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Winter, 2015
Volume 41, Number 4
12 February 2016
CNEWA staff

Below, video of Pope Francis and Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill meeting at the Havana’s Jose Marti International Airport on 12 February.

(video: CTV/YouTube/Aleteia)

CNS reports:

At long last, Pope Francis and Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill of Moscow embraced, kissing each other three times.

“Finally,” the pope told the patriarch on 12 February as they met in a lounge at Havana’s Jose Marti International Airport. “We are brothers,” he told the patriarch.

Amid the clicking of cameras and multiple flashes, Patriarch Kirill was overheard telling the pope, “Things are easier now.”

“It is clearer that this is God’s will,” Pope Francis told him.

A flight of almost 12 hours capped months of intense negotiations and more than two decades of Vatican overtures to bring a pope and a Russian patriarch together for the first time.

Cuban President Raul Castro played host to the pope and patriarch, who was on a visit to Russian Orthodox communities on the island-nation. Pope Francis had a pastoral visit to Mexico planned for months; the stop in Havana was announced only a week before the meeting.

The addition of a stopover in Cuba was widely seen as a sign of Pope Francis’ willingness to go the extra mile to reach out a hand in friendship. At the same time, observers said, it gave those Russian Orthodox opposed to ecumenism a sense that their church is special and that it bowed to no one in agreeing to the meeting.

In a commentary distributed 11 February, Ukrainian Catholic Bishop Borys Gudziak of Paris said: “The pope is demonstrating humility; he is going to the territory of the other. In the eyes of nostalgic Russians, Cuba is almost home territory, a last outpost of a lost Soviet Empire.”

For decades, the Russian Orthodox told the Vatican that a meeting between the patriarch and pope was impossible because of the activities of Latin-rite Catholics in Russia and, especially, the Eastern-rite Catholics in Ukraine.

The Moscow Patriarchate had said that while those problems still exist with the Catholic communities, they take a backseat to the urgency of defending together the rights and very existence of persecuted Christians in the Middle East.

The harsh persecution of Christians and other minorities in Syria, Iraq and other parts of the region has been a cause Pope Francis has pleaded before world leaders and for which he has rallied the prayers of Christians across the globe.

He speaks often of the “ecumenism of blood,” the fact that Christians are killed for believing in Christ with the persecutors not knowing or caring what denomination or church they belong to. Christians are fully united in that suffering and, the pope has said, those who die for their faith are in full communion with each other and with centuries of martyrs now in the presence of God.

But the fate of persecuted Christians was not the pope’s primary motive for meeting Patriarch Kirill. Simply meeting him was the point.

Metropolitan Hilarion Volokolamsk, head of the Moscow Patriarchate’s external affairs department, told reporters a week earlier that Patriarch Kirill chose Havana in the “New World” because Europe, the “Old World,” was the birthplace of Christian division.

Ukrainians, Catholic or not, have expressed concerns about Pope Francis’ meeting with Patriarch Kirill given the patriarch's apparently close ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin at a time of ongoing fighting in Eastern Ukraine.

“The topics of discussion will not be explicitly political ones,” Bishop Gudziak wrote. “The gist of the rendezvous will be the encounter of church leaders representing very different experiences, agendas, styles and spiritualities of ecclesial leadership. One can hardly expect revolutionary results.Yet, it is through encounter that spiritual change occurs. Let us pray for good spiritual fruit.”

12 February 2016
Greg Kandra

As Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill make history in Cuba today, here’s a glimpse at some Russian Orthodox faithful making a splash of their own. In this image from 2010, Orthodox believers plunge into frigid waters to commemorate the feast of Baptism of the Lord. Read more in “Orthodoxy Renewed” in the March 2010 edition of ONE. (photo: Julia Vishnevets)

12 February 2016
Greg Kandra

Pope Francis tries on a sombrero while meeting journalists aboard his flight to Havana on 12 February. Traveling to Mexico for a six-day visit, the pope is stopping briefly in Cuba to meet with Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill of Moscow at the Havana airport. (photo: CNS/Paul Haring)

U.S. and Russia announce plan for humanitarian aid, cease-fire in Syria (The New York Times) Secretary of State John Kerry and his Russian counterpart, Sergey V. Lavrov, announced that they had agreed on the delivery over the next few days of desperately needed aid to besieged Syrian cities, to be followed by a “cessation of hostilities” within a week on the way to a more formal cease-fire. “We have agreed to implement a nationwide cessation of hostilities in one week’s time,” Mr. Kerry said early Friday morning, after all-day meetings. “That is ambitious...”

