Report on the meeting of Pope Francis with Patriarch Kirill
“I felt the consolation of the Spirit in this dialogue”. This is what Pope Francis said during his meeting with Patriarch Kirill in Cuba on Friday 12 February. Here is an interview with Father Dominique-Marie David who is in charge of the ordained ministers and seminarians of the Emmanuel Community, which is also very involved with relations with our Orthodox brothers.
> What is the significance of this event?
P. Dominique-Marie David: It is first of all an historical event, long awaited and hoped for, which after several attempts has never come to fruition despite the desire of successive Popes. Today, many commentators regard it as a taboo that has been lifted, as a step which was said to be impossible because ‘never made’, but which has now indeed occurred. Everyone remembers the meeting in 1964 between Pope Paul VI and the Patriarch Athenagoras of Constantinople, but never in history had there been such a face-to-face between the Pope and the Head of the Russian Church, which has more than 150 million followers worldwide.
It is also a good sign of fraternal unity, a first step ‘to meet the other person’. The Pope said on this occasion “we are not competitors but brothers”. A dialogue of charity – is it not the first condition for a dialogue of truth? In any case this is the conviction of the Holy Father. It is also clear and explicitly recognized by both Church leaders that the urgency of the situation of Christians in the Middle East has favoured the acceleration of the process. This topic is certainly very present in their joint statement. The positive outcome of the project for meeting up, is it not a mysterious fruit of the offering of the Eastern martyrs, who, of many faiths, have suffered for the love of Christ?
It is again a great joy for us and a cause for thanksgiving, even if it is only a first step. Now nothing prevents Francis and Kirill from meeting again – may the road which is now open be followed!
> Why was this meeting held in Cuba?
From a practical standpoint, the simultaneous trip of the Pope to Mexico and of Patriarch Kirill to Latin America allowed this totally unprecedented meeting at Havana airport. There was also the desire to find a place more ‘neutral’ and less prominent than a European capital. But was it not ‘providential’ that this meeting was finally held in place? An island that, at the height of the Cold War, could have caused the beginning of a third world war, has become a highly symbolic place of communion and reconciliation. So much so that the Pope thanked President Raoul Castro for having, by his hospitality, made Cuba the ‘capital of unity’!
> Why is this of particular interest to the Community?
This initiative of the Pope and the Patriarch, of going out to meet one another, will only bear lasting fruit if the faithful of our Churches take the same path and favour the ecumenism of charity, without necessarily waiting for the ecumenism of truth to bear all its fruits.
It therefore encourages members of Emmanuel who, for many years, have established fraternal relations with our Orthodox brothers and sisters – and with other confessions. We are thinking especially of the different activities , exchanges and joint pilgrimages in recent years carried out regularly with the Orthodox parish of the Icon of Our Lady of Feodorovskaïa (still called the ‘New Martyrs’) of St. Petersburg.
What a support for pursuing what we might call the practice a ‘receptive’ ecumenism! To summarize, it is a question of passing from the attitude, ‘I will not move and I expect you to come to me’ to the attitude, ‘we are going out towards each other and we will take the time to meet, to listen to each other, to get to know one another, to find out about each other’s qualities, to pray together, and why not? … to witness together to Christ’s love, in the power of the Holy Spirit!’
Finally, it is an encouragement to what, in the image of the Church, our Community breathes with its two lungs – the Western and the Eastern. We value the unique Heart of Christ, but what are we doing with the lungs? Are we ready to breathe deeply, with both lungs?
After the first moment of happy surprise and thanksgiving, let us not become blasé about this act of mercy that God allowed in this meeting of Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill. In this Holy Year of Mercy, let us rather remain awake and continue to ask with more determination for the gift of Christian unity, of communion between us and of mercy for all.
Interview by Jean-Baptiste Maillard