Meeting of the Millennium: Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill

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Pope Francis (L) addresses the audience after signing agreements with Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill in Havana, February 12, 2016. (REUTERS/Alejandro Ernesto/Pool)

Unity call as Pope Francis holds historic talks with Russian Orthodox Patriarch

Pope Francis (left) and Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill exchange a joint declaration on religious unity at the Jose Marti International airport in Havana, Cuba (12 February 2016)Image copyrightAP
Image captionThe two leaders exchange a joint declaration on religious unity at Marti International airport in Havana
Pope Francis and Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill have called for restored Christian unity between the two churches at historic talks in Cuba.
The meeting was the first between a Pope and a Russian Church head since the Western and Eastern branches of Christianity split in the 11th Century.
In a joint declaration, they also urged the world to protect Christians from persecution in the Middle East.
The Pope has now arrived in Mexico for a five-day visit.
A crowd of 300,000 braved the cold in Mexico City to welcome him to the country which has the world’s second largest Catholic population.
The Pope was greeted at the airport by President Enrique Pena Nieto.

‘Churches ravaged’

The two-hour talks on Friday between Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill were held at Havana airport.
Patriarch Kirill goes on to Brazil and Paraguay.
The pair embraced and kissed each other at the start of their talks.

“I’m happy to greet you, dear brother,” the Russian Church leader said.

“Finally,” the pontiff said.
At a news conference after the meeting, Kirill said the discussions were “open” and “brotherly”, while Francis described them as “very sincere”.
“We hope our meeting contributes to the re-establishment of this unity wished for by God,” their joint declaration said.
The document called on the world community to defend Christians, saying that “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.”

At the scene: BBC’s Oleg Boldyrev

In the swirl of Vatican officials and security dressed in black, Pope Francis was a lone figure in white on the heated tarmac of Havana airport as he arrived to do his part in healing one of the longest religious disputes.
Russian Patriarch Kirill had arrived shortly before. The venue was a compromise – it would be impossible to have the first such meeting in the Vatican or Moscow, and Catholic Cuba is still in the Russian sphere of influence.
Back home the Patriarch has to overcome the anger of conservatives who still consider Catholicism a deviation from true Christianity. Clearly, this is a criticism he feels safe to ignore now.
Minutes later, the Pope and the black-robed Patriarch were holding each other by the shoulders and smiling warmly. Then the leaders of Catholics and Russian Orthodox Christians sat down. It was almost business as usual.

Russian state TV described the talks between the two men as the “meeting of the millennium”.
In purely symbolic terms, this is an extraordinary moment, but it is perhaps even more significant in terms of Church diplomacy, the BBC’s Will Grant in Havana says.
Patriarch Kirill has been the head of the Russian Orthodox Church since February 2009, while Pope Francis took up his role in March 2013.
The Roman Catholic Church has more than a billion members worldwide, while the Russian Orthodox Church numbers about 165 million.
The Russian Church is the largest and most powerful in the Orthodox faith, which is made up of a number of separate churches.
The encounter in Havana is not expected to lead to any immediate rapprochement between the Eastern and Western Churches.
Ahead of the meeting, the foreign policy chief of the Russian Orthodox Church, Metropolitan Illarion, said there were still differences between the two churches, in particular on western Ukraine.
One particular issue is the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, which follows eastern church rites but answers to the Holy See.
The Russian Orthodox Church has considered western Ukraine its traditional territory, resenting papal influence there.

Sun rises above Orthodox Church (left) and Catholic Church (right) in Navahrudak, Belarus. Photo: January 2016Image copyrightAP

Uneasy relations

Key dates:
  • 1054 – Mutual excommunications by Western Church leader in Rome, Pope Leo IX, and Eastern Church leader in Constantinople, Patriarch Cerularius, lead to Great Schism
  • 1274 and 1439 – Attempts to re-unite the two Churches at Councils of Lyon and Florence fail
  • 1997 – Planned meeting between Pope John Paul II and Russian Orthodox Patriarch Alexy II cancelled
Why Cuba?
  • Reportedly chosen because it is far from Rome, Istanbul and Moscow with all their historical baggage of schism
  • Two leaders can focus on main issue: how to protect Christians – both Catholic and Orthodox – in Middle East and North Africa from persecution
Thorny issue
  • Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church in western Ukraine, which follows Eastern Church rites but answers to Vatican
  • Russian Orthodox Church sees western Ukraine as its traditional territory, resenting papal influence
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Joseph Fiennes’ Risen Converts Bible Movie Critics with Refreshed Gospel Story

