Thursday, February 18, 2016

Pope On Trump: "A Person Who Thinks Only of Walls, And Not Bridges, Is Not Christian"

Keeping with custom for the traveling press pool – whose outlets pay for the entire flight – the Pope delivered an hourlong, 12-question extravaganza en route home from Mexico...

...but even if the session included some notable comments on his upcoming last word on the Synod ("perhaps before Easter," he confirms), last week's Havana Summit, abortion as a "crime" on a level with "what the Mafia does," and his "dream" to go to one place above all – "China" – given the piece that's dominating the news-cycle after yesterday's Border stop, for purposes of clarity, here's an English translation of what set it off:

Phil Pullella, Reuters: Good evening, Your Holiness. Today you spoke very eloquently on the problems of immigrants. On the other side of the border, meanwhile, there’s an already rough election campaign. One of the candidates for the White House, the Republican Donald Trump, in a recent interview said that you are a political man and added that maybe you’re a pawn, a tool of the Mexican government on the political issue of immigration. He has said that, if elected, he wants to build a 2,500km wall along the border; he wants to deport 11 million illegal immigrants, thus separating families, etc. I’d like to ask, then, above all what you think of these accusations against you and if an American Catholic can vote for a person of this kind.

Pope Francis: Well, thank God he said I’m political, because Aristotle defines the human person as “animal politicus” (“political animal”): at least I’m human! And that I’m a pawn… meh, maybe, I don’t know – I leave that to your judgment, that of the people. And then, a person who thinks only of making walls, wherever they might be, and not of building bridges, is not Christian. This is not in the Gospel. Then, what you told me, what I would advise, to vote for or not: I’m not getting into that. I only say: if he says these things, this man is not Christian. It needs to be seen that he has said these things. And for this I give the benefit of the doubt.
In response, the Republican frontrunner issued a lengthy statement minutes after the presser's content emerged:
If and when the Vatican is attacked by ISIS, which as everyone knows is ISIS’s ultimate trophy, I can promise you that the Pope would have only wished and prayed that Donald Trump would have been President because this would not have happened. ISIS would have been eradicated unlike what is happening now with our all talk, no action politicians.

The Mexican government and its leadership has made many disparaging remarks about me to the Pope, because they want to continue to rip off the United States, both on trade and at the border, and they understand I am totally wise to them. The Pope only heard one side of the story - he didn’t see the crime, the drug trafficking and the negative economic impact the current policies have on the United States. He doesn’t see how Mexican leadership is outsmarting President Obama and our leadership in every aspect of negotiation.

For a religious leader to question a person’s faith is disgraceful. I am proud to be a Christian and as President I will not allow Christianity to be consistently attacked and weakened, unlike what is happening now, with our current President. No leader, especially a religious leader, should have the right to question another man’s religion or faith. They are using the Pope as a pawn and they should be ashamed of themselves for doing so, especially when so many lives are involved and when illegal immigration is so rampant.
Given the freshness of yesterday's eventful tour of Ciudad Juarez, it's rather amusing that precious little focus has fallen on what can be seen as another, more extensive "line of attack" from Francis – before a raucous crowd resembling a campaign rally, Papa Bergoglio's morning address to labor and business leaders, which singled out no specific person, but just so happened to pack as least as much of a punch at Trump's worldview as the comment on the plane.

Speaking at a Juarez college, the pontiff focused on Catholic social doctrine's treatment of the economy and workers, tearing into "the prevailing mentality [which] puts the flow of people at the service of the flow of capital, resulting in many cases in the exploitation of employees as if they were objects to be used, discarded and thrown out."

If and where that is the case, "God will hold us accountable for the slaves of our day," Francis said, "and we must do everything to make sure that these situations do not happen again. The flow of capital cannot decide the flow and life of people."

An unofficial English translation of the presser in full has been posted by Catholic News Agency.

* * *
On a context note, while the New York developer/reality TV star's ongoing dominance of the GOP presidential field has quietly been greeted with a significant level of concern among even the most Republican-friendly sectors of the US church's leadership, it bears recalling that – in an astonishing pre-emptive strike – Trump's defining rhetoric on immigration was openly blasted by two top-tier prelates normally affiliated with the nation's Catholic right within weeks of his candidacy's inception.

As far back as last July, in an op-ed for the New York Daily News, Gotham's Cardinal Timothy Dolan called the contender's proposal for a border wall a "'Trump card' to show" that, in today's America, "Nativism," the 19th century anti-immigrant movement that saw Catholic churches burned and the newly-arriving faithful deemed a menace to society, "is alive, well — and apparently popular!"

While underscoring that he is "not in the business of telling people what candidates they should support or who deserves their vote" – a needed caveat given the church's tax exemption and its ban on political endorsements – Dolan added that, "as a Catholic, I take seriously the Bible’s teaching that we are to welcome the stranger, one of the most frequently mentioned moral imperatives in both the Old and New Testament."

Elsewhere, serving to punctuate the line but from a different angle, the figure most often portrayed as the Stateside hierarchy's premier "conservative," Philadelphia's Archbishop Charles Chaput OFM Cap., said at a September forum on migration that the spate of recent calls to end the 14th Amendment's provision for "birthright citizenship" – "notably, but not only, [from] Donald Trump" – were likewise ill-founded.

"This is a profoundly bad idea," Chaput warned. "It plays on our worst fears and resentments. And it undermines one of the pillars of the American founding and national identity."

"In all things," he said, "we need to respect the rule of law. This a key element of our immigration system. But we also need to revise and strengthen our laws in favor of the family, the seed of a healthy society."

Of course, a focus on the human dignity of migrants across the board – with no regard whatsoever for US electoral cycles – has had a high place among Francis' core emphases from the very outset of his pontificate. Still, today's development wouldn't be complete without reminding how, during his East Coast tour last September, the Pope chose the nation's very birthplace, Philadelphia's Independence Hall – with Chaput at his side – to address the topic in depth on these shores (above), tying it in with the theme of religious liberty and saying among other things that....
Among us today are members of America’s large Hispanic population, as well as representatives of recent immigrants to the United States. Many of you have emigrated (I greet you warmly!) to this country at great personal cost, in the hope of building a new life. Do not be discouraged by whatever hardships you face. I ask you not to forget that, like those who came here before you, you bring many gifts to this nation. Please, you should never be ashamed of your traditions. Do not forget the lessons you learned from your elders, which are something you can bring to enrich the life of this American land. I repeat, do not be ashamed of what is part of you, your life blood. You are also called to be responsible citizens, and to contribute fruitfully – as those who came before you did with such fortitude – to the life of the communities in which you live. I think in particular of the vibrant faith which so many of you possess, the deep sense of family life and all those other values which you have inherited. By contributing your gifts, you will not only find your place here, you will help to renew society from within. Do not forget what took place here over two centuries ago. Do not forget that Declaration which proclaimed that all men and women are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights and that governments exist in order to protect and defend those rights.
As ever, more to come.


Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Between Two Nations, The Pope's Prayer: "No More Death! No More Exploitation!"

The dramatic final act de este PopeTrip en El Sur, below is video of the Pope's much-anticipated stop at the US-Mexican border – a moment of prayer in silence which took place just before 4pm local time...

...and from just a few minutes and a couple hundred meters later, the English translation of the pontiff's homily at this trek's closing Mass, celebrated before a crowd of some 350,000 at the Ciudad Juarez fairgrounds – drawing upon today's assigned readings, a preach as impassioned and strong as was expected for the moment:

In the second century Saint Irenaeus wrote that the glory of God is the life of man. It is an expression which continues to echo in the heart of the Church. The glory of the Father is the life of his sons and daughters. There is no greater glory for a father than to see his children blossom, no greater satisfaction than to see his children grow up, developing and flourishing. The first reading that we have just heard points to this. The great city of Nineveh, was self-destructing as a result of oppression and dishonour, violence and injustice. The grand capital’s days were numbered because the violence within it could not continue. Then the Lord appeared and stirred Jonah’s heart: the Father called and sent forth his messenger. Jonah was summoned to receive a mission. “Go”, he is told, because in “forty days Nineveh shall be overthrown” (Jon 3:4). Go and help them to understand that by the way they treat each other, ordering and organizing themselves, they are only creating death and destruction, suffering and oppression. Make them see this is no way to live, neither for the king nor his subjects, nor for farm fields nor for the cattle. Go and tell them that they have become used to this degrading way of life and have lost their sensitivity to pain. Go and tell them that injustice has infected their way of seeing the world. “Therefore, go Jonah!”. God sent him to testify to what was happening, he sent him to wake up a people intoxicated with themselves.

In this text we find ourselves before the mystery of divine mercy. Mercy, which always rejects wickedness, takes the human person in great earnest. Mercy always appeals to the latent and numbed goodness within each person. Far from bringing destruction, as we so often desire or want to bring about ourselves, mercy seeks to transform each situation from within. Herein lies the mystery of divine mercy. It seeks and invites us to conversion, it invites us to repentance; it invites us to see the damage being done at every level. Mercy always pierces evil in order to transform it.

The king listened to Jonah, the inhabitants of the city responded and penance was decreed. God’s mercy has entered the heart, revealing and showing wherein our certainty and hope lie: there is always the possibility of change, we still have time to transform what is destroying us as a people, what is demeaning our humanity. Mercy encourages us to look to the present, and to trust what is healthy and good beating in every heart. God’s mercy is our shield and our strength.

Jonah helped them to see, helped them to become aware. Following this, his call found men and women capable of repenting, and capable of weeping. To weep over injustice, to cry over corruption, to cry over oppression. These are tears that lead to transformation, that soften the heart; they are the tears that purify our gaze and enable us to see the cycle of sin into which very often we have sunk. They are tears that can sensitize our gaze and our attitude hardened and especially dormant in the face of another’s suffering. They are the tears that can break us, capable of opening us to conversion.

This word echoes forcefully today among us; this word is the voice crying out in the wilderness, inviting us to conversion. In this Year of Mercy, with you here, I beg for God’s mercy; with you I wish to plead for the gift of tears, the gift of conversion.

Here in Ciudad Juárez, as in other border areas, there are thousands of immigrants from Central America and other countries, not forgetting the many Mexicans who also seek to pass over “to the other side”. Each step, a journey laden with grave injustices: the enslaved, the imprisoned and extorted; so many of these brothers and sisters of ours are the consequence of a trade in human beings.

We cannot deny the humanitarian crisis which in recent years has meant migration for thousands of people, whether by train or highway or on foot, crossing hundreds of kilometres through mountains, deserts and inhospitable zones. The human tragedy that is forced migration is a global phenomenon today. This crisis which can be measured in numbers and statistics, we want instead to measure with names, stories, families. They are the brothers and sisters of those expelled by poverty and violence, by drug trafficking and criminal organizations. Being faced with so many legal vacuums, they get caught up in a web that ensnares and always destroys the poorest. Not only do they suffer poverty but they must also endure these forms of violence. Injustice is radicalized in the young; they are “cannon fodder”, persecuted and threatened when they try to flee the spiral of violence and the hell of drugs, not to mention the tragic predicament of the many women whose lives have been unjustly taken.

Let us together ask our God for the gift of conversion, the gift of tears, let us ask him to give us open hearts like the Ninevites, open to his call heard in the suffering faces of countless men and women. No more death! No more exploitation! There is still time to change, there is still a way out and a chance, time to implore the mercy of God.

Just as in Jonas’ time, so too today may we commit ourselves to conversion; may we be signs lighting the way and announcing salvation. I know of the work of countless civil organizations working to support the rights of migrants. I know too of the committed work of so many men and women religious, priests and lay people in accompanying migrants and in defending life. They are on the front lines, often risking their own lives. By their very lives they are prophets of mercy; they are the beating heart and the accompanying feet of the Church that opens its arms and sustains.

This time for conversion, this time for salvation, is the time for mercy. And so, let us say together in response to the suffering on so many faces: In your compassion and mercy, Lord, have pity on us... cleanse us from our sins and create in us a pure heart, a new spirit (cf. Ps 50).

I would like to take this occasion to send greeting from here to our dear sisters and brothers who are with us now, beyond the border, in particular those who are gathered in the University of El Paso Stadium; it’s known as the Sun Bowl, and they are led by Bishop Mark Seitz. With the help of technology, we can pray, sing and together celebrate the merciful love that the Lord gives us and that no border can stop us from sharing. Thank you, brothers and sisters at El Paso, for making us feel like one family, and one and the same Christian community.

