Two main events took place in Rome on 12 February to mark the fourth anniversary of the historic meeting in Havana in 2016 between Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill. Both events, a conference followed by a concert, were jointly organized by the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity and the Department for External Church Relations of the Moscow Patriarchate.
The conference on “The Saints – Signs and Seeds of Unity” was held at the Pontifical University of Saint Thomas Aquinas – Angelicum. In his address, Cardinal Kurt Koch welcomed participants, and reflected on the themes of the Joint Declaration signed in Havana which have been taken up in the successive anniversaries of its signing. Cardinal Koch then spoke about the theme of the current celebration, namely the ecumenism of holiness, calling to mind §4 of the Joint Declaration in which thanksgiving to God is given for our shared “spiritual Tradition of the first millennium of Christianity,” the witnesses of which are “the Most Holy Mother of God, the Virgin Mary, and the saints we venerate. Among them are innumerable martyrs who have given witness to their faithfulness to Christ and have become the “seed of Christians”. Cardinal Koch continued, “The veneration of the saints is a particularly effective means of inviting and welcoming of faithful into the ecumenical movement. It is a constructive way of providing a deeper engagement of the people of God in the rapprochement between our Churches”. Cardinal Koch affirmed that the blood of our martyrs must unite us in the “ecumenism of blood” – Sanguis martyrum semen Christianorum, concluding that “the suffering of so many Christians creates a unity that is stronger than the differences that still separate our Churches” and that “through the blood our martyrs we are already one”.
Metropolitan Hilarion then spoke of the historical overview of the meeting in Havana, and its importance in defining the prospect for developing bilateral relations for many years ahead. His Eminence reflected, “Our meeting is held in Rome, a city in which the relics of the holy first hierarchal apostles Peter and Paul and of many other apostles, martyrs and people of God rest …The theme of holiness and saints occupies an important place in the Joint Declaration of Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill”. Metropolitan Hilarion also recalled the exposition of the relics of St Nicholas and Moscow and St Petersburg loaned from Bari.
Presentations were given by Revd Alexiy Andreyev, lecturer at the St Tikhon Orthodox University of the Humanities, on “The Understanding of Holiness in the Russian Orthodox Church” and Father Marko Rupnik, SJ, on “Holiness and Communion”. Testimonials followed by Archpriest Kirill Kaleda on “Holy Martyrs Vladimir Ambartsumov and Archpriest Gleb Kaleda” and Sister Gabriella Masturzo on Blessed Maria Gabriella of Unity. The film “The Apostle Peter” directed by Metropolitan Hilarion was premiered afterwards accompanied by an Italian translation.
Later in the evening, a concert was held at the Basilica of Saint John Lateran by the Synodal Choir of Moscow, directed by Maestro Aleksej Puzakov, together with the Papal Sistine Chapel Choir, directed by Maestro Monsignor Marcos Pavan.