Nashville-based producer Rich Peluso is hoping to start next year off right with Risen, a New Testament period film starring Joseph Fiennes (Shakespeare in LoveLuther) and Tom Felton (Harry Potter series). The Kevin Reynolds directed project tells the story of a high-ranking Roman tribune who’s tasked with tracking down Jesus’ body after rumors spread that he’s come back to life.
Though a departure from Affirm Films’ typical contemporary fare, Peluso jumped at the chance to help bring this unique perspective of the Gospel story to the silver screen.
“I absolutely fell in love with it,” recalls Peluso, thinking of the first time he read the script forRisen back in 2007. “It was just well-crafted, just strong writing. But more importantly was that it unabashedly told the story between the crucifixion into the full-on resurrection, into the ascension and traveled with Christ into Galilee with the disciples all the way to the ascension. No one really ever tackles that. The second thing that was completely fresh about it was that most stories of Christ are told through either an omniscient point of view… or it’s through a disciples’ point of view.”

A Roman Point of View

New Testatment-inspired movies usually follow Jesus’ storyline from his perspective or that of his followers, but Risen seeks to tell a different side of the story.
“We have to think about the fact that when Jesus rose, the grave was empty. There were Romans that were there to guard it,” Peluso says. “What on earth was happening on the other side of the room that we’re not paying attention to? Something had to happen. At some point, Caiaphas had to get the news that the tomb was empty, and at some point Caiaphas had to confront Pilate with it, who’d had him killed. Pilate, who had to have sanctioned the guards at the tomb had to have been embarrassed, because his military, who’s the greatest army in the world, just failed in their job. So there are all of these political, spiritual, social dominoes that are falling….”
Risen takes the point of view of Clavius, a skeptical Roman commander serving under the rule of Pontius Pilate. In Risen, Clavius (played by Fiennes) begrudgingly investigates the disappearance of Jesus’ corpse, hoping to root out answers, only to uncover more questions.
“It’s from his story, an unbelieving, pagan, Roman, powerful man who encounters these believers and who is thrust into really the most important event in human history,” Peluso explains.
“So [Clavius] goes in with a vengeance to shut this down,” he says. “But he’s also a fair man and a judicial man, so he’s weighing the evidence. It’s kind of this collision ofThe Passion of the Christ and the sequel with CSI.”
Having played German monk and reformer Martin Luther in the 2003 film, Luther, Fiennes is no novice when it comes to working on films about Christianity. According to Peluso, Fiennes’ talent for the dramatic lends well to the layered character of Clavius.
“He’s just a powerful force on camera. He emotes love and power. He’s just something to behold on screen. He does an amazing job as Clavius,” Peluso says.

Just Another Jesus Movie?

You may be shaking your head at this point, asking yourself, “Why another Jesus movie?” Well, Peluso has an answer. He knows without a doubt that Risen offers something different, something audiences, regardless of their faith or lack thereof,want to see.
“Because of the perspective of coming in this through the eyes of a nonbeliever, it feels very comfortable for nonbelievers to try this story on like a jacket,” he says. “And that’s not just assuming it; it’s through our testing.”
Having tested the film four times, thus far, in front of large audiences, Peluso has gotten the rave reviews he wanted.
“What we’re seeing from non-Christians and those who do not regularly attend church is that they do not feel preached to. They don’t feel kind of hit over the head with Jesus or the Bible. But, they are intrigued by this man and His followers. They are intrigued by the story of what happened, the birth of Christianity and the fact that the infrastructure of Judea, both the Sanhedrin and the Jewish leadership and the Roman leadership were all about crushing this man and crushing His followers. So that automatically lends them credibility.”
“Jesus is not talking at them heavily through this movie. It’s through Clavius’ interactions with Jesus and Clavius’ interactions with the disciples that we learn of Jesus’ teachings and we learn who He is as the Son of God. And again, it all feels just so easy to try on for the unchurched.”
From believers, there was one, unifying message Affirm Films received during the faith-based testing.
“They’re just relieved that it’s not like the two big Bible movies of last year, in that it didn’t take liberties beyond acceptable levels in their mind. So they were relieved,” Peluso says. “And we’re excited that Christians feel like they can embrace this story.”
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