MOSCOW (Sputnik), Anastasia Levchenko – "Both have influence with different players (the Catholic Church with the West, Russian orthodox with Russia — an oversimplification, but in general true given where the preponderance of their followers reside) in the Middle East. Russia and the West are seemingly at odds on approach in Syria, but as has been illustrated in the past with the Cold War and most recently with the softening of relations between the US-Cuba, the leaders of these faiths have an ability to bring people together for peaceful work," University of Dayton religious expert Joseph Valenzano III told Sputnik.
Syria has been mired in a civil war since 2011. Hostilities in the country have killed some 250,000 people and displaced millions.
On Friday, Patriarch Kirill and Pope Francis called for assurance of large-scale humanitarian aid to refugees and those affected by violence in the Middle East. They also urged the international community to prevent the expulsion of Christians from the region.
"In essence, Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill can exercise a good degree of soft power with the international community to direct efforts toward safeguarding Christians and providing humanitarian aid to the region," Valenzano said, adding that the Friday Havana meeting " is an opportunity for a new chapter to open for relations between the two faiths."
"It is quite clear that the meeting already has had wide-ranging and deep political implications and very likely will ‘contribute’ to, but not of itself, bring about a settlement in Syria and broader and deeper religious tolerance in the Middle East," Bretzke told Sputnik.
On December 18, the UN Security Council adopted resolution 2254, reaffirming the goals of the previous Vienna deals to bring the entire spectrum of political groups in crisis-torn Syria to the negotiating table.
"Working towards a peaceful resolution of the current crisis in Syria on the part of both leaders also shows an important recognition and commitment to the process of peace-building which often begins by outlining and cementing points on which both parties can agree and then seeking to build on these common points to address the larger concrete pressing moral issue of the catastrophe in Syria," Bretzke said.
He pointed out the significance of the location choice for the Friday meeting between Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill.
"A good recent example of the success of this [Pope Francis’] pastoral strategy will be underscored by the location of the meeting of the two Patriarchs — namely the capital city of Cuba. Pope Francis had an important role to play in the relaxing of tensions between Cuba and the USA and both political leaders (Raul Castro and Barrack Obama) have explicitly acknowledged the Pope's role in this key area," Bretzke told Sputnik, expressing hope that "the meeting between Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill will lay the ground for similar fruit on many levels."
On Thursday, members of the International Syria Support Group (ISSG), which includes the United States and Russia, reached an agreement on a cessation of hostilities in Syria and agreed to ensure humanitarian aid deliveries to those in need.
Syrian government forces, loyal to President Bashar Assad, have been fighting against several opposition factions and militant organizations, including Daesh (also known as the Islamic State), which is banned in Russia and a number of other countries.
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