Joint Declaration of Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill

Patriarch Kirill
Pope Francis
Patriarch Kirill (left) in 2009, and Pope Francis (right) in 2015.

The Joint Declaration of Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill was issued following the historic first meeting in February 2016 between Pope Francis, leader of the Roman Catholic Church, and Patriarch Kirill of Moscow, leader of the Russian Orthodox Church. This was the first time the leaders of the two churches had met, a symbolic moment continuing the decades-long process leading to closer relations between Catholic and Orthodox churches which had split in the Great Schism of 1054.[1]

The meeting and the 30-point declaration was reported by media worldwide, particularly in Russia, highlighting the joint call by the two leaders for an end to the persecution of Christians in the Middle East and to wars in the region. The declaration also expressed their hopes that the meeting would contribute towards the re-establishment of Christian unity between the two churches. A range of other issues were mentioned in the declaration, including atheism, secularism, consumerism, migrants and refugees, the importance of the family, of marriage, and concerns relating to abortion and euthanasia.[2]

Commentators stated that the meeting was historic and highly symbolic, and that it was a coup for Pope Francis to have achieved the meeting. However, some analysts also warned that the meeting was motivated less by a desire for Christian unity, and more by internal Orthodox politics and geopolitical influence from Russia.


Athenagoras with Paul VI in 1964
Pope Francis and Patriarch Bartholomew in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem in 2014
Main article: East–West Schism

The Great Schism of 1054 split Christianity between West and East, between the Roman Catholic Church led by the bishop of Rome, and the Eastern Orthodox Church led by the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople.[3] Attempts were made over the subsequent centuries to heal the rift, such as the 1274 Second Council of Lyon and the 1439 Council of Florence, but these failed. More recent attempts to foster closer relations between the churches included the Catholic–Orthodox Joint Declaration of 1965 following the 1964 meeting between Pope Paul VI and the Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras I of Constantinople in Jerusalem.[4] Following that meeting and declaration, a number of meetings, visits and symbolic events had taken place involving Catholic and Orthodox leaders (including visits by Pope John Paul II, and especially between several popes and Bartholomew I of Constantinople), but never a meeting between a Pope and a leader of the Russian Orthodox Church.[4] The first time a Pope visited a predominantly Eastern Orthodox country was in 1999 when Pope John Paul II visited Romania.[5]

Within the communion of the autocephalous (administratively independent) local (national) churches of Orthodoxy, the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople based in what is now Turkey's Istanbul is regarded as a bishop who enjoys the primus inter pares status, but he has no direct administrative powers over other Orthodox churches.[4] The Russian Orthodox Church (Moscow Patriarchate) that became autocephalous at the end of the 16th century is believed to be numerically the largest of the local Orthodox churches; it has close ties with the Russian state, thus according a geopolitical significance to a meeting of its Patriarch with the Pope. The decentralised nature of Orthodoxy meant that such meeting could not have direct significance for pan-Orthodox issues. Two weeks earlier, the leaders of the Orthodox churches, including Patriarch Kirill, had met in Chambésy, Switzerland, to make final preparations for a historic Great and Holy Council of the Orthodox Church, re-scheduled for June 2016.[6]

Attempts had previously been made to arrange a meeting between a Pope and a Russian Patriarch, but these attempts had failed. Tensions had risen between the churches after the fall of Communism as the Churches "moved to pick up the pieces".[7] Negotiations had been held in the 1990s for a possible meeting between Patriarch Alexy II of Moscow and Pope John Paul II.[8] The possibility of a meeting of Patriarch Kirill (elected in 2009) with Pope Benedict XVI had been explored prior to Benedict's retirement in March 2013, and Pope Benedict had met the future Patriarch Kirill in Rome in 2006 when Kirill was chairman of the Department of External Church Relations for the Moscow Patriarchate.[7][n 1]

Meeting in Havana

Havana airport VIP Lounge

Two years of secret planning and months of detailed negotiation were necessary to arrange the meeting between the Pope and the Russian Patriarch.[4][9] The Pope was willing to meet the Patriarch, having said in November 2014: "I'll go wherever you want. You call me and I'll go."[10] Agreement from the Russian Orthodox side was complicated by that church's close ties to Russia and international tensions over Russia's intervention in Crimea and Ukraine.[4] The pre-meeting announcement from the Moscow Patriarchate stated that they had agreed to "put aside internal disagreements" in order to focus on the plight of Christians being persecuted.[4] Cuba, a location that was significant to both sides, provided the requirements for a neutral meeting place as neither Rome nor Moscow would have been suitable.[11] The meeting, made possible by the timing of both leaders' visits to the region, was announced a week in advance on 5 February 2016.[4]