At The Border, El Día de "Los Ultimos"

Given the risk of missing the forest for the trees, the Mexican PopeTrip now reaching its end has best been viewed with the focus pulled back – not just across the five days of stops, but the broad sweep of this pontificate... and, indeed, the long, complex history that illustrates the moments we've just seen in their most vivid light.

There'll be more to lay that out in due course. For now, with the surface of the scenes having yielded another host of "vintage Francis" moments, even as the pontiff's travels to a downtrodden capital suburb, to the marginalized indigenous people of Chiapas and the heart of the violence-ridden drug trade in Michoacán serve to reaffirm the Pope's commitment to a "church of the peripheries" and together make for one big "Matthew 25 stop," with today's closing leg on the Mexican-US border at Ciudad Juarez, a slightly different context bears keeping in mind.

Set to climax around 4pm Central time (1900 Rome) with a silent papal prayer at a specially-built overlook on the Mexican side of the Rio Grande (top) – as several hundred immigrants and church leaders take part from the opposite bank on US soil – today's act before the visit's final Mass is the direct descendant of two earlier moments which drove the question of migration into the very foundation of the American church's social magisterium in the age of Francis: the July 2013 journey to Europe's "Ellis Island" at Lampedusa, which marked the new Pope's first trip outside of Rome; and the USCCB initiative to bring the gesture home with an April 2014 Mass at the Mexican border in Arizona, led by Papa Bergoglio's principal North American adviser, Boston's Cardinal Seán O'Malley OFM Cap.

In particular, the latter event proved the catalyst for today's pilgrimage – said to have been especially moved on seeing images of Communion being distributed into the outstretched hands of Mexicans through slats in the boundary fence (above), the Arizona Mass galvanized Papa Bergoglio to follow suit; within a month of it, reports emerged that Francis had begun asking around about the right Mexico-US crossing to not merely visit, but from which he would enter the US after a leg in Mexico.

Between the competing logistics of the 2015 travel calendar – and, so it's said, a push against the plan from some influential figures on its northern end – the desired passage ended up being scuttled as part of last year's US trip. Nevertheless, this afternoon in the very town which has long been most closely linked to border-related violence brings the fruition of a wish two years in the making, the trajectory of which underscores the pontiff's determination to accomplish those things he's set his heart on doing, however daunting the obstacles placed in his path. And as it unfolds, it's almost too easy to recall the powerful greeting on a makeshift banner hoisted at Lampedusa as Francis arrived for that first remarkable day at the border: in the original, it read "Benvenuto tra gli ultimi"... English, "Welcome among the least."

Admittedly, the line's more potent in Italian or Spanish – in both, "ultimo" and its derivitaves interchangeably mean what Anglophones would render as "the last," "the least," "the latest," "the edge," or "the extreme."

Sure, there's a sense of each in what happens today on the southern Rio Grande... but on its other side, perhaps another facet of "ultimate" tops all the rest: just shy of five months since the rest of it happened, only this afternoon will the first-ever encounter of an American Pope with the Stateside church be truly, finally complete.

Along those lines, below is the closing passage of Francis' address to the bishops of the United States, given in Washington's St Matthew's Cathedral last 23 September:

My final recommendation has to do with immigrants. I ask you to excuse me if in some way I am pleading my own case. The Church in the United States knows like few others the hopes present in the hearts of these “pilgrims”. From the beginning you have learned their languages, promoted their cause, made their contributions your own, defended their rights, helped them to prosper, and kept alive the flame of their faith. Even today, no American institution does more for immigrants than your Christian communities. Now you are facing this stream of Latin immigration which affects many of your dioceses. Not only as the Bishop of Rome, but also as a pastor from the South, I feel the need to thank and encourage you. Perhaps it will not be easy for you to look into their soul; perhaps you will be challenged by their diversity. But know that they also possess resources meant to be shared. So do not be afraid to welcome them. Offer them the warmth of the love of Christ and you will unlock the mystery of their heart. I am certain that, as so often in the past, these people will enrich America and its Church.

Friday, February 12, 2016

"It Is With Joy That We Have Met Like Brothers"

Released by the Holy See immediately upon its signing in Havana, below is the official English text of today's Joint Declaration of Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia following the first-ever meeting between the heads of Christianity's two largest branches.

*   *   *
The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God the Father and the fellowship of the holy Spirit be with all of you” (2 Cor 13:13).

1. By God the Father’s will, from which all gifts come, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, and with the help of the Holy Spirit Consolator, we, Pope Francis and Kirill, Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia, have met today in Havana. We give thanks to God, glorified in the Trinity, for this meeting, the first in history.
It is with joy that we have met like brothers in the Christian faith who encounter one another “to speak face to face” (2Jn12), from heart to heart, to discuss the mutual relations between the Churches, the crucial problems of our faithful, and the outlook for the progress of human civilization.

2. Our fraternal meeting has taken place in Cuba, at the crossroads of North and South, East and West. It is from this island, the symbol of the hopes of the “New World” and the dramatic events of the history of the twentieth century, that we address our words to all the peoples of Latin America and of the other continents.
It is a source of joy that the Christian faith is growing here in a dynamic way. The powerful religious potential of Latin America, its centuries–old Christian tradition, grounded in the personal experience of millions of people, are the pledge of a great future for this region.

3. By meeting far from the longstanding disputes of the “Old World”, we experience with a particular sense of urgency the need for the shared labour of Catholics and Orthodox, who are called, with gentleness and respect, to give an explanation to the world of the hope in us (cf.1Pet3:15).

4. We thank God for the gifts received from the coming into the world of His only Son. We share the same spiritual Tradition of the first millennium of Christianity. The witnesses of this Tradition are the Most Holy Mother of God, the Virgin Mary, and the saints we venerate. Among them are innumerable martyrs who have given witness to their faithfulness to Christ and have become the “seed of Christians”.

5. Notwithstanding this shared Tradition of the first ten centuries, for nearly one thousand years Catholics and Orthodox have been deprived of communion in the Eucharist. We have been divided by wounds caused by old and recent conflicts, 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. We are pained by the loss of unity, the outcome of human weakness and of sin, which has occurred despite the priestly prayer of Christ the Saviour: “So that they may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you … so that they may be one, as we are one” (Jn17:21).

6. Mindful of the permanence of many obstacles, it is our hope that our meeting may contribute to the re–establishment of this unity willed by God, for which Christ prayed. May our meeting inspire Christians throughout the world to pray to the Lord with renewed fervour for the full unity of all His disciples. In a world which yearns not only for our words but also for tangible gestures, may this meeting be a sign of hope for all people of goodwill!

