“During the meeting, the Holy Father was able to express his gratitude for the good wishes for his 85th birthday, brought by Metropolitan Hilarion on behalf of Patriarch Kirill.”
“For his part, the pope expressed feelings of affection and closeness to the Russian Church and its Patriarch Kirill, who recently celebrated his 75th birthday, recalling with gratitude the journey of fraternity made together and the conversation they had in Havana in 2016.”
The press office added that the pope and the Russian leader exchanged gifts, with Hilarion giving Francis an icon of Our Lady of the Sign, in which the Virgin Mary stands face-on with her hands raised in prayer.
The meeting, which began at 7:50 a.m, ended shortly before 8:50 a.m., the press office said.
During his in-flight press conference, the pope underlined that he was willing to meet with Patriarch Kirill in Russia.
“I’m always willing to go to Moscow to talk to a brother, there are no protocols,” he said.
Metropolitan Hilarion, who spoke at the International Eucharistic Congress in Hungary in September, responded to the pope’s comments during the press conference by confirming that a possible meeting with the patriarch was on the agenda.
“Among these issues is a possible meeting of Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill. Neither the venue nor the date of this meeting have been determined for now,” he said, according to the Russian news agency Tass.
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Metropolitan Hilarion also met with the pope at the Vatican in October, after which he said that a potential papal trip to Russia would be “impossible at the moment.”
He apologized for the ways that Catholics have contributed to division with Orthodox Christians during a meeting with Ieronymos II, archbishop of Athens and All Greece, on Dec. 4.
The pope has formed a close bond with Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople, the spiritual leader of the world’s estimated 300 million Orthodox Christians.
But the Russian Orthodox Church severed ties to the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople in 2018 after Bartholomew I confirmed that he intended to recognize the independence of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine.
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