Pope, patriarch to hold historic meeting today (The Miami Herald) Pope Francis and Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill will meet in Havana on Friday, the first rapprochement between the two churches in the nearly 1,000 years since Christianity split between East and West. Despite a separation that dates back to the Great Schism of 1054, the Russian Orthodox Church has said that Islamic extremist attacks on Christian populations in the Middle East and North and Central Africa require urgent measures and closer cooperation between the Christian churches. “In the present tragic situation, it is necessary to put aside international disagreements and unite efforts for saving Christianity in the regions where it is subjected to the most severe persecution,” Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk said in Moscow during a news conference on the patriarch’s trip...

Canada asked to recognize genocide of Christians (Catholic Register) The Canadian government should join the European Union in labelling the persecution of Christians by Islamic State jihadists a genocide, said Aid to the Church in Need. The Catholic charity, which supports the Church worldwide, has asked the Canadian government to follow the EU Parliament’s 4 February resolution that called ISIS attacks on Middle East Christians a genocide, a crime punishable under international law...

The “nuns of life” in Ethiopia (Scottish Catholic Observer) The Catholic Church in Ethiopia is not blessed with numbers. Most people here are either Ethiopian Orthodox or Muslim. Yet the work of the Catholic Church here still packs an incredible wallop. No one demonstrates that better than two nuns, who between them have saved thousands of lives: Sister Celine Louise and Sister Haimanot Amanuel...

High unemployment leads Gaza couple to crowdfund their wedding (The Washington Post) It’s a classic problem faced by many young couples the world over: How to finance one’s wedding? But for Abd El-Hakim Zughbor and his fiancée, Falastin Al-Tanani, residents of the Gaza Strip, which is partially blockaded by Israel and Egypt, governed by the hard-line Islamic group Hamas and guided by deeply entrenched social traditions, the challenge of making it to the happy day is compounded even further. That’s why, after seven years in love and no wedding date on the calendar, the two 27-year-olds opted for a new, rather unusual, method of celebrating one of society’s oldest institutions: with an online fundraising campaign via the website GoFundMe...

11 February 2016
Greg Kandra

A pedicab with a Vatican flag passes in front of the Russian Orthodox church in Havana on 7 February. Pope Francis and Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill will hold an historic meeting in Cuba on Friday 12 February. (photo: CNS/Alexandre Meneghini, Reuters)

11 February 2016
Greg Kandra

Displaced Iraqis, who fled regions controlled by ISIS near Fallujah, carry their belongings on 8 February 2016 as they arrive in the Jwaibah area, on the eastern outskirts of Ramadi. Iraq now faces a growing economic crisis caused by war, plunging oil prices and an influx of refugees.
(photo: Moadh Al-Dulaimi/AFP/Getty Images)

Pope asks for prayers for meeting with patriarch (Vatican Radio) Pope Francis has asked for prayers for his forthcoming meeting with his “dear brother,” the Patriarch Kirill of Moscow, Head of the Russian Orthodox Church. That meeting is scheduled to take place on 12 February 12 at Cuba’s international airport as the Pope travels to Mexico for an apostolic journey...

War, plunging oil prices create economic crisis in Iraq (AP) Plunging oil prices have pitched Iraq into a severe financial crisis as it struggles to combat ISIS, play host to millions of refugees and rebuild cities and towns ravaged by war...

Turkey keeps borders closed to Syrian refugees (The Washington Post) Turkey angrily rejected demands Wednesday that it open its border to tens of thousands of Syrian refugees driven from their homes by relentless Russian airstrikes, saying that to do so would amount to complicity in the Russian-backed offensive to drive rebels out of the province of Aleppo...

Russia: U.S. Planes bombed Aleppo Wednesday (Reuters) Russia’s Defence Ministry said on Thursday that two U.S. aircraft had bombed the Syrian city of Aleppo on 10 February and that Russian planes had not been operating in the area. A Pentagon spokesman had accused Russian and Syria government forces on Wednesday of destroying Aleppo’s two main hospitals with air strikes, though he did not specify when the strikes were alleged to have taken place...

Ukrainians: don’t throw us under the bus (The Catholic Register) Nobody wants the Pope to meet Moscow’s Orthodox patriarch more than the Ukrainian Catholics, but the Eastern-rite Catholics want to be sure their Church is treated as a full partner in the dialogue between Rome and Moscow. “We want this. It’s about time... If anything we would like for these meetings to happen more often,” said Father Peter Galadza, acting director of the Sheptytsky Institute at Saint Paul University in Ottawa. “We don’t want to return to the old ostpolitik where the Eastern Catholic churches, especially the Ukrainian Catholic Church, get thrown under the bus...”

