Francis and Kirill could show a way to peace

We need this meeting between Patriarch Cyril and Pope Francis. It is a pity that the Russian Orthodox Patriarch withdrew at the last minute.

It may seem counterintuitive for Christians to pray for direct, direct contact between the leader of the world’s largest Orthodox church and the unifying pastor of the world’s 1.3 billion Catholics. As Francis pleads for peace, Kirill blessed Russia’s war in Ukraine. When two leaders are not united with each other, can they be an instrument of unity for others?

The mid-September meeting in Nur Sultan, Kazakhstan, during the Congress of World and Traditional Religions, would have been their first since meeting in Cuba in 2016, and their first since Russia invaded Ukraine in February of This year. Pope Francis hopes to visit Ukraine on his way to the congress in Kazakhstan.

Ukrainians, including Ukrainian Catholics of the Byzantine Rite, are not happy with Pope Francis’ meeting with Kirill. They know that Kirill called Mr. Putin’s long tenure a miracle of God and called the war, which rained down missiles on train stations, schools, farms and homes, a righteous defense against negative influences and liberals introduced by “gay pride”. Francis thinks that Ukraine suffered a cruel and senseless war.

It is commonly believed that the war strained relations between the Roman Catholic Church and the Russian Orthodox Church. It is not surprising that the Russian Orthodox Church is more aligned with the interests of the Russian state. Pope Francis has warned that Kirill risks becoming Vladimir Putin’s “choirboy”. There is no empire on earth, Russian or otherwise, that can accommodate the Church of Pope Francis or the Church of Christ.

We do not live in an ideal world. Francis and Cyril are the instruments of unity that the Church currently has. As they dialogue about possible ways and means by which Russia and Ukraine could live side by side, they can show the world a path to peace. It will be up to the political leaders to successfully agree on the terms that would resolve this tragic war.

Christians around the world are acutely aware that these men and the churches they lead are equally divided over the Eucharist. We remember that the Eucharist is the sacrament of unity. Their mutual presence is the Church’s way of confronting the grave scandal of division.

May they break the one bread of the Eucharist together and share the one cup. It would represent a much more meaningful presence both to each other and to a watching world. And the Eucharist can only be at the service of peace. Indeed, united eucharistically, their combined presence and unified voice would instill an even greater measure of hope. They would speak and act undividedly, with one mind and one heart. All Catholics and Orthodox should strengthen their prayer in seeking the fulfillment of the Gospel of John 17:21, so that “all may be one”.

Sin eclipses us. A historic meeting of these leaders is left unfinished by our Eucharistic division. But we believe in the power and presence of grace in every human encounter. This enables us to be devoted optimists and true disciples of hope. Any encounter between Kirill and Francis would remind us that if the Church is sinful, she is also holy. It is in this holiness that we are called to place our deepest hope and to pray not to be disappointed.

So a meeting, in the middle of a war, between disunited leaders, can it be a sign of unity? Yes, especially whenever the power and presence of grace is recognized.

Prof. MacPherson is a Franciscan Friar of Atonement in Graymoor, New York, originally from Cape Breton Island. He has had a long career in ecumenical work, including a decade spent working in ecumenism for the Archdiocese of Toronto.

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