We Don’t Need a Thousand Years / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez

Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill during a meeting in Havana. (EFE)
Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill during a meeting in Havana. (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, 14 February 2016 — A Catholic pope and a patriarch of the Orthodox Church just shared a hug in Cuba. A thousand years of enmity have concluded with three kisses at the Havana airport and the signing of an agreement to protect the Christian flock. The scene for this historic event could not be more contradictory: a country where the government refuses to recognize its critics and has dynamited all the bridges for dialogue with the opposition.

From a cleverly publicized stage setting, Raul Castro has taken on the task of showing the island as a natural terrain for dialogue. However, to make use of this zone of ​​conciliation, the General demands two strict requirements be complied with. Participants in the negotiations can only be foreigners and should not express even the slightest questioning of the hosts.

Under these conditions, the government of Colombia and the FARC guerrillas have engaged in peace talks for more than three years. A conflict in which thousands of human lives have been lost, people have been displaces, and continuing military clashes between both sides hinder the process of coming to an understanding and make any kind of agreement unthinkable.

The Catholic and Orthodox hierarchies have done the same thing. The hug between Francis and Kiril closes a stage that began in the year 1054 when the Pope of Rome and the Patriarch of Constantinople excommunicated each other. A schism that shaped a part of the world that we know today, and created a separation in everything from rights to questions of theology and doctrine. A chasm that seemed insurmountable until this Friday.

In the case of both the Colombian peace negotiations and a meeting between two religious leaders, the seriousness of the confrontation has demanded a good deal of sensitivity to get to the point of dialogue. Around the discussion table and in the improvised meeting room at the airport, those involved were conscious that in any mediation no one can emerge unscathed, without ceding even an inch.

The principals have to show willingness to agree, in part because of the exhaustion associated with any confrontation. But especially because they understand the damage their dispute is doing to the common people, desecrating the existence of the people and of the faithful. The pope and the patriarch have shaken hands because they know that in all those centuries of denying each other, the principal victim of their enmity has been the Christian flock.

In several photos of the February 12th historical meeting we also see Cuba’s general-president. The man who during his eight years in office has not demonstrated the greatness of narrowing the distance that separates him from his political opponents, who do not have blood on their hands nor arms stowed under their beds, but rather ideas that differ from those of the Communist Party and a sincere concern for their country, along with the imperative to promote peaceful change.

Refusing to talk while lending our national soil so that others can come to agreement, Raul Castro confirms his small stature as a statesman and reveals his fear of awarding legitimacy to the opposition. Despite his reluctance, we Cubans will end up understanding each other and we will not need to wait one thousand years to give each other three loud kisses on the cheek.