Tags: Syria Iraq Ukraine Turkey Russian Orthodox

10 February 2016
J.D. Conor Mauro

A student at the Shashemene School for the Blind sets his bed in the morning. To learn more about the school and its efforts to teach its students self-reliance, read The Future at Their Fingertips, from the Winter 2015 edition of ONE. (photo: Petterik Wiggers/Panos Pictures)

Tags: Ethiopia Children Education Disabilities Catholic education

10 February 2016
J.D. Conor Mauro

Syrian children, who fled bombing in Aleppo, wait in a tent city close to the Bab al Salam border crossing on the Turkish-Syrian border on 10 February. (photo: Fatih Aktas/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

Damascus vows to recapture Aleppo from rebels (Business Insider) Damascus aims to secure Syria’s border with Turkey and recapture the city of Aleppo with its latest military offensive, a top adviser to President Bashar al Assad said on Tuesday. In an interview in her Damascus office, Bouthaina Shaaban held out little hope for diplomatic efforts to end the five-year civil war, telling Reuters proposals for a ceasefire were coming from states that “do not want an end to terrorism” and wanted to shore up insurgents who are losing ground. The Syrian army, backed by Russian air strikes and Iranian and Lebanese Hezbollah fighters, has launched a major advance in recent weeks near Aleppo, once Syria’s biggest city, now divided between rebel- and government-held sectors…

Doctors Without Borders: 23,000 flee Aleppo (ABC News) Doctors Without Borders says some 23,000 new arrivals fleeing the fighting in Aleppo are in urgent need of emergency shelter and support near Syria’s border with Turkey. In a press release issued Tuesday, the group says it has increased the number of beds in its hospital in Azaz district and is preparing to extend capacity if necessary…

Vicar of Aleppo says Syrian people do not want foreigners’ war (AsiaNews) The Syrian army, with the help of the Russians, is making great strides in the Aleppo region, says the apostolic vicar of Aleppo of the Latins, Bishop Georges Abou Khazen, O.F.M. “The goal is to free the area from militia extremists and allow people to return to their homes. In some areas, schools have reopened and the supply of electricity and water has returned,” he says. In a tense situation, Msgr. Georges Abou Khazen sees positive glimmers: “Many of the local fighters, the Syrian guerrillas, are calling for an end to the war, and want reconciliation and dialogue with military and government. Where instead there is a prevalence of foreign jihadists and militants linked to foreign powers in the region and outside the region, war still rages on…”

Pope Francis meets with prime minister of Iraq (Vatican Radio) Before the general audience on Wednesday, Pope Francis met with the prime minister of Iraq, Haydar al Abadi. The meeting took place in the studio of the Paul VI Audience Hall. The two discussed the role of interreligious dialogue and the responsibility of religious communities to promote tolerance and peace…

Pope-patriarch meeting historic, observers say, but substance is key (CNS) The planned 12 February meeting in Cuba between Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill of the Russian Orthodox Church will be a historic event, those involved in ecumenical relations agree, but they contend the proof of the pudding will lie in the content of the joint statement the two church leaders are expected to sign at the end of their meeting…

Last Byzantine church in Ankara fights for survival (Christian Today) The last remaining Byzantine church in Ankara, Turkey, is fighting to survive as the crowded city continues to spread. The Orthodox Church of St. Clement, built at least 1,000 years ago, is in ruins and is quickly disappearing amid office buildings in the Altindag district. Despite being of cultural and historical importance, the church can only be visited by walking down an office fire escape with express permission from the owners…

Tags: Syria Pope Francis War Turkey Patriarch Kirill

9 February 2016
J.D. Conor Mauro

The Rev. Androwas Bahus teaches children in the smallest of his parishes at St. Andrew the Apostle Melkite Greek Catholic Church, in Akko, Israel. You can read about a day in the life of a priest in Galilee in the latest edition of ONE. (photo: Ilene Perlman)

Tags: Israel Holy Land Holy Land Christians Priests Galilee

9 February 2016
J.D. Conor Mauro

Syrian government soldiers celebrate after taking control of the village of Ratian, north of the embattled city of Aleppo, from rebel fighters on 6 February. (photo: George Ourfalian/AFP/Getty Images)

Syrian government forces, with Russian support, turn a corner (Huffington Post) Late on 2 February, the news hit: “All communication and supply line[s]” between Turkey and Aleppo had been severed, according to a Elijah Magnier, a renowned Arab war correspondent with Alrai Media Group. It seems to be so; the Syrian army and allied militias, backed by Hezbollah and Russian air power, took control of a tendril of territory that cuts off Aleppo-based rebels from the Turkish border. Eastern supply lines for ISIS appear to have also been cut. Edward Dark, a pseudonym for a respected commentator on Syrian affairs living in Aleppo, said on 3 February: “This is the beginning of the end of jihadi presence in Aleppo. After four years of war and terror, people can finally see the end in sight…”

Turkey under pressure to open border to Syrian refugees (Al Jazeera) Turkey came under mounting pressure to open its border Saturday as tens of thousands of Syrians fleeing a government onslaught sought entry and the European Union called on Ankara to grant them refuge. As many as 35,000 Syrians have amassed along the closed border, according to Suleyman Tapsiz, governor of the Turkish border province of Kilis. He said Turkey would provide aid to the displaced within Syria, but would only open the gates in the event of an “extraordinary crisis…”

