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    Pope Francis gestures during a special audience to celebrate a Jubilee day for the mystic saint Padre Pio in Saint Peter's Square at the Vatican February 6, 2016.

    For Peace, West Should 'Build Bridges' With Russia - Pope Francis

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    Pope Francis has underlined the importance of "building bridges" with Russia ahead of his meeting with Moscow's Patriarch Kirill on Friday, according to Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera.

    Speaking from his residence Casa Santa Marta, in Vatican City, the pontiff said he was "extremely happy" with the historic meeting, which could be the start of a rapprochement between the Catholic and the Orthodox Churches after the 1054 Schism. 

    The two churches split in 1054 — in what is often called the "Great Schism" — following protracted disputes over Rome's supremacy over the whole Christian community, which compounded more strict theological disagreements.

    "…I wanted to see and hug my Orthodox brothers again," the Pope said.

    "The negotiations [for the meeting to take place] have been carried out secretly over two years, by skillful bishops. Bishop Hilarion was our contact on the Orthodox side." 

    Pope Francis greets faithful during an audience to Parish groups promoting evangelization, in the Paul VI hall at the Vatican, Saturday, Sept. 5, 2015.
    © AP Photo/ Uncredited
    Pope Francis greets faithful during an audience to Parish groups promoting evangelization, in the Paul VI hall at the Vatican, Saturday, Sept. 5, 2015.

    The meeting will take place in Cuba, at Havana's airport, where Francis and Kirill will talk and eventually sign a joint statement. 

    Besides its religious meaning, Francis emphasized the summit's geopolitical significance, explaining that it was a chance to "build bridges" with Russia itself.  

    "Bridges are built to last, and they help peace. Walls, on the contrary, seem to protect us but they only keep us apart," Francis said.

    "We have to tear walls down, rather than build them." 

    He added that "Russia can do a lot" to solve the current international crises, which he famously called "a piecemeal World War III." 

    Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia holds divine service at the Cathedral of Christ the Savior on the 1,000th anniversary of the death of Holy Prince Vladimir Equal to the Apostles.
    © Sputnik/ Sergey Pyatakov
    Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia holds divine service at the Cathedral of Christ the Savior on the 1,000th anniversary of the death of Holy Prince Vladimir Equal to the Apostles.

    Pope Francis also warned against a new western intervention against Islamic extremists in North Africa and the Middle East.  

    "The West should engage in some self-criticism on how it behaved during the so-called Arab Spring," he said. In particular, he referred to the explosion of tribalism and sectarian wars in today's Libya:

    "Before the intervention, there was only one Gaddafi — now we have fifty Gaddafis," he said.

    "On this theme, the Holy See and Russia are partially on the same page." 

    Next Friday's meeting however, is only the last example of a progressively intense relationship between Russia and Pope Francis' Vatican.  

    As was explained by Limes, a geopolitical analysis website, the two countries first found themselves on the same side in 2013, when both Moscow and the Holy See firmly opposed — and ultimately prevented — a possible US-led intervention against Syria's Assad.  

    Just months after America abandoned its intervention plan, the Pope sent Russian President Vladimir Putin a letter in which he pleaded with him that the Syrian crisis be solved without the use of military power. 

    Since then, Limes states, a "holy alliance has emerged between the Vatican and the Kremlin," in order to stave off extremism and militarism. 

    A third prong of Pope Francis' strategy is an increasingly closer relationship with Hassan Rouhani's Iran, which the Holy See regards as the best antidote to the Islamic State's murderous doctrine.  

    Related:

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    terror threat, alliance, meeting, religion, Syrian conflict, war, geopolitics, Vatican, Orthodox Christian church, Roman Catholic Church, Pope Francis, Patriarch Kirill, Vatican City, Havana, Russia, Cuba
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