7. In our determination to undertake all that is necessary to overcome the historical divergences we have inherited, we wish to combine our efforts to give witness to the Gospel of Christ and to the shared heritage of the Church of the first millennium, responding together to the challenges of the contemporary world. Orthodox and Catholics must learn to give unanimously witness in those spheres in which this is possible and necessary. Human civilization has entered into a period of epochal change. Our Christian conscience and our pastoral responsibility compel us not to remain passive in the face of challenges requiring a shared response.

8. Our gaze must firstly turn to those regions of the world where Christians are victims of persecution. 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. Their churches are being barbarously ravaged and looted, their sacred objects profaned, their monuments destroyed. It is with pain that we call to mind the situation in Syria, Iraq and other countries of the Middle East, and the massive exodus of Christians from the land in which our faith was first disseminated and in which they have lived since the time of the Apostles, together with other religious communities.

9. We call upon the international community to act urgently in order to prevent the further expulsion of Christians from the Middle East. In raising our voice in defence of persecuted Christians, we wish to express our compassion for the suffering experienced by the faithful of other religious traditions who have also become victims of civil war, chaos and terrorist violence.

10. Thousands of victims have already been claimed in the violence in Syria and Iraq, which has left many other millions without a home or means of sustenance. We urge the international community to seek an end to the violence and terrorism and, at the same time, to contribute through dialogue to a swift return to civil peace. Large–scale humanitarian aid must be assured to the afflicted populations and to the many refugees seeking safety in neighbouring lands.
We call upon all those whose influence can be brought to bear upon the destiny of those kidnapped, including the Metropolitans of Aleppo, Paul and John Ibrahim, who were taken in April 2013, to make every effort to ensure their prompt liberation.

11. We lift our prayers to Christ, the Saviour of the world, asking for the return of peace in the Middle East, “the fruit of justice” (Is32:17), so that fraternal co–existence among the various populations, Churches and religions may be strengthened, enabling refugees to return to their homes, wounds to be healed, and the souls of the slain innocent to rest in peace.
We address, in a fervent appeal, all the parts that may be involved in the conflicts to demonstrate good will and to take part in the negotiating table. At the same time, the international community must undertake every possible effort to end terrorism through common, joint and coordinated action. We call on all the countries involved in the struggle against terrorism to responsible and prudent action. We exhort all Christians and all believers of God to pray fervently to the providential Creator of the world to protect His creation from destruction and not permit a new world war. In order to ensure a solid and enduring peace, specific efforts must be undertaken to rediscover the common values uniting us, based on the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.

12. We bow before the martyrdom of those who, at the cost of their own lives, have given witness to the truth of the Gospel, preferring death to the denial of Christ. We believe that these martyrs of our times, who belong to various Churches but who are united by their shared suffering, are a pledge of the unity of Christians. It is to you who suffer for Christ’s sake that the word of the Apostle is directed: “Beloved … rejoice to the extent that you share in the sufferings of Christ, so that when his glory is revealed you may also rejoice exultantly” (1Pet4:12–13).

13. Interreligious dialogue is indispensable in our disturbing times. Differences in the understanding of religious truths must not impede people of different faiths to live in peace and harmony. In our current context, religious leaders have the particular responsibility to educate their faithful in a spirit which is respectful of the convictions of those belonging to other religious traditions. Attempts to justify criminal acts with religious slogans are altogether unacceptable. No crime may be committed in God’s name, “since God is not the God of disorder but of peace” (1Cor14:33).

14. In affirming the foremost value of religious freedom, we give thanks to God for the current unprecedented renewal of the Christian faith in Russia, as well as in many other countries of Eastern Europe, formerly dominated for decades by atheist regimes. Today, the chains of militant atheism have been broken and in many places Christians can now freely confess their faith. Thousands of new churches have been built over the last quarter of a century, as well as hundreds of monasteries and theological institutions. Christian communities undertake notable works in the fields of charitable aid and social development, providing diversified forms of assistance to the needy. Orthodox and Catholics often work side by side. Giving witness to the values of the Gospel they attest to the existence of the shared spiritual foundations of human co–existence.

15. At the same time, we are concerned about the situation in many countries in which Christians are increasingly confronted by restrictions to religious freedom, to the right to witness to one’s convictions and to live in conformity with them. In particular, we observe that the transformation of some countries into secularized societies, estranged from all reference to God and to His truth, constitutes a grave threat to religious freedom. It is a source of concern for us that there is a current curtailment of the rights of Christians, if not their outright discrimination, when certain political forces, guided by an often very aggressive secularist ideology, seek to relegate them to the margins of public life.

16. The process of European integration, which began after centuries of blood–soaked conflicts, was welcomed by many with hope, as a guarantee of peace and security. Nonetheless, we invite vigilance against an integration that is devoid of respect for religious identities. While remaining open to the contribution of other religions to our civilization, it is our conviction that Europe must remain faithful to its Christian roots. We call upon Christians of Eastern and Western Europe to unite in their shared witness to Christ and the Gospel, so that Europe may preserve its soul, shaped by two thousand years of Christian tradition.

17. Our gaze is also directed to those facing serious difficulties, who live in extreme need and poverty while the material wealth of humanity increases. We cannot remain indifferent to the destinies of millions of migrants and refugees knocking on the doors of wealthy nations. The unrelenting consumerism of some more developed countries is gradually depleting the resources of our planet. The growing inequality in the distribution of material goods increases the feeling of the injustice of the international order that has emerged.

18. The Christian churches are called to defend the demands of justice, the respect for peoples’ traditions, and an authentic solidarity towards all those who suffer. We Christians cannot forget that “God chose the foolish of the world to shame the wise, and God chose the lowly and despised of the world, those who count for nothing, to reduce to nothing those who are something, that no human being might boast before God” (1Cor1:27–29).

19. The family is the natural centre of human life and society. We are concerned about the crisis in the family in many countries. Orthodox and Catholics share the same conception of the family, and are called to witness that it is a path of holiness, testifying to the faithfulness of the spouses in their mutual interaction, to their openness to the procreation and rearing of their children, to solidarity between the generations and to respect for the weakest.

