Some in the US and western media have suggested that in meeting with Kirill, Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia, Pope Francis allowed himself to be used by the Kremlin, which allegedly is able to deploy the Patriarch for its own political purposes. (Never mind that Patriarchs of Moscow since Gorbachev have had no trouble putting the kibosh on Papal visits to Russia and encounters of the sort that occurred yesterday in Havana.)
There is not the slightest evidence that the Vatican (or the Patriarchate) allowed itself to be used. The meetings and subsequent communiqué were very much in the interest of all concerned.
The meeting is the fruit of decades of Vatican diplomacy going back to the fall of the Berlin Wall, in which event the Holy See played a not inconsiderable role in the form of Pope John Paul II’s several pastoral visits to his homeland. It was also a key objective of Benedict XVI who notably eschewed any talk of reunification in favor of approaching the Moscow Patriarchate on the level of friendship and solidarity stemming from the threats faced by both churches – secularism , moral relativism, consumerism, the demographic crisis of the pan-European world, hedonism, official agnosticism, and the rise of radical Islam, including efforts to impose Sharia on people who want nothing to do with it.
The Holy See has long understood that the crisis of Western civilization – the upheavals of the 19th and 20th centuries, the rise of ideology, and the descent into quasi-atheism of much of the Euro-Atlantic world – stem directly from the rupture between Rome and the East in 1054 AD.
When Francis and Kirill met yesterday in Havana — the first such meeting between any Pope and a head of the Moscow Patriarchate in 1,000 years – Francis’s first word to Kirill was, simply, “finally,” as if to suggest that the purpose of the history of the past millennium was this very moment. The Pope then kissed the Patriarch three times in the Russian manner for the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost.
None of this suggests someone who had allowed himself to be naively manipulated into doing something he really did not want to do and now regretted it.
Thus, the final communiqué’s strong and moving expression of concern for the plight of Christians in the Middle East is highly inconvenient for the perpetrators of Western policy in the region: If Syrian Christians uniformly support Bashir al-Assad, why is the West supporting radical Islamist forces that seek to overthrow him?
Regarding Ukraine, the communiqué calls for reconciliation – for the overcoming of the “schism” among Orthodox Ukrainian Christians through “existing canonical norms,” and for Catholic communities to contribute to peace and harmony in the face of on-going tensions. This is not a message proponents of Western global hegemony, who fear reconciliation will put an end to anti-Russian sanctions, want to hear.
Over and above regional issues in Syria and Ukraine, various Russian leaders (Putin, Lavrov, Medvedev) have put forward a grand vision for a reformed world order centered on a new, pan-European entente, a new architecture of economic and security cooperation spanning the continent from Lisbon to Vladivostok and embracing North America based on shared (Christian) values. It is one of the ironies of the post-Cold War era that Russia has emerged as the defender of the faith, protector of Christians. The West has abdicated this role in favor of a radical secularism it deems progressive, but it is actually regressive.
Many have said that little of substance was achieved, that the most important thing to happen at Havana is that the meeting took place at all. I believe it is true to say that the most important thing about the meeting is that it occurred; nevertheless there were elements in the communiqué that went farther that anything I was expecting.
For example, it is significant that the first substantive point in the communiqué (point 5) decries the absence of inter-communion (i.e., the ability of Catholics and Orthodox to mutually receive the Holy Eucharist in each other’s liturgy). If this is an indication of the Churches’ priorities in ecumenical discussions in the years ahead, this is a good thing.
Point 5 goes on to say that “we have been divided […] by differences inherited from our ancestors, in the understanding and expression of our faith in God, one in three Persons – Father, Son and Holy Spirit.” This implies that the Pope and the Patriarch do not regard the differences between the Churches as insurmountable (not that the surmounting of them will happen anytime soon).
And then there is the final point of the communiqué in the form of a prayer: “May the Blessed Virgin Mary, through her intercession, inspire fraternity in all those who venerate her, so that they may be reunited [emphasis added], in God’s own time, in the peace and harmony of the one people of God…”
The only thing to be said to that is amen.