The Trinity Lavra of Saint Sergius in Sergiyev Posad -- Russia's largest and most venerated monastery for men.
Today the Vatican and the Patriarchate of Moscow jointly announced that Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill of Moscow will meet in Cuba on the 12th of February, while both are enroute to separate trips to Latin America. Both the Holy See and the Moscow Patriarchate published the following press release:
The Holy See and the Patriarchate of Moscow are pleased to announce that, by the grace of God, 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, and where the Patriarch will be on an official visit. It will include a personal conversation at Havana’s José Martí International Airport, and will conclude with the signing of a joint declaration.
This meeting of the Primates of the Catholic Church and the Russian Orthodox Church, after a long preparation, will be the first in history and will mark an important stage in relations between the two Churches. The Holy See and the Moscow Patriarchate hope that it will also be a sign of hope for all people of good will. They invite all Christians to pray fervently for God to bless this meeting, that it may bear good fruits.
In addition, the head of the Department for External Church Relations of the Moscow Patriarchate, Metropolitan Hilarion (Alfeyev) of Volokolamsk, gave a press conference that focused on the upcoming and historic meeting: PRESS CONFERENCE AT DECR ON PATRIARCH KIRILL’S FORTHCOMING VISIT TO LATIN AMERICA. Metropolitan Hilarion gave this insight on the reasons for the meeting:
All these years, the principal problem in the relations between the two Churches and the principal obstacle for holding a meeting between the two Primates has lied in Unia. The fact that the Uniates devastated three dioceses of the Moscow Patriarchate in western Ukraine in the 1980s and 1990s, that they moved the headquarters of the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church from Lvov to Kiev, that the UGCC’ mission extended to the traditionally Orthodox lands in eastern and southern Ukraine, that they supported the schismatics – all these factors only aggravated the problem. The situation aggravated further as a result of the recent events in Ukraine, in which the UGCC representatives took a direct part, coming out with anti-Russian and russophobic slogans. So, regrettably, the problem of Unia is still there, with Unia, remaining a never-healing blooding wound that prevents the full normalization of relations between the two Churches.
Nevertheless, the situation as it has developed today in the Middle East, in North and Central Africa and in some other regions, in which extremists are perpetrating a real genocide of the Christian population, has required urgent measures and closer cooperation between Christian Churches. In the present tragic situation, it is necessary to put aside internal disagreements and unite efforts for saving Christianity in the regions where it is subjected to the most severe persecution.
The Sacred Bishops’ Council of the Russian Orthodox Church, which completed its work on February 3, in Moscow, called to make the year 2016 a year of special efforts to be taken in this respect, Therefore, despite the remaining obstacles of ecclesial nature, it has been decided that a meeting should be urgently held between His Holiness Patriarch Kirill and Pole Francis of Rome. The problem of the persecution against Christians will become central at this meeting.
There are two main points here:
1) The central topic of the meeting between the Pope and the Patriarch of Moscow will be the problem of the persecution against Christians.
2) The Moscow Patriarchate has decided that its problem with the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church will no longer be an obstacle to a meeting between the two, as it had been for the past 20+ years.
For the record: we are happy to be proven wrong with regards to our skepticism about the possibility of this meeting. A hearty congratulations to Sandro Magister for having been the first to report on this historic development!