20. The family is based on marriage, an act of freely given and faithful love between a man and a woman. It is love that seals their union and teaches them to accept one another as a gift. Marriage is a school of love and faithfulness. We regret that other forms of cohabitation have been placed on the same level as this union, while the concept, consecrated in the biblical tradition, of paternity and maternity as the distinct vocation of man and woman in marriage is being banished from the public conscience.

21. We call on all to respect the inalienable right to life. Millions are denied the very right to be born into the world. The blood of the unborn cries out to God (cf.Gen4:10).
The emergence of so-called euthanasia leads elderly people and the disabled begin to feel that they are a burden on their families and on society in general.

We are also concerned about the development of biomedical reproduction technology, as the manipulation of human life represents an attack on the foundations of human existence, created in the image of God. We believe that it is our duty to recall the immutability of Christian moral principles, based on respect for the dignity of the individual called into being according to the Creator’s plan.

22. Today, in a particular way, we address young Christians. You, young people, have the task of not hiding your talent in the ground (cf. Mt25:25), but of using all the abilities God has given you to confirm Christ’s truth in the world, incarnating in your own lives the evangelical commandments of the love of God and of one’s neighbour. Do not be afraid of going against the current, defending God’s truth, to which contemporary secular norms are often far from conforming.

23. God loves each of you and expects you to be His disciples and apostles. Be the light of the world so that those around you may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father (cf. Mt5:14,16). Raise your children in the Christian faith, transmitting to them the pearl of great price that is the faith (cf. Mt13:46) you have received from your parents and forbears. Remember that “you have been purchased at a great price” (1Cor6:20), at the cost of the death on the cross of the Man–God Jesus Christ.

24. Orthodox and Catholics are united not only by the shared Tradition of the Church of the first millennium, but also by the mission to preach the Gospel of Christ in the world today. This mission entails mutual respect for members of the Christian communities and excludes any form of proselytism.
We are not competitors but brothers, and this concept must guide all our mutual actions as well as those directed to the outside world. We urge Catholics and Orthodox in all countries to learn to live together in peace and love, and to be “in harmony with one another” (Rm15:5). Consequently, it cannot be accepted that disloyal means be used to incite believers to pass from one Church to another, denying them their religious freedom and their traditions. We are called upon to put into practice the precept of the apostle Paul: “Thus I aspire to proclaim the gospel not where Christ has already been named, so that I do not build on another's foundation” (Rm15:20).

25. It is our hope that our meeting may also contribute to reconciliation wherever tensions exist between Greek Catholics and Orthodox. It is today clear that the past method of “uniatism”, understood as the union of one community to the other, separating it from its Church, is not the way to re–establish unity. Nonetheless, the ecclesial communities which emerged in these historical circumstances have the right to exist and to undertake all that is necessary to meet the spiritual needs of their faithful, while seeking to live in peace with their neighbours. Orthodox and Greek Catholics are in need of reconciliation and of mutually acceptable forms of co–existence.

26. We deplore the hostility in Ukraine that has already caused many victims, inflicted innumerable wounds on peaceful inhabitants and thrown society into a deep economic and humanitarian crisis. We invite all the parts involved in the conflict to prudence, to social solidarity and to action aimed at constructing peace. We invite our Churches in Ukraine to work towards social harmony, to refrain from taking part in the confrontation, and to not support any further development of the conflict.

27. It is our hope that the schism between the Orthodox faithful in Ukraine may be overcome through existing canonical norms, that all the Orthodox Christians of Ukraine may live in peace and harmony, and that the Catholic communities in the country may contribute to this, in such a way that our Christian brotherhood may become increasingly evident.

28. In the contemporary world, which is both multiform yet united by a shared destiny, Catholics and Orthodox are called to work together fraternally in proclaiming the Good News of salvation, to testify together to the moral dignity and authentic freedom of the person, “so that the world may believe” (Jn17:21). This world, in which the spiritual pillars of human existence are progressively disappearing, awaits from us a compelling Christian witness in all spheres of personal and social life. Much of the future of humanity will depend on our capacity to give shared witness to the Spirit of truth in these difficult times.

29. May our bold witness to God’s truth and to the Good News of salvation be sustained by the Man–God Jesus Christ, our Lord and Saviour, who strengthens us with the unfailing promise: “Do not be afraid any longer, little flock, for your Father is pleased to give you the kingdom” (Lk12:32)!
Christ is the well–spring of joy and hope. Faith in Him transfigures human life, fills it with meaning. This is the conviction borne of the experience of all those to whom Peter refers in his words: “Once you were ‘no people’ but now you are God’s people; you ‘had not received mercy’ but now you have received mercy” (1Pet2:10).

30. With grace–filled gratitude for the gift of mutual understanding manifested during our meeting, let us with hope turn to the Most Holy Mother of God, invoking her with the words of this ancient prayer: “We seek refuge under the protection of your mercy, Holy Mother of God”. May the Blessed Virgin Mary, through her intercession, inspire fraternity in all those who venerate her, so that they may be reunited, in God’s own time, in the peace and harmony of the one people of God, for the glory of the Most Holy and indivisible Trinity!

Bishop of Rome
Pope of the Catholic Church

Patriarch of Moscow
and all Russia

12 February 2016, Havana (Cuba)


In Cuba, To Russia With Love

It's almost like deja vu... but it isn't – just shy of five months since his first trek to Cuba, this afternoon sees the Pope return to Havana's José Martí Airport, only this time for a moment no one could've predicted last September or even days ago: the first-ever meeting between a Roman Pontiff and Patriarch of Christianity's second-largest communion, the Russian Orthodox Church.

SVILUPPO (2.45pm): With Francis landed slightly behind schedule just after 2pm local/US Eastern time, here's Vatican TV's fullvid of the historic moment – the initial embrace between the Pope and Patriarch Kirill and a brief opening photo-op before two hours of private talks:

Again, the duo are slated to emerge from closed-door discussions at 4.30pm ET, at which point they'll exchange speeches and the much-awaited joint declaration will be signed.

SVILUPPO 2 (4.15pm): With Pope and Patriarch slated to emerge momentarily, here's the livefeed, with English translation....

...and here, the full English text of the Joint Declaration as signed by the Pope and Patriarch.


На Кубе, В день в течение веков

Before anything else, as no shortage of coverage elsewhere over the last week has shown a staggering depth of ignorance, one thing apparently bears clarifying: in the historic context of today's first-ever meeting between the Pope of Rome and the Patriarch of Moscow, any mention of "a 1,000 year-old split" would be enough to flunk the exam on what all this means.

