Once again Pope Francis reminds us that we worship the God of surprises. The news today that he will meet with Patriarch Kirill of Moscow in Cuba, February 12—while the pope is en route to Mexico—is literally unprecedented. A pope has never met with the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, and not for lack of wanting.
Patriarch Kirill is head of a Church of some 150 million people out of the 250-300 million adherents of Eastern Orthodox Christianity worldwide. Relations with Orthodox Christians—from whom Catholics officially split in the year 1054—are a crucial part of the Catholic Church's efforts toward Christian unity. Their faith tradition is ancient, and the Catholic Church recognizes their apostolic succession and validity of their sacraments. In the United States, Catholics and Orthodox have dialogued for 50 years, with Archbishop Joseph W. Tobin of Indianapolis currently stewarding this important work as Catholic co-chair.
|Pope Paul VI and Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras make history in Jerusalem, 1964.|
|Pope Francis walks with Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I at Jerusalem's Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the site of the crucifixion and Jesus' tomb, in May 2014.|
|Pope Benedict XVI meets then-Metropolitan Kirill in December 2007.|
It's fitting that this meeting takes place in Cuba, a country that, thanks to Pope Francis' efforts to build bridges of engagement, has seen a thaw after half a century of tensions with the United States. Now it will be the scene of improved relations between Christians. "Dialogue is our method," Pope Francis said to the bishops of the United States during his visit last September. "The path ahead, then, is dialogue among yourselves, dialogue in your presbyterates, dialogue with lay persons, dialogue with families, dialogue with society. I cannot ever tire of encouraging you to dialogue fearlessly." This meeting exemplifies why our pope has such faith in the power of dialogue.
|Pope Francis meets Bishop Rozanski at St. Matthew's Cathedral in Washington.|
Bishop Mitchell T. Rozanski of Springfield, Massachusetts, is chairman of the U.S. bishops' Committee on Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs.
Photo of Bishop Rozanski and Pope Francis courtesy of Diocese of Springfield. All other photos from CNS.