HAVANA – Pope Francis and Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill concluded their historic meeting on Friday with a joint statement addressing challenges such as the persecution of Christians in the Middle East.
“Our Christian conscience and our pastoral responsibility compel us not to remain passive in the face of challenges requiring a shared response,” reads the declaration signed by the two prelates at Havana’s Jose Marti International Airport, where Kirill arrived early Friday at the start of a Latin American tour.
The pontiff’s plane landed hours later for a brief stop en route to Mexico.
A driving force behind the first encounter between a Roman Catholic pope and an Orthodox patriarch in nearly 1,000 years was the need to look toward “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,” the statement said.
“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,” the text continued.
Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill said they were calling on the international community “to act urgently in order to prevent the further expulsion of Christians from the Middle East.”
The men devoted two points of their 30-point proclamation to the situation in Ukraine, which is home to Orthodox believers divided among three different church institutions, Roman Catholics and what are known as Greek Catholics, who follow Orthodox rite but are in communion with the Holy See.
“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,” the pope and the patriarch said.