To be sure, this afternoon's encounter in Cuba between Francis and Kirill I is a deeply significant moment, but its resonance lies far more on the geopolitical plane than a theological one. Even if religion and politics are often conflated and confused for each other these days, the distinction is critical – and as the historical sketch seems necessary, well, let's try to make it quick.

In essence, Christianity in modern-day Russia was barely at its inception at the time of the East-West Schism of 1054, when the mutual excommunications were levied between the Pope of Rome and the Patriarch of Constantinople – of course, the respective successors of the apostles Peter and Andrew. By contrast, the en masse baptism of the Kievan Rus (the precursors of the future empire, based in what's now Ukraine) took place less than seven decades earlier, in 988; a patriarchate at Moscow wasn't established until the late 1500s, and the rise of the Russian church as a major player beyond its borders roughly coincided with the empire-building which progressed from that period, culminating in Peter the Great's turn toward Europe a century later.

Fast-forwarding into the present (and away from Moscow), the lifting of the Catholic-Orthodox excommunications in 1965 by now-Blessed Paul Paul VI and the Ecumenical (read: "universal") Patriarch Athenagoras of Constantinople paved the way toward today's ongoing East-West dialogue, an international effort which has grown past cooperation on common social causes to broach theological and ecclesiological questions – the shape of papal primacy now among them – with an eye to resolving what the most recent joint text has termed "the search for full communion." Yet as modern Constantinople merely enjoys "first among equals" status among the world's 14 autocephalous (self-governing) Orthodox churches, the participation of the others has sometimes been a matter of fits and starts. Nevertheless, most of the lead Eastern bodies are already at the table with Rome.

Today, however, is a different animal: while Moscow has aimed to bill a shared concern over Christian persecution in the Middle East as the catalyst for the meeting its hardline faction has long resisted, with a "Great and Holy Council" of global Orthodoxy's broad swath of branches – the first gathering of its kind in some eight centuries – set to convene in June amid the groups' usual thicket of rivalry and intrigue, the largest, most forceful (and, indeed, most politically consequential) of the Eastern churches gets to showcase its clout by commanding the world's attention as its leader sits down with the Pope on what're essentially the Russians' terms.

All that said, lest any illusions exist of Moscow somehow eclipsing Constantinople's place at the wheel of Catholic-Orthodox relations – or, for that matter, any significant reshaping of the Eastern dialogue at the expense of Rome's longtime partners in it – think again... or, if nothing else, just don't hold your breath.

* * *
As the schedule goes, with Francis & Co. departing Rome before 8am today, the Volo Papale – known in the States by the call-sign "Shepherd One" – will land at Havana's Jose Martí Airport at 2pm local/Eastern (2000 Rome), the Pope being whisked to the waiting Kirill in a terminal suite after being welcomed on the tarmac by President Raul Castro.

After just over two hours of private talks, Pope and Patriarch are slated to emerge before the cameras at 4.30 for the signing of the first-ever joint declaration between the Catholic and Russian Orthodox Churches. To (what should be) no one's surprise, the months of negotiations over the text have stretched into the very last hours before the summit, with Russia's Interfax agency citing the expectation of ROC officials that further alterations or additions to the document could even be made during the closed-door meeting itself.

Beyond the joint text itself – its content only to be released after it's signed – both Francis and Kirill will deliver public speeches before parting ways: the patriarch to continue his official visit on the island, and the pontiff to Mexico City, where he'll arrive at 7.30pm local to begin a six-day trek that's loaded in every sense of the word.

On a context note, while the Russian church's ecumenical chief, Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokamsk, has issued a steady stream of interventions on his patriarch's behalf, and viewpoints of every stripe have come out of the woodwork over recent days, it is a sign of the situation's delicacy that the Vatican team aiding the Pope – led by the Christian Unity Czar Cardinal Kurt Koch – has maintained an almost absolute silence since last week's announcement.

In the lone exception to the Roman lull, the Holy See's full-time liaison to the Orthodox churches, the French Dominican Fr Hyacinthe Destivelle, revealed on Vatican Radio earlier this week that while Francis and Kirill's joint declaration will be "a long statement, very substantial, it will not be a theological document," dealing instead with "different aspects of collaboration... that the Russian Orthodox church and the Catholic church can give in our world today."

Among other issues slated to figure in the text, Destivelle – who arrived yesterday in Havana with Koch to handle last-minute preparations – cited Christian persecution, "secularization, the protection of life from conception to its natural end; the question of the family, marriage and youth."

After stressing again that the document will have no theological bearing, the Dominican added that "the role of this meeting is in the frame of the dialogue of charity, not of the dialogue of truths."

Keeping that in mind, for everything as it happens, stay tuned.


Wednesday, February 10, 2016

"We Are Far From God" – For Jubilee's Lent, Pope Talks "Doors"... and "Traps"

While the Papal Mass of Ash Wednesday is always held in the evening, amid the context of this Holy Year of Mercy, its 2016 edition featured some unique aspects.

First, as opposed to the traditional Lenten station-church of Santa Sabina on the Avventine Hill, this year's Mass was moved to St Peter's due to the presence of the Missionaries of Mercy, who were present in Rome from around the world to be commissioned by the Pope for the remainder of the Jubilee.

Numbering some 1,000 priests chosen on the recommendation of their local bishop or religious superior – a palpably small number, given the Catholic world's 4,000-odd dioceses – on returning home the Missionaries will take on a significant amount of preaching and hearing Confessions to underscore this Holy Year's message in their own communities. Beyond the standard mandate, the clerics have notably been granted the blanket faculty to lift the excommunications for several canonical crimes which are normally reserved to the Holy See, including violations of the seal of confession by a priest, the use of physical force against the person of the Pope, and desecration of the Eucharist for occult purposes. (On a related note, while most priests in the English-speaking world have long had the delegation to absolve the automatic penalties associated with direct participation in an abortion – which universal law reserves to the diocesan bishop – Francis caused a bit of a stir in Europe last year by granting the ability to do so to every confessor worldwide until the Jubilee's November close.)

To highlight the centrality of sacramental Reconciliation to the Missionaries' task – and this Holy Year all told – tonight's liturgy was the centerpiece event for the weeklong presence in Rome of the glass caskets containing the remains of Padre Pio, the Capuchin mystic long the focus of fanatical devotion worldwide, and the Croatian-born Italian friar St Leopold Mandic, their relics called in by Francis given the duo's shared devotion to the ministry of the Confessional. Likely to be this Jubilee Year's largest Vatican event in terms of crowds, the display of both saints' bodies in St Peter's ends tomorrow.

