Pope heads for historic meeting with Russian Orthodox patriarch

ROME -- Pope Francis was flying to Cuba on Friday for the first-ever papal meeting with the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, a historic development in the 1,000-year schism within Christianity, but one that may be more about Russia asserting itself than any new ecumenical progress.

See Full Article

Francis was to meet Patriarch Kirill for two hours during a brief stop in Havana's Jose Marti airport en route to Mexico, where the pontiff will bring a message of solidarity with the victims of drug violence, human trafficking and discrimination to some of that country's most violent and poverty-stricken regions.

While the meeting Havana has been hailed in some Catholic circles as an important ecumenical breakthrough, Francis has also come under criticism for essentially allowing himself to be used by a Russia eager to assert itself among Orthodox Christians and on the world stage at a time when the country is increasingly isolated from the West.

The joint declaration is expected to touch on the single most important issue of shared concern between the Catholic and Orthodox churches today: the plight of Christians in Iraq and Syria who are being killed and driven from their homes by the Islamic State group.

It is being signed in the uniquely ideal location of Cuba: far removed from the Catholic-Orthodox turf battles in Europe, a country that is Catholic and familiar to Latin America's first pope, but equally familiar to the Russian church given its anti-American and Soviet legacy.

The Vatican is hoping the meeting will improve relations with other Orthodox churches and spur progress in dialogue over theological differences that have divided East from West ever since the Great Schism of 1054 split Christianity.

But Orthodox observers say Kirill's willingness to finally meet with a pope has less to do with any new ecumenical impulse than grandstanding within the Orthodox church at a time when Russia is increasingly under fire from the West over its military actions in Syria and Ukraine. Kirill, a spiritual adviser to Russian President Vladimir Putin, leads the most powerful of the 14 independent Orthodox churches that will meet this summer in Greece in the first such pan-Orthodox synod in centuries.

"This isn't benevolence. It's not a newfound desire for Christian unity," said George Demacopoulos, the Greek-Orthodox chairman of Orthodox Christian studies at Fordham University in New York. "It is almost entirely about (Kirill) posturing and trying to present himself as the leader of Orthodoxy."

Popes as far back as Paul VI have met with the Istanbul-based Ecumenical Patriarch, who is the "first among equals" in the 250 million-strong Orthodox Church and the only patriarch who can speak for global Orthodoxy. But the Russian Church is the biggest, wealthiest and most powerful in Orthodoxy, and has always kept its distance from Rome.

Catholic and Orthodox have remained estranged over a host of issues, including the primacy of the pope and, more recently, Russian Orthodox accusations that the Catholic Church was poaching converts in former Soviet lands. Those tensions have prevented previous popes from ever meeting with the Russian patriarch, even though the Vatican has long insisted that it was merely ministering to tiny Catholic communities.

The most vexing issue in recent times centres on the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, the country's second-largest, which follows eastern church rites but answers to the Holy See. The Russian Orthodox Church has considered western Ukraine its traditional territory and has resented papal influence there.

Cardinal Kurt Koch, the head of the Vatican office that deals with Orthodox relations, said the Ukrainian church will certainly come up in the two-hour private talks between Francis and Kirill.

"I think it would be impossible to meet without discussing such issues," he told Vatican Radio. But he said the future significance of the meeting could not be overstated.

"It will certainly forge relations within Orthodoxy: We still don't have contact with a lot of Orthodox patriarchs, and this meeting could help develop intra-Orthodox relations ahead of the pan-Orthodox council," he said. "Improved understanding between Rome and Moscow will certainly have positive effects on the theological dialogue."

Such hoped-for progress may seem naive, since the Russian church has always been reluctant to engage in theological dialogue over the primacy of the pope, said the Rev. Stefano Caprio, one of the first Catholic priests who arrived in Russia in 1989 to minister to the Catholic community and now is a professor of Russian history and culture at the Pontifical Oriental Institute in Rome.

He said the Russian position has long been: "We're interested in ecumenism only in the sense of collaboration in managing the crises of a Christianity that is attacked in some countries by violent forces ... and above all to unite against global secularization," he said.

While a papal trip to Russia is still a long-sought dream, Caprio ruled it out for the foreseeable future.

