World Council of Churches hails meeting of Pope Francis and Russian patriarch

(Photo: Russian Orthodox Church)Pope Francis (l) and Russian Patriarch Kirill at their historic meeting in Havana, Cuba on Feb. 12, 2016.

The World Council of Churches says it is celebrating the historic meeting of Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill, primate of the Russian Orthodox Church.

The Geneva-based WCC said the Feb. 12 meeting of the Catholic and Russian Orthodox church leaders was a great step forward in healing the schism between Western and Eastern Christianity

Rev. Olav Fykse Tveit, general secretary of the World Council of Churches (WCC), said, "The meeting between Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill today in Cuba is an historic ecumenical event, and very timely in the context of the conflicts and crises currently causing so much suffering in the world."

The two leaders met in Havana, Cuba.

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"Our fraternal meeting has taken place in Cuba, at the crossroads of North and South, East and West," the Catholic Church and the Russian Orthodox Church said in a joint statement Feb. 12.

"It is from this island, the symbol of the hopes of the "New World" and the dramatic events of the history of the twentieth century, that we address our words to all the peoples of Latin America and of the other continents."

The Russian Orthodox Church is the largest member church in the WCC, which for the past 50 years has cooperated with the Roman Catholic Church through their Joint Working Group.

The WCC represents more than 500 million Christians worldwide, but the 1.2 million strong Roman Catholic Church is not a member of the Geneva-based grouping, although it serves on its commissions.

Eastern and western Christianity split over matters of doctrine in the Great Schism of 1054 and formally separated from one another in 1438.

This is the first meeting of heads of the Roman Catholic and Russian Orthodox Churches.

The WCC, to which many of the eastern Orthodox churches belong, has worked Christian unity for many decades.

"The Council therefore celebrates this important meeting of the two church leaders as a great step forward in healing the schism between Western and Eastern Christianity," said the WCC.

"The Pope's openness to dialogue with the Orthodox Church leaders - earlier with Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew and now with the spiritual leader of the Russian Orthodox Church - shows a growing commitment to unity among Christians, which in turn is a sign of hope for peace in our world."

The WCC noted that the meeting came at a "time of grave challenges to the vision of peace, due to unresolved conflicts in Syria, in Ukraine and elsewhere."

It said these are causing intolerable suffering and displacement.

"Churches and Christians everywhere are called to be instruments of peace in the midst of conflict, and of compassion in response to the suffering of fellow human beings."

The WCC said it hopes and prays that the meeting of Pope Francis d Patriarch Kirill will help inspire renewed commitment and action by churches, societies, governments and the international community.

These should " welcome the stranger in need, to resolve conflicts, to bring peace and to pursue justice [and human dignity and rights] for all."

The WCC like the Roman Catholic Church has congregations and churches in Syria and it noted the meeting of the Pope and the Patriarch took place directly after an announcement of agreement by world powers to seek a nationwide cessation of hostilities in Syria.

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