All that said, despite a time of year when news customarily slows down, Papa Bergoglio's agenda will hardly be letting up over these 40 Days. Come Friday, the Pope heads to Mexico for a six-day swing set to feature deeply evocative scenes at the capital's Guadalupe Basilica (Christianity's most-visited pilgrimage site) and in violence-riddled Michoacan before wrapping up next Wednesday at the US border, and all that after the trip's historic opening leg in Cuba for Friday's unprecedented meeting with the Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill. On an even more pressing front, meanwhile, this Lent is widely expected to bring the release of Francis' all-important final word on the two-year synodal process on the family, with the planned Apostolic Exhortation tipped for publication sometime in March.

And now, back to Lent – below is Vatican Radio's translation of the Pope's homily at tonight's liturgy (emphases original)....

The Word of God, at the beginning of our Lenten journey, offers two invitations to the Church and to each one of us.

The first is that of Saint Paul: “Be reconciled to God.” It is not simply good paternal advice, much less merely a suggestion; it is a true and proper plea in the name of Christ: “We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.” Why so solemn and heartfelt an appeal? Because Christ know how fragile we are, that we are sinners, He knows the weakness of our heart; He sees the wounds of the wrongs we have committed and suffered; He knows how much we need forgiveness; He knows how much we need to feel loved in order to do good. By ourselves we are not up to it: that’s why the Apostle doesn’t tell us, “do something,” but rather, “to be reconciled to God,” to allow Him to forgive us, with confidence, because “God is greater than our hearts.” He overcomes sin and lifts us from our misery, if we trust in Him. It is for us to recognize that we are in need of mercy: It is the first step of the Christian journey; it comes in through the open door that is Christ, where He Himself awaits us, the Saviour, and He offers us a new and joyful life.

There can be some obstacles that close the doors of the heart. There is the temptation to bolt the doors, that is, to live with our own proper sins, minimizing them, always justifying ourselves, thinking we are no worse than others; so, then, the locks of the soul are closed, and we remain closed within, prisoners of evil. Another obstacle is the shame in opening the secret door of the heart. Shame, in reality, is a good symptom, because it indicates we want to break away from evil; above all we must never transform it into fear or dread. And there is a third trap, that of moving away from the door: this happens when we dwell on our miseries, when we brood over them continually, to the point where we plunge ourselves into the darkest cellars of the soul. Then we become even more familiar with the sadness we don’t want, we grow discouraged, and are weaker in the face of temptations. This happens because we remain alone with ourselves, closing in on ourselves and fleeing from the light; while it is only the grace of the Lord that frees us. Let us allow ourselves, then, to “be reconciled,” let us listen to Jesus who says to the tired and oppressed “Come to me!” (Mt 11:28). Do not remain in ourselves, but go to Him! There we will find refreshment and peace.

At this celebration the Missionaries of Mercy are present, to receive the mandate to be signs and instruments of the forgiveness of God. Dear brothers, you will be able to help open the doors of the heart, to overcome shame, to not flee from the light. May your hands bless and lift up your brothers and sisters with paternity; that through you the gaze and the hands of the Father might rest on His sons and cure their wounds!

There is a second invitation from God, who says, by way of the prophet Joel, “Return to me with your whole heart” (2:12). If we need to return it is because we are far away. It is the mystery of sin: we are far from God, from others, even from ourselves. It is not difficult to understand: we all see how we struggle to truly have confidence in God, to trust in Him as a Father, without fear; how difficult it is to love others, instead of thinking ill of them; how much it costs us to work for our own true good, while we are attracted to and seduced by so many material realities that fade away, and in the end, leave us impoverished. Beside this story of sin, Christ has inaugurated a story of salvation. The Gospel that opens Lent invites us to be the protagonists of this story, embracing three remedies, three medicines that heal us from sin (cf. Mt 6:1-6; 16-18).

In the first place is prayer, an expression of openness to and confidence in the Lord: it is the personal encounter with Him, which shortens the distance created by sin. To pray is to say “I am not self-sufficient, I need you, You are my life and my salvation.” In the second place is charity, to overcome estrangement in our relations with others. True love, in fact, is not an exterior act, it is not giving something in a paternalistic way to quiet our conscience, but accepting the one who needs our time, our friendship, our help. It is living out an attitude of service, overcoming the temptation to satisfy ourselves. In the third place is fasting, penance, to free ourselves from dependence in our relationship to what is passing, and to train ourselves to be more sensitive and merciful. It is an invitation to simplicity and to sharing: taking something away from our table and from our goods, to rediscover the true good of freedom.

“Return to me,” the Lord says, “with your whole heart”: not only with some external act, but from the depths of your very being. In fact, Jesus calls us to live out prayer, charity, and penance with coherence and authenticity, conquering hypocrisy. Lent should be a time of beneficial “pruning away” of falsehood, worldliness, indifference: in order not to think that everything is ok as long as I’m ok; to understand that what counts is not the approval of others, or search for success or consensus, but cleanness in one’s heart and in one’s life; in order to rediscover the Christian identity – that is, the love that serves, not the selfishness that is served. Let us set out on this journey together, as the Church, receiving the Ashes and keeping our gaze fixed on the Crucified One. Loving us, He invites us to be reconciled with God and to return to Him, in order to rediscover ourselves.

"Be Merciful, O Lord...."

Even as it's crept up quick and early this year, with Ash Wednesday upon us, away we go....


To one and all, every blessing of these 40 Days, especially to those of us who tend to feel that we make a mess of the journey. And as it begins, given the chaos that comes with this most crowded church-day of the whole year, to everyone who'll be handling the crush everywhere you can think of over these hours to come, good luck and enjoy it.


Friday, February 05, 2016

"By the Grace of God" – In Ecumenical Earthquake, The Pope Lands The Patriarch

Simply put, for relations between the Christian churches it is the biggest development in decades: after weeks of rumors – and discounted ones, at that – a joint statement issued this morning announced the first-ever meeting between the Pope of Rome and the Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church, slated to take place in Cuba on Friday, 12 February, as Francis heads toward his six-day trek in Mexico.