Rebels threaten to execute anyone caught smuggling humanitarian aid to Foah and Kefraya (Al Masdar News) The Sharia Courts of Idlib that are run by the Islamist rebels of Jaysh al Fateh have issued a decree that bans the delivery of humanitarian aid to the predominately Shiite towns of Kefraya and Foah in the Idlib Governorate. Under this decree, any person(s) caught smuggling humanitarian aid to the aforementioned towns will be executed by the Shari’ah Courts of Idlib. This hard-lined stance against the delivery of humanitarian aid to the beleaguered civilians of Kefraya and Foah comes just one week after another convoy of humanitarian aid was delivered to the town of Madaya in western Damascus…

In Syria, war crimes don’t take sides, U.N. report says (CNN) They were prisoners of war on different sides of a conflict that’s raged for nearly five years. But all of them faced a horrifying reality, according to a new report on Syria released by the United Nations. Torture, mass executions and other war crimes have been carried out against detainees held by groups on practically all sides of the fighting, according to the report released Monday by the U.N. Commission of Inquiry on Syria…

Christians boycott peace conference; Chaldean Patriarch frustrated with empty words (Fides) Christian representatives invited to participate in the “Conference on the protection of peaceful coexistence,” held on Sunday, 7 February at the Iraqi Parliament, decided to boycott the event, to mark their distance from occasions when the calls to coexistence and harmony between different ethnic and religious identities are transformed into mere rhetorical formulas. In addition to the Christian communities, also other religious minorities, such as the Yazidis and Mandaeans boycotted the conference…

On the Great Council of the Orthodox Church (First Things) Already there is much talk about the Holy and Great Council of the Orthodox Church. Between now and June 19, 2016, when the council officially opens on the island of Crete, there will be many rumors and much spin. Some will be justified; like other patriarchal institutions, Orthodox churches are not normally known for their transparency. However, other chatter will be less than helpful. What follow are some brief clarifications on basic questions surrounding the council…

Tags: Syria Refugees War Ecumenism

8 February 2016
J.D. Conor Mauro

Syrian children who fled bombing in Aleppo wander among tents at the Oncupinar crossing, opposite the Turkish province of Kilis, on 6 February 2016. (photo: Kerem Kocalar/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

Syria refugee camps set up as Turkey limits entries (BBC) Turkish aid workers have been setting up tents and distributing supplies for thousands of new Syrian refugees kept from entering Turkey at the border. Some 35,000 people fled a Syrian government offensive in the Aleppo area last week, trying to enter Turkey’s Kilis border region. But Turkey has so far closed the border to most of them despite appeals by E.U. leaders to let them cross…

As Syrians flee anew, neighbors’ altruism hardens into resentment (New York Times) When the Syrian refugees first started streaming into this bedraggled border town, Gassim al Moghrebi was their tireless benefactor, distributing donations of food, money and clothes and sheltering as many as possible in two apartments he owned. “All of Ramtha was just like me,” Mr. Moghrebi said, describing a good will rooted in family ties that spanned the border, and sympathy for the victims of a pitiless war. “One man had ten apartments. He gave them to the Syrians for free.” But now, as Syria witnesses a new escalation of violence and flee again by the tens of thousands, neighboring countries are increasingly overwhelmed and reluctant to let them in. In many places, that early altruism has hardened into resentment — an ominous turn for those searching for safety from the war…

Maronite patriarch: Without a president, Lebanon is on brink of collapse (AsiaNews) Religious leaders, international diplomats and citizens have launched a fresh appeal to the Lebanese Parliament to elect a new president, a position now vacant for over 20 months. In his Sunday homily Maronite Patriarch Bechara Peter lent his voice to this call…

Coptic eparchy to celebrate anniversary of the martyrdom of 21 Copts in Libya (Fides) The Coptic Orthodox Eparchy of Samalot is preparing to celebrate the first anniversary of the martyrdom of 21 Copts killed in Libya by ISIS militants. Celebrations will culminate in the solemn liturgy on Tuesday, 16 February. The 21 Coptic Egyptians were kidnapped in Libya in early January 2015…

A Catholic-Orthodox meeting is spectacular but not unprecedented (The Economist) The announcement of a meeting between Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill of Moscow, due to take place in Cuba on 12 February, is certainly a spectacular moment in ecumenical dialogue. But contrary to many reports that have appeared in the press this weekend, it is certainly not the first top-level encounter between the Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches since the East-West schism of 1054. Before speculating about what will happen in Havana, it’s worth recalling, in barest outline, some landmarks in the history of this often tortured relationship…

Tags: Syria Pope Francis Refugees Refugee Camps Patriarch Kirill

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