Aside from natural geography and topography, many things rarely last almost a thousand years; however, remnants of the Great Schism of the Catholic Church, which occurred back in 1054, still exist today. This extraordinary phenomenon shifted tremendously in recent weeks. The trouble is, too much of media attention has been focused on the latest in the U.S. primary debates, Valentine’s Day, and perhaps rightfully so, the death of Supreme Court Justice Scalia for many to even notice a shift in such an important event in history. What has been covered in the media has been quickly swept away by the latest in other news. As a history major, I feel like there has not been due justice given to such a historically significant event and, therefore, I hope to contribute as necessary.

This past Friday, Feb. 12, Pope Francis of the Roman Catholic Church met with Patriarch Kirill of the Russian Orthodox Church, in an attempt to ease relations that had been tense since the split between the churches. After meeting for two hours, both leaders reached a joint declaration, reaffirming their familial ties as Christians, and their commitment to helping stop the major crisis in Christianity today: the persecution and killing of Christians in Iraq, Syria, and North Africa.

The meeting took place at José Martí International Airport, in Havana, Cuba. It had taken years of planning and coordination, as well as finding a good, neutral place to meet. Both the Pope and the Patriarch found that many potential locations to meet in Europe would have been tainted by “longstanding disputes of the ‘Old World,’” as the joint declaration states. Therefore, they decided to meet in a rather neutral region. As the BBC reports, the Pope was en route to a five-day visit in Mexico; meanwhile, the Patriarch was about to visit Brazil and Paraguay. The visits enabled the historic meeting to take place in the so-called New World.

For centuries, the Pope and the Patriarch stayed apart over issues of papal primacy and potentially stealing converts from one another. The Pope has yet to ever visit Russia. However, as one reporter for USA Today writes, multiple global factors influenced the pair to meet: the persecution of Christians in the Middle East, as aforementioned, the crisis in Ukraine, and the rise of Russia, especially in regards to the proximity of the Orthodox Church and the government in the post-USSR Communist era. It is in this meeting that both hoped to overcome old differences for benefit of the common good. Judging by the reaction of the Pope, it appears that this meeting was a major step forward in the right direction, with more likely to come.

The implications of this meeting, by most respects, have yet to be determined. Perhaps the largest potential implication is that if tensions between the Roman Catholic and Russian Orthodox Churches can overcome their differences, then many of the other longstanding tensions between Western and Eastern churches will start to lower. In one respect, the meeting provides hope, and a lesson in that even the most enduring and elongated of wounds and ill feelings can be healed over time. While it may have taken almost a thousand years, it seems a reasonable possibility now that tensions can begin to ease further in the future. This development could become a story from which we all should learn.

The most meaningful element for me in this event came from the joint declaration of the two religious leaders, in their point number 13. To paraphrase, the point stresses the importance of inter-religious dialogue, as well as the education of members to be respectful of others’ convictions and to never use one’s beliefs as a justification of criminal acts. For me, there is so much to be learned by being open-minded and listening to other people’s ideas and opinions. While people may not agree on everything, there is so much to be gained from conversation with those of differing opinions and beliefs. Certainly, the Pope and the Patriarch, representatives of the Roman Catholic and Russian Orthodox Churches, demonstrated this power in their meeting this past Friday.