We are used to speak about “historic events” in the field of sports, arts, or other areas. The media repeatedly highlight a plethora of historic events, to the extent that we start to wonder whether such events are really “historic” and if they could all be described as such. In fact, when a word is used too often, it risks loosing its real meaning and we end up forgetting many events that were presented to us as “historic”.
Also the meeting in Cuba between Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill, on February 12 2016, has been welcomed as a historic event. But in this case it expresses the truth: it’s the first time in history. Indeed, although meetings have taken place between high dignitaries of Moscow and Rome, a personal encounter between the Bishop of Rome and the Patriarch of Moscow had never taken place before.
The joint Declaration released by Francis and Kirill bears historical relevance. In addition to what has been stated in the Declaration, the very fact that the Patriarch and the Pope have wanted to express it together, as brothers, is all the more significant.
Moreover, there is a specific word to describe the meeting in Cuba. Indeed, it is historical, but if we observe it from the Christian standpoint
It could be described as a historic event, simply because it “speaks of God”, as reflected in the correct meaning of the word “prophecy.”
In this respect, the conclusion of the Declaration, when the Pope and the Patriarch jointly entrust themselves to the Mother of God, bears special significance, that all Christians “may be reunited, in God’s own time, in the peace and harmony of the one people of God, for the glory of the Most Holy and indivisible Trinity!” (n. 30). That is to say that the foundation of Christian unity lies within God Himself. It is not a matter of feeling as brothers for a question of good neighbourly relations, or because there are many Catholics living side by side with Orthodox Christians (as well as with Protestants, Anglicans, Evangelicals and Pentecostals, it should be borne in mind!), and for this reason we should do something together.
No, the foundation of unity is in God:
because God is one and triune, He is the harmony between his being “one God” and his being “the Father, Son and Spirit.” In Jesus we experience God in the constant search for man that united Himself with his created humanity forever. Thus, in other terms still, our God is a God of communion: he Himself is seeking communion with every man. To develop communion amongst us is a profession of faith. To say “I believe in one God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit” should be read as considering ourselves as brothers and sisters; brothers and sisters of all mankind (and in fact the Declaration signed in Cuba justly highlights the importance of dialogue with all those belonging of other religious traditions – n.13), and a fortiori of all Christians.
That is why the meeting of February 12 is a prophecy: it is a way to speak of God and to invite everyone to ascertain our faith in Him.
This of course should be done not only at theoretical level. In their Declaration Kirill and Francis address topical issues we are all concerned about, which should be the object of a joint reflection on the part of Christian Churches. From the persecution of high numbers of Christians to the value of Christian freedom, from the rediscovery of the Christian roots of Europe to the central role of the family, from the right to life to the joint encouragement to young people (n. 8 to 23). These themes are the heart of our Christian witness, since to “believe” in the Trinity of God constantly leads us to “live” according to the Holy Trinity. If we don’t we seek communion among us, if we don’t persist in bringing down the walls that our societies have erected, separating peoples, cultures and religions, if we don’t strive to see others as our brothers and sisters, our faith in God, that is the communion of Father, Son and Holy Spirit, will remain incomplete: beautiful words lacking concreteness.
“We are not competitors but brothers”
jointly declared the Patriarch and the Pope (n. 24), thereby erasing a thousand years of misunderstanding and mutual hostility. However, this applies to everyone. No Christian believer seeking truthfulness can pretend not seeing the other Christian or the other man. We are all called to build bridges: this is what God is asking of us. Francis and Kirill are convinced of it, and in Cuba they jointly undersigned this belief, entrusting it to each one of us: “May our meeting inspire Christians throughout the world to pray to the Lord with renewed fervour for the full unity of all His disciples.” (n. 6). Almost to reaffirm the statement of the Fathers of the Church, for whom “the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church”: the blood of today’s martyrs as well as the living blood of Kirill and Francis, and that of many other witnesses and silent builders of the unity of the faithful, that it may become the seed of new Christians rooted in the belief that only by seeking communion in all possible ways can we bear witness to our Lord Jesus Christ.
(*) Director of Italian Bishops’ Conference national Office for Ecumenism and Interreligious Dialogue