The meeting took place on 12 February 2016 in a VIP room at José Martí International Airport in Havana, Cuba. The Pope arrived at 2pm local time, and the two leaders embraced and kissed.[9] A 2-hour private meeting was followed by the signing of the joint declaration, which had been prepared in advance. Patriarch Kirill was in Havana on an official visit as part of a tour of the region, including visits to Brazil and Paraguay. Pope Francis arrived at the airport by airplane on his way to his tour of Mexico.[11]

Cuban dignitaries present for this occasion included President Raúl Castro, Cardinal Jaime Lucas Ortega y Alamino (Archbishop of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of San Cristóbal de la Habana) and Archbishop Dionisio Garcia Ibanez (of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Santiago de Cuba).[12] The meeting itself was held in a private room and attended by translators and by the aides of the two leaders, Cardinal Kurt Koch, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, and Metropolitan Hilarion, chairman of the Department of External Church Relations for the Moscow Patriarchate of the Russian Orthodox Church.[12]

At the end of the meeting, there was an exchange of gifts.[13] Pope Francis gave the Patriarch a chalice as well as a reliquary of the 9th-century Saint Cyril (buried in Rome). Patriarch Kirill gave the Pope an original copy of the icon of the Virgin of Kazan. Other presents exchanged were a Spanish-language translation of Patriarch Kirill's book Freedom and Responsibility (2011) and a Russian-language translation of Pope Francis's encyclical Laudato si' (2015).[13]

Joint declaration

The joint declaration was published by the Vatican in Italian, Russian, English, German, French, Spanish, Portuguese and Arabic.[14] The Russian Orthodox Church published it in Russian, English, Italian, French, Spanish and Ukrainian.[15] It consisted of 30 numbered sections on a range of topics.[14]

The first section of the declaration gave thanks for this meeting "the first in history" and referred to the leaders as "brothers in the Christian faith".[14] Sections 2 and 3 referred to their meeting place of Cuba as "the crossroads of North and South, East and West", and expressed joy at the growth of Christianity in Latin America.[14] Sections 4-6 expressed their views on their shared spiritual tradition ("the first millennium of Christianity") and their hopes that their meeting "may contribute to the re–establishment of this unity willed by God".[14]

Sections 7-21 referred to "the challenges of the contemporary world".[14] Issues raised included the persecution of Christians in the Middle East and North Africa; the impact of civil war, chaos and terrorist violence; the exodus of Christians from Syria and Iraq; and the suffering experienced by the faithful of other religious traditions.[14] The declaration went on to refer to the renewal of the Christian faith in Russia and Eastern Europe and the "breaking of the chains of militant atheism", the rise of secularism, consumerism, inequality, migrants and refugees, and the place of Christianity in the process of European integration.[14] Further sections emphasised the importance of the family, of marriage, and their concerns relating to abortion, euthanasia, and "biomedical reproduction technology".[14]

Sections 22-27 of the declaration turned back to theological matters, touching on and moving away from the principle of uniatism (see Balamand declaration and Eastern Catholic Churches). The matter of the schism between Catholic and Orthodox communities in Ukraine was raised in section 27 (see Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church). The closing sections called on Catholics and Orthodox to "work together fraternally in proclaiming the Good News of salvation" and to "give shared witness to the Spirit of truth in these difficult times".[14] The declaration concluded with a prayer to the Blessed Virgin Mary.[14]


The meeting was characterised by commentators as being "historic" and "richly symbolic"[9], and described by Russian TV as the "meeting of the millennium".[11] However, analysts stated that the meeting was also political, being about rivalries among Orthodox leaders, long-standing tensions within Ukrainian Orthodoxy, and about Russian President Vladimir Putin asserting Russia's influence on the world stage, motivated by his actions in Syria and Ukraine.[3][9] Overall, the meeting was "not expected to lead to any immediate rapprochement between the Eastern and Western Churches".[11]

Patriarch Kirill has faced criticism over his policies that have brought the Russian Orthodox Church closer to the Russian State. Yury Avvakumov, assistant professor of theology at the University of Notre Dame, described the Moscow Patriarchate as "an instrument of Russian international policy [...] and an effective transmitter worldwide of the political interests of the Russian rulers."[10] The view that the meeting was motivated by internal Orthodox politics was expressed by George Demacopoulos, Greek-Orthodox chairman of Orthodox Christian studies at Fordham University in New York: "This isn't benevolence. It's not a newfound desire for Christian unity [...] It is almost entirely about (Kirill) posturing and trying to present himself as the leader of Orthodoxy."[3]