Immediately following his meeting with Kirill, the pontiff will fly to Mexico for a weeklong tour that will take him once again to uncharted papal territory.

Among his stops will be the crime-plagued Mexico City suburb of Ecatepec, where his visit will shine an uncomfortable spotlight on the government's failure to solve entrenched social ills that plague many parts of Mexico -- inequality, rampant gangland killings, extortion, disappearances of women, crooked cops and failed city services.

He will also visit the mainly indigenous southern state of Chiapas, which has the country's highest poverty rate. There he will celebrate a very Indian Mass and present a decree authorizing the use of indigenous languages in liturgy.

Francis will end his trip in the violent northern city of Ciudad Juarez, where he will pray at the border for all who have died trying to cross into the U.S. -- a prayer he hopes will resonate north of the border.



Advertisements

Latest Canada & World News

  • United Methodist Church chides Sessions over border policy

    World News CTV News
    House GOP gets little direction from Trump on immigration United Methodist Church chides Sessions over border policy Youngest child migrants held in 'tender age' shelters in Texas Source
  • Navy submarine set to return to Halifax after five-month deployment

    Canada News CTV News
    HALIFAX -- The Royal Canadian Navy submarine HMCS Windsor is expected to return to Halifax today after completing a five-month deployment in the Euro-Atlantic region. The Victoria-class submarine was on patrol as part of Operation Projection, conducting training exercises with navies and other international security partners. Source
  • Palace says Prince Louis to be christened July 9

    World News CTV News
    LONDON - Britain's royal palace says Prince Louis will be christened July 9 by Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby. The third son of Prince William and his wife Kate, Duchess of Cambridge was born April 23 and is fifth in line to the throne. Source
  • Indonesia ferry deaths rise to more than 190 as survivors report severe overcrowding

    World News CBC News
    Distraught relatives slammed Indonesia's government for not enforcing basic safety measures on passenger boats and pleaded Wednesday for a bigger search effort for more than 190 people presumed drowned after a ferry sank on a picturesque Sumatran lake earlier this week. Source
  • Pope criticizes Trump administration policy on migrant family separation

    World News CBC News
    Pope Francis has criticized the Trump administration's policy of separating migrant families at the Mexican border, saying populism is not the answer to the world's immigration problems. Speaking to Reuters, the Pope said he supported recent statements by U.S. Catholic bishops who called the separation of children from their parents "contrary to our Catholic values" and "immoral. Source
  • Two men in hospital with head injuries after alleged assault with baseball bats

    Canada News CTV News
    HALTON HILLS, Ont. - Police say two men are in hospital with serious head injuries after their car was surrounded and they were allegedly beaten with baseball bats early Wednesday morning. Halton Regional Police say the incident happened on the border between Halton and Peel regions, where three men were in a car that was surrounded by several "suspect vehicles. Source
  • Aurora Cannabis to spin out U.S. assets into separate company

    Canada News CBC News
    Canada's second largest cannabis company plans to place its U.S. assets into a new separate company that will focus on investing in the cannabis and real estate sector there. TSX-listed Aurora Cannabis said Wednesday it plans to distribute units of its subsidiary Australis Capital Inc. Source
  • Mandalay Bay hotel in Vegas floods after water main break

    World News CTV News
    LAS VEGAS -- A water main broke Tuesday flooding a convention centre in the Mandalay Bay hotel in Las Vegas. The Las Vegas Review Journal reports that the break dumped water onto the first floor of the convention area, and about a thousand people on the second floor had to be relocated. Source
  • Many in Puerto Rico still under tarps as storm threat looms

    World News CTV News
    SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico -- Hurricane Maria ripped away part of the steel roof from Carmen Lidia Torres Mercado's home in the Puerto Rican capital. Nine months later, she is still relying on a blue plastic tarp to protect her home, even with a new storm season already two weeks old. Source
  • Ont. police lay nearly 700 charges against truckers during 24-hour blitz

    Canada News CTV News
    ORILLIA, Ont. - Provincial police say they laid nearly 700 charges against transport truck drivers during a day-long blitz on Ontario's roads last week. Police partnered with the Ministry of Transportation and stopped a total of 1,692 trucks over the 24-hour period on June 13 and 14. Source