ABOARD THE PAPAL PLANE (AP) — Pope Francis said Monday there were plans for a possible second meeting with the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, after their historic 2016 encounter in Cuba became a landmark in mending relations severed by the 1,000-year-old schism that divided Christianity.
Francis said he planned to meet next week with the Russian church’s foreign envoy “to agree on a possible meeting” with Patriarch Kirill. The pontiff noted that Kirill is due to travel in the coming weeks, but Francis said he was also “ready to go to Moscow” even if diplomatic protocols weren’t yet in place.
“Because talking with a brother, there are no protocols,” Francis told reporters as he traveled home from Greece. “We are brothers. We say things to each other’s face like brothers.”
The two churches split during the Great Schism of 1054 and have remained estranged over a host of issues, including the primacy of the pope and Russian Orthodox accusations that the Catholic Church is poaching converts in former Soviet lands.
Francis made the comments after meeting with two prominent figures in Christian Orthodoxy, the heads of the Orthodox Churches in Cyprus and Greece during his five-day trip to those two nations. Meeting this weekend with Archbishop Ieronymos, the head of Greece’s Orthodox Church, Francis issued a sweeping apology for all the mistakes Catholics had made against the Orthodox, echoing the apology offered by St. John Paul II in Greece in 2001.
The foreign minister of the Russian Orthodox Church, Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk, told Italian daily Corriere della Sera on Oct. 7 that a new meeting between Kirill and the pope would be announced shortly before it occurred.
In the same interview, he clarified that it was the content and results of the meeting that were important, and that at the moment a papal visit to Russia was “not on the agenda of bilateral relations.”
The Feb. 12, 2016 encounter between Francis and Kirill was the first-ever meeting between the leaders of the Catholic Church and the Russian Orthodox Church, which is the largest in Orthodoxy. The two men met in a VIP room of Havana's airport while Francis was en route to Mexico.
“We are brothers,” Francis said that day as he embraced Kirill.
Hilarion, speaking to the Italian daily, said the Havana meeting “gave them a new impetus.”
Uliana Pavlova contributed to this report from Moscow.