Whilst division among nations and internal political strife in most parts of the world are causing havoc and insecurity in our mode of living, the news that Pope Francis is to meet the head of the Russian Orthodox Church in the next few days, in the first such encounter between the Western and Eastern branches of Christianity in nearly 1000 years, bodes well for the future of both Churches as a whole.
The Churches split after the great schism of 1054 and have been riven by mistrust and suspicion ever since. The meeting between the head of the world’s 1.2 million Catholics and Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia, with a congregation of 170 million orthodox Christians, will take place in Cuba on February 12.
The Caribbean island is regarded as neutral territory. It had a strong Catholic following until the Communist revolution of the 1950s, and then developed close ties with the Soviet Union.
The Pope will stop over in Havana as he travels to Mexico for a 6-day visit, while the Patriarch will be in Cuba on an official trip. They will hold a private, 2-hour meeting in Havana airport, after which the two leaders will sign a joint declaration and exchange gifts presided over by Raul Castro, the Cuban President.
‘The meeting will be the first in history, and will mark an important stage in relations between the two Churches,’ the Vatican said. The intiative was made possible by a shared concern for the persecution of Christians in the Middle East, as Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant commit atrocities in Iraq and Syria. The Coptic community in Egypt is also feeling the brunt of the new wave of persecutions which does not augur well for religious tolerance in the whole region.
There is nothing more evil than religious barbarism that invokes the name of the Almighty to justify the evil deeds of its perpetrators.