FaithWorld

Pope, Moscow patriarch moving slowly towards possible meeting

hilarionA senior Russian Orthodox leader has said the idea of a meeting between Moscow’s Patriarch Kirill and Pope Benedict could be moving towards the preparation stage. Archbishop Hilarion Alfeyev, the “foreign minister” of the Russian church, made clear that neither a date nor a location for such the long-awaited meeting was under discussion. But given the glacial pace at which progress on this issue is made, even the change in tone from Moscow is worth noting.

There has never been a meeting between a pope and the patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church, the largest of the Orthodox Churches that make up the second biggest Christian family after Roman Catholicism. The late Pope John Paul II wanted to make history with a visit to Russia, but strains between the Vatican and Moscow over alleged Catholic proselytising in the former Soviet Union got in the way. (Photo: Archbishop Hilarion in Brussels, 11 May 2009/Francois Lenoir)

The election of Pope Benedict in 2005 and of Patriarch Kirill early this year seemed to close that chapter of the churches’ bilateral relations and open a new one moving towards a possible meeting. But despite the warmer tone in comments from each side, problems still remained.  Only last month, Hilarion denied reports of an impending meeting and said relations needed a “radical improvement.”

kasperThe Interfax news agency quoted Hilarion as telling reporters in Moscow: “Today it can be said that we are moving to a moment when it becomes possible to prepare a meeting between the Pope and the Patriarch of Moscow … There are no specific plans for the venue or timing of such a meeting but on both sides there is a desire to prepare it.” (Photo: Cardinal Kasper in Moscow, 29 May 2008/Alexander Natruskin)

Hilarion added with approval that that Benedict is “a very reserved, traditional man who does not seek the expansion of the Catholic Church to traditionally Orthodox regions.”

Splash of cold water on warming Vatican-Moscow ties

Cardinal Walter Kasper and Russian Orthodox Patriarch Alexy meet in Moscow, 29 May 2008/Alexander NatruskinSeveral news outlets (this blog included) noted an interesting warmer tone during a meeting in Moscow between Cardinal Walter Kasper, the Vatican’s top ecumenical official, and Russian Orthodox Patriarch Alexiy last week. The Rome-based Catholic news agency Asianews.it didn’t see it that way. Maybe the news we’ve been waiting for — the announcement of a meeting between Pope Benedict and Patriarch Alexiy — will take longer in coming after all.