The unrealized dream of successive pontiffs, Francis' success at scoring a face-to-face encounter with Patriarch Kirill I represents a seismic ecumenical breakthrough, one on a par with Paul VI's first outreach to the Orthodox world: Papa Montini's precedent-shattering embrace with the Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras in Jerusalem in 1964 – a step which began the path to the following year's joint declaration, which saw the primates of East and West revoke the mutual excommunications imposed in the Great Schism of 1054. Yet even as Constantinople represents the "first among equals" of Eastern Christianity, there's no question that its "muscle" resides in Moscow, with the Russians comprising the largest and most influential of the Orthodox churches, and likewise, by far, the one most comfortable with throwing its weight around.

With some 140 million faithful, the ROC is the Christian world's second-largest hierarchical communion after the 1.2 billion-member Roman church itself.

With today's announcement, two mysteries surrounding what had been Francis' first overseas journey to a single country are now solved. First, the news answers why next week's trip – which, at least until now, has had the Pope's intent to entrust the Jubilee of Mercy to Our Lady of Guadalupe as its principal purpose – was headed to Mexico alone...and on just two months' notice at that. And given Kirill's presence in Cuba next week for an official visit, the meeting divulges the reason why Papa Bergoglio had scheduled the trip over the first week of Lent, which 
over the last century has been reserved as the period when the Pope traditionally vanishes to begin the penitential season on a weeklong retreat with his Curia. (This year, the exercises will take place in Lent's second week as Francis continues his practice of bringing his senior officials on a road-trip to a retreat center outside Rome.)

To be sure, Kirill is anything but a stranger to the Vatican. Prior to his 2009 election as 16th Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia, the 69 year-old served as the ROC's external relations chief – and thus his church's point-man with Rome – in which capacity he met on a regular basis with both John Paul II and Benedict XVI (seen above with Kirill shortly after his 2005 election).

Accordingly Rome's preferred choice to succeed the long-reigning, fiercely protective Alexei II – a development which sparked rejoicing in Catholic circles when it happened – since assuming the patriarchate, Kirill has publicly adopted the unstinting line of his predecessor, insisting that no meeting with the Pope would take place "unless we see some real progress in the issues that have long been problematic in our relations." If anything, as Kirill's election aroused fears of a "capitulation to the West" among his church's more outspoken elements, simply getting the ROC to a point of consensus on an implication-rich sit-down with the Pope is a remarkable accomplishment in itself.

In terms of the issues at stake, to use the now-Patriarch's phrase Moscow's top "problematic" concern has long been its claims of "proselytism" by Catholics on what the ROC views as its canonical territory, with the prime front of the dispute centering on the prominence of the Greek-Catholic Church in the Ukraine (UGCC), which the Russian church considers its own soil. In that light, despite a close friendship with the UGCC's global head, Major-Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk, dating to their days together in Argentina, over his papacy Francis has pointedly kept the Ukrainian church within his own fold – whose 6 million members worldwide comprise the largest of the Eastern Catholic churches – at arm's length, withholding both the church's customary red hat from Shevchuk and the UGCC's long-desired Roman approval of a patriarchate for it, ostensibly for the sake of dialogue with the Russians. (Amazingly, the very same fault-line topped the Roman News five years ago this week.)

The fruit of two years of very discreet negotiations according to today's word from the VatiSpox, Jesuit Fr Federico Lombardi, the announcement of the meeting included the key aspect that Francis and Kirill would sign a formal joint declaration, which will set the basis for the understanding between the churches going forward. While the contents of the document won't be released until after the signing – and some details could well be finessed straight through the week to come – any resolution to the canonical disputes and other complex questions will likely be left for future discussions, to let the sheer history of the moment stand for itself without distractions.

That said, one topic of common commitment that can be expected to figure in the talks and text alike is the churches' shared defense of the family, which Francis has repeatedly spoken of as being under assault from "ideological colonization" as, for his part, Kirill has blasted the West's embrace of same-sex marriage and the redefinition of gender as creating an "unholy world" and "godless civilization."

In addition, with the Orthodox patriarchs having overcome their traditional penchant for squabbling to universally agree to a critical pan-Orient summit of their churches this June – the first meeting of its kind in almost a millennium – Francis' prior call to Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew for the churches to envision a redefined papal primacy in order to facilitate a united Christendom is a discussion at which Moscow is a necessary element, and where the Russians would undoubtedly want to be heard.

With the Pope originally slated to arrive in Mexico City at 7.30pm local time next Friday, the flight will now depart Rome five hours earlier than scheduled to accommodate the meeting with Kirill at Havana's Jose Martí Airport, where the Volo Papale will land at 2pm Cuba time (2030 Rome).

Below is the English text of the joint announcement issued today by both parties:

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.
SVILUPPO: Echoing what you've just read, in a press conference shortly after the meeting's announcement, Kirill's successor as the Moscow Patriarchate's top ecumenical hand, Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokamsk, said that while hopes for the meeting had existed "for a long time," the Ukrainian Greek-Catholics proved the Russians' "principal problem" and "principal obstacle" which kept a Pope-Patriarch encounter from taking place, as well as "proselytism of Catholic missionaries in the canonical territory of the Moscow Patriarchate."

Among Moscow's objections against the UGCC, Hilarion (above right, in white kamilavka, or headdress) cited the Greek-Catholics' 2005 move of the church's seat from Lviv to Kiev – the historic birthplace of Russian Christianity – as well as the UGCC's good relationship with the country's autocephalous Orthodox church, which the ROC views as "schismatic" given that body's independence from the Russian Patriarchate, which has its own branch in Ukraine. And sure enough, the metropolitan likewise cited the Greek-Catholics' "persistent desire... to give [their] church the status of patriarchate" as a hurdle to ROC-Vatican relations.

Using the pejorative term "Unia" to describe the Greek-Catholics, Hilarion said their prominence in Ukraine "remain[s] a never-healing bleeding wound that prevents the full normalization of relations between the two churches."

Nevertheless, Hilarion added that (at least, from the Russian side) the meeting's "main topic" – and the prime impetus for it at this time – is born from "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," the metropolitan said, "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."

As for the site of the sit-down, Hilarion said that, "from the very beginning," Kirill "did not want it to take place in Europe, since it is with Europe that the grave history of divisions and conflicts between Christians is associated." In that light, the overlap of the Pope's and Patriarch's schedules in Latin America "has become an opportunity for holding the meeting in the New World, and we hope that it will open a new page in the relations between the two churches."