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– Twenty-First Century Crusades?
The Pope taking radical steps to bring
all sheep back into fold.
After 1,000-year split, pope and
Russian patriarch embrace in Cuba
by Philip Pullella and Daniel Trotta
Pope Francis and Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill embraced and kissed
on Friday in a historic meeting, uniting to issue a global appeal for
the protection of Christians under assault in the Middle East.
Nearly 1,000 years after the Eastern and Western branches of
Christianity split apart, the meeting at an airport terminal in Cuba was
the first ever between a Roman Catholic pope and a Russian Orthodox
"In many countries of the Middle East and North Africa whole families,
villages and cities of our brothers and sisters in Christ are being
completely exterminated," they said in a joint declaration in apparent
reference to violence by militant groups such as Islamic State.
"Their churches are being barbarously ravaged and looted, their sacred
objects profaned, their monuments destroyed."
They also said large-scale humanitarian aid was required to tend to
refugees fleeing Syria and Iraq, lamenting the "massive exodus of
Cuban President Raul Castro stood to the side during the ceremony,
enjoying another moment in the international limelight after receiving
Francis last year and restoring diplomatic relations with the United
States recently, meeting President Barack Obama in Panama in April.
Cuba is also sponsoring peace talks between the Colombian government and
leftist rebels seeking to end a 50-year war.
"If it continues this way, Cuba will be the capital of unity," Francis
"Now what's left is Colombia," Castro told reporters after the pope
boarded his plane for Mexico, where Francis arrived on Friday evening
for a five-day visit to some of the poorest and most violent corners of
Dissidents in Cuba's one-party political system have remarked on the
government's willingness to promote dialogue for foreigners while
dismissing political opponents as mercenaries doing the bidding of the
The two religious leaders, guests of a Communist government, came
together only a week after the encounter was announced. Such a meeting
had eluded their predecessor, but Francis had issued a standing
invitation to meet anytime, anywhere.
The moment came while Kirill was visiting the Caribbean island and
Francis added a brief stop on his way from Rome to a long-scheduled
visit to Mexico.
"Finally," Francis said as he and Kirill entered through doors on
opposite sides of a room at Havana airport. "We are brothers."
Francis, dressed in white with a skullcap, and Kirill, wearing a tall,
domed hat that dangled a white stole over black robes, joined arms and
kissed on both cheeks.
"It is very clear that this is the will of God," Francis said.
Their meeting carried political overtones, coming at a time of Russian
disagreements with the West over Syria and Ukraine.
The Russian Orthodox Church is closely aligned with the Kremlin, which
is in turn an ally of Cuba.
The Argentine pontiff helped the rapprochement between the United States
and Cuba after more than five decades of estrangement.
The pope, leader of the world's 1.2 billion Catholics, is seeking to
repair a much longer rupture. Eastern Orthodoxy split with Rome in 1054.
The declaration called for Europe to remain faithful to its Christian
roots and restated several traditional Christian teachings such as
opposition to abortion and marriage being reserved for a man and a
The Russian Orthodox Church takes a stronger stand on these issues in
public than Pope Francis, who supports these teachings but often speaks
of other issues such as poverty and protecting the environment, which
were also mentioned in the text.
(Reporting by Daniel Trotta and Philip Pullella; Additional reporting by
Tom Heneghan; Editing by Andrew Hay, Alistair Bell, Toni Reinhold)