INTERVIEW – Historical event between Churches of the East and the West, Pope Francis and His Beatitude Patriarch Kirill, Patriarch of Moscow and of all Russia, met on February 12, 2016, in Havana, Cuba, almost 1000 years after the schism of 1054. Archbishop Atallah Hanna, Achbishop of Sebastia in Palestine, shares his point of view on the meeting.
What do you think of the meeting that took place in Cuba between Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill?
I think that the rapprochement and cooperation between all Churches of Jerusalem and of the whole world are very important. Currently Christians are facing many challenges and we are called to work more on dialogue in order to serve humanity and to strengthen common values between the Churches.
The meeting between Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill is a historical event par excellence. We are optimistic and we believe that this meeting will contribute to strengthen dialogue and understanding in order to reach the goal which we seek to reach: unity. In the prayers which we raise to the Lord, we keep on asking him for unity. Meetings like this pave the way of a strengthened love, which should first come from the heart of each Christian, it is through love that we can reach unity.
What are the steps which our Catholic and Orthodox Churches should take for this rapprochement and what more to do in order to reach a common date to celebrate Easter and Christmas?
There is a real desire among Catholic circles as much as among Orthodox ones to seek not only reunification of religious Christian feasts but also a wider unity, that of Christians. We face certain obstacles and hurdles, but we hope to overcome them in future. I don’t believe there is one Catholic or Orthodox who would not like to see a rapprochement between Churches and to find a common date to celebrate Easter and Christmas. We pray to the Lord to enlighten our spirits and hearts so that we could reach our goal. We appreciate the attitude of Pope Francis who urges to find a common date for Easter. In the Orthodox Church, there is a special tradition for this feast which goes back to the first ecumenical councils. In order to introduce a change or an amendment into this tradition, a decision should be taken by the Orthodox Council which includes all heads of Orthodox Churches throughout the world.
In your opinion why was the island of Cuba chosen as place of meeting?
I think that the venue of meeting is symbolic. First of all, the meeting coincided with a pastoral visit of Pope Francis to South America and that of Patriarch Kirill to Latin America and other countries. Later, Cuba was in a certain point and at certain moment of History, against the Church, and there were tensions as regards the Vatican and Christian religious leaders in general. The meeting, which was held in Cuba between North and South America, is an indication that Cuba is transitioning from atheism and rejecting religion to reconsidering ethical and religious values. This meeting wouldn’t have been possible without the direct cooperation with Cuba and its political leaders. At a certain point of time, there were many tensions between Cuba and a number of other countries, so this might be the church’s desire to ease these tensions in order to promote openness, love and dialogue between these countries.
As I mentioned before, Cuba is a bridge between North and South America and this meeting might be a bridge between the Catholic and Orthodox Church. We were one church in the first millennium and the schism happened just after that. When we talk about a thousand years of our history, we talk about the common heritage of faith and tradition. Therefore holding this meeting is a step forward towards restoring this unity. We might not be united at the present moment but I encourage love between churches in spite of obstacles.
Moreover, the final statement not only accentuates the relationship between the two churches but also the shared values like family, marriage and ethics. I have followed the meeting attentively and what drew my attention was the pure love that lies in the hearts of both Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill and their honest desire to build bridges between the two churches in Rome and Russia. We hope that in the future, the Churches would conitnue to have a dialogue, for nowadays Christians are being persecuted in the Middle East and some countries have given up their Christian values and principles. I believe that holding Christian meetings like these is not an intellectual luxury but a crucial need to strengthen and keep these values that we have.
Source: Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem