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The case for caution over the pope/patriarch meeting


History was made Friday in Havana, where Pope Francis and Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill met for more than two hours and signed a joint declaration, marking the first time the leaders of Western and Eastern Christianity’s largest churches had come together.

“Finally,” a beaming Francis declared, “we are brothers.”

The brief stop in Cuba came before Francis’ five-day visit to Mexico, and if the rupture between East and West is ever healed, Friday’s summit doubtless will be seen as a turning point.

It was a priceless show of goodwill at a time when religion too often seems a source of conflict and violence. It’s also a sign of hope for the embattled Christians of the Middle East, since Francis and Kirill agreed that protecting them will be a joint priority.

Most Christians in places such as Iraq and Syria probably would say it doesn’t matter what the background to the summit was — if all it accomplishes is mobilizing Catholic and Orthodox resources to keep them alive, that’s more than enough.

Alas, and without trying to rain on anyone’s parade, there are also good reasons for caution, in large part because Moscow’s motives — both in terms of the Russian church, and the Kremlin under Vladimir Putin — are open to serious doubt.

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