It would be the first-ever trip by a Catholic pontiff to Russia, marking another momentous step in the relationship between the churches. The meeting of the two leaders in Cuba in 2016 was the first encounter between holders of the offices since the Great Schism of 1054, when Christianity split into Western and Eastern branches.
Reuters reports that Pope Francis has revealed that a senior official from the Russian Orthodox Church was expected in Rome next week to decide the details of a possible historic visit. He referred to Patriarch Kirill as his “brother.”
“We are brothers, and we talk straight to each other. We do not dance the minuet,” he told reporters on the papal plane. “We have to move forward, walking and working towards unity.”
Following this news, Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk, the head of the Moscow Patriarchate’s external relations department, explained that he would be the one to speak to Pope Francis and negotiate any potential landmark visit.
“My meeting with Pope Francis is scheduled for December 20. I intend to congratulate him on behalf of His Holiness Patriarch Kirill on his 85th birthday and to discuss with him a wide range of issues concerning bilateral relations between our churches,” Hilarion explained. “Among these issues is a possible future meeting between Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill. Neither the place nor the date of this meeting has yet been determined.”
In 2016, when they met for the first time, Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill signed a joined 30-point declaration. The document expressed agreement on certain subjects, such as the protection of Christians in the Middle East and Africa, and mentioned some social issues.
Francis’ suggestion to meet Kirill in Moscow came following the pontiff’s five-day visit to Cyprus and Greece, two other Orthodox nations. During a meeting with Archbishop Ieronymos of Athens and All Greece, the Pope apologized for the way Catholics had treated Greek Christians over the previous centuries.