BOB ABERNETHY, host: This week (February 12) brought an historic moment in the more than one-thousand-year-old divide between Eastern and Western Christianity. On his way to Mexico for a five-day visit, Pope Francis stopped in Cuba, where he met with the leader of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Kirill. It was the first official meeting between a pope and a Russian Orthodox patriarch since the Great Schism on 1054.
Joining me is our managing editor, Kim Lawton. Kim, we don’t every day get a thousand-year-old story to look at.
KIM LAWTON: Exactly. It’s nice to have a development after a millennium. But, you know, this is a big deal, and popes have been hoping for some kind step to better relations with the Russian Church for a really long time. John Paul II really wanted to go to Russia and had hoped to do that, but certainly with all the tensions, the Cold War, that never happened. So now for Francis to meet with the leader of the Russian Orthodox Church to talk about Christian unity—Francis has met with the Orthodox patriarch, the ecumenical patriarch Bartholomew, who is the spiritual leader of the world’s Orthodox churches, but the Russian leader has not been open in the past to such meetings. And Russia actually represents the largest number of Orthodox Christians around the world. Some say as many as two-thirds of all Orthodox Christians are Russian Orthodox.
ABERNETHY: And what’s at the top of the agenda?
LAWTON: Well, they said that their mutual concern about the persecution of Christians in the Middle East and North Africa is what finally brought them together. Certainly in many places of the world Christians have been under siege. Some have been leaving lands where Christianity has been for a long time. The majority of those Christians who are feeling that pressure are either Roman Catholic or Orthodox, although certainly others as well. So that was the main reason, but some theological issues as well.
ABERNETHY: Theological and also political in Francis’s visit to Mexico.
LAWTON: Well, politics is always in the background, right, and you know Francis has proven to be a very able player on the world’s stage. So he’s got this big moment in the Church. Some say that the patriarch is very close to Putin, and so who knows what kind of Russian geopolitics may also be affected by this meeting. But yes, Francis is in Mexico where he’s continuing some of his themes about concern for the poor, peace, and immigration.
ABERNETHY: Kim Lawton, our managing editor, many thanks.