches – the decline of vocations, the difficulties of clergy and religious, the new pastoral problems.
We hope and pray that this meeting will be a fruitful seed that bears much fruit – ut unum sint!