Pope Francis will leave earlier than planned on his journey to Mexico and make a stopover in Cuba for what will be a historic meeting with Patriarch Kirill of the Russian Orthodox Church. Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi made the exciting announcement during a special press conference called for the occasion.
FR. FEDERICO LOMBARDI
"His Holiness Pope Francis and His Holiness Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia will meet on February 12 next. Their meeting will take place in Cuba, where the Pope will make a stop on his way to Mexico.”
Pope Francis will leave Rome five hours ahead of schedule in order to meet for two hours behind closed doors with Patriarch Kirill. The two religious leaders will then sign a joint statement.
The Pope revealed in November 2014 that negotiations were underway for such a meeting to take place.
NOVEMBER 30, 2014
"I told Patriarch Kirill, and he agreed, there is a willingness to meet. I told him: "I'll go wherever you want, you call me and I’ll come”; and he too wants this.”
In terms of protocoll, Patriarch Kirill figures highly among Orthodox Christians. He is responsible for more than two thirds of all the Orthodox world and has a decisive voice.
Relations over the centuries between the Russian Orthodox Church with Rome have been marked with difficulties. One area concerns accusations by the Orthodox that Catholics of the Eastern rite engage in what is negatively termed "proselytism" with the Orthodox in Ukraine.
The meeting will mark an important step in the slow process of creating unity among all Christians. The Pope has asked the Orthodox Church to help them Rome understand how papal primacy could be excercised in a way which is agreeable.
To understand the importance of this meeting, just remember that John Paul II and Benedict XVI proposed similar encounters, but the Russians had thought that the time was not yet right for it to happen.
Now, that moment seems to have finally arrived.