Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit, general secretary of the World Council of Churches (WCC), has issued a statement on behalf of the Council hailing the historic meeting of Pope Francis, pontiff of the Roman Catholic Church, and Patriarch Kirill, primate of the Russian Orthodox Church.

The two leaders met on 12 February in Havana, Cuba. The Russian Orthodox Church is the largest member church in the WCC, which for the past 50 years has cooperated with the Roman Catholic Church through their Joint Working Group. Eastern and western Christianity split over matters of doctrine in the Great Schism of 1054 and formally separated from one another in 1438. This is the first meeting of heads of the Roman Catholic and Russian Orthodox Churches.

Statement welcoming meeting of Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill for unity and peace

The meeting between Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill today in Cuba is an historic ecumenical event, and very timely in the context of the conflicts and crises currently causing so much suffering in the world.

The World Council of Churches (WCC) has been working for Christian unity for many decades. The Council therefore celebrates this important meeting of the two church leaders as a great step forward in healing the schism between Western and Eastern Christianity. The Pope's openness to dialogue with the Orthodox Church leaders - earlier with Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew and now with the spiritual leader of the Russian Orthodox Church - shows a growing commitment to unity among Christians, which in turn is a sign of hope for peace in our world.

Indeed, the meeting comes at a time of grave challenges to the vision of peace, due to unresolved conflicts in Syria, in Ukraine and elsewhere, causing intolerable suffering and displacement. Churches and Christians everywhere are called to be instruments of peace in the midst of conflict, and of compassion in response to the suffering of fellow human beings.  There is more than ever before a need for concerted efforts to bring peace and stability in conflict-affected countries, and to provide protection and refuge to those who flee from war and oppression. The WCC hopes and prays that the meeting of Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill will help inspire renewed commitment and action by churches, societies, governments and the international community to welcome the stranger in need, to resolve conflicts, to bring peace and to pursue justice [and human dignity and rights] for all.

In particular, we pray that this meeting between these two leaders of the church, coming directly after the announcement of agreement by world powers to seek a nationwide cessation of hostilities in Syria, will strengthen the faint glimmers of hope for an end to this appalling conflict, and to the suffering of Syria’s people.

Joint declaration of Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill

Video redcording of the meeting in Cuba