Similar views were expressed by Borys Gudziak (Ukrainian Eparchial Bishop in France, Benelux and Switzerland), who stated that "the two protagonists in this drama come to it bearing different legacies", contrasting the moral authority of Pope Francis and his billion followers, with that of Patriarch Kirill and the Russian Orthodox Church "limping from a century of persecution and still looking for its moral voice in post-Soviet Russian society".[16] Gudziak also highlighted the internal tensions in Orthodoxy, and that an independent Ukrainian Orthodox Church would greatly reduce the power of the Russian Orthodox Church.[16] Gudziak also pointed out the tensions arising from the impending Pan-Orthodox council in June, the first to be held in centuries.[16][n 2] In addition to this, Patriarch Kirill may face opposition from conservative groups in Russian Orthodoxy opposed to closer ties with the Roman Catholic Church.[11]

For Pope Francis, the meeting was an "ecumenical and diplomatic coup"[9], as he achieved what his predecessors had failed to do. US Jesuit priest Robert F. Taft credited the new approach by Pope Francis for creating the conditions needed for the meeting, opining that "Russia is coming to understand that the Catholic Church sees them as a sister church, not as someone who separated from the only real Church."[8] The Associated Press report stated that the meeting added to Francis' reputation as a "risk-taking statesman who values dialogue, bridge-building and rapprochement at almost any cost".[3] When asked about the possibility of being the first pope to visit Russia and China, Pope Francis pointed to his heart and said: "China and Russia, I have them here. Pray."[10]

Notes and further reading

  1. For more on the background and the earlier meetings between Popes and Orthodox leaders, see 'Pope Francis, Patriarch Kirill and the God of Surprises' by US prelate and Roman Catholic bishop Mitchell T. Rozanski.[7]
  2. For more on issues relating to the planned Pan-Orthodox Council, see 'At Last, A Council for the Ages?' by John Chryssavgis, US theologian and advisor to Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew.[17]


  1. "Unity call as Pope Francis holds historic talks with Russian Orthodox Patriarch". BBC. 2016-02-13. Retrieved 2016-02-13.
  2. Pope Francis; Patriarch Kirill (2016-02-12). Written at Havana, Cuba. "Joint Declaration of Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia". Vatican City. Archived from the original on 2016-02-15. Retrieved 2016-02-15.
  3. 1 2 3 4 Winfield, Nicole (2016-02-12). "'FINALLY': POPE MEETS RUSSIAN ORTHODOX LEADER". Associated Press. Retrieved 2016-02-14.
  4. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Scammell, Rosie (2016-02-10). "Pope Francis and Russian patriarch to meet in Cuba in historic breakthrough". Prairie Messenger. Retrieved 2016-02-14.
  5. "BBC News - Europe - Pope's Orthodox mass bridges divide".
  6. Hitchen, Philippa (2016-01-28). "Orthodox leaders conclude Geneva meeting in preparation for 'Great Council'". Vatican Radio. Retrieved 2016-02-14.
  7. 1 2 3 Rozanski, Mitchell T. (2016-02-05). "Pope Francis, Patriarch Kirill and the God of Surprises". USCCB Blog. United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. Retrieved 2016-02-14.
  8. 1 2 Allen Jr., John L.; San Martín, Inés (2016-02-12). "Pope, Russian patriarch embrace in historic meeting". Crux. Retrieved 2016-02-14.
  9. 1 2 3 4 5 Yardley, Jim (2016-02-12). "Pope and Russian Orthodox Leader Meet in Historic Step". New York Times. Retrieved 2016-02-14.
  10. 1 2 3 Stanglin, Doug (2016-02-12). "Pope, patriarch meet in Cuba nearly 1,000 years after split". USA Today. Retrieved 2016-02-14.
  11. 1 2 3 4 5 "Unity call as Pope Francis holds historic talks with Russian Orthodox Patriarch". BBC. 2016-02-13. Retrieved 2016-02-14.
  12. 1 2 "Historic encounter between the Pope and Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia". Vatican Information Service. 2016-02-13. Retrieved 2016-02-14.
  13. 1 2 "Завершилась встреча Святейшего Патриарха Кирилла с Папой Римским Франциском". (in Russian). Russian Orthodox Church. 2016-02-13. Retrieved 2016-02-14.
  14. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 "Meeting of His Holiness Pope Francis with His Holiness Kirill, Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia". The Holy See. 2016-02-12. Retrieved 2016-02-14.
  15. "Совместное заявление Папы Римского Франциска и Святейшего Патриарха Кирилла". (in Russian). Russian Orthodox Church. 2016-02-13. Retrieved 2016-02-14.
  16. 1 2 3 Gudziak, Borys (2016-02-11). "Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill". First Things. Institute on Religion and Public Life. Retrieved 2016-02-14.
  17. Chryssavgis, John (2015-03-03). "At Last, A Council for the Ages?". First Things. Institute on Religion and Public Life. Retrieved 2016-02-14.

External links

This article is issued from Wikipedia - version of the Monday, February 15, 2016. The text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike but additional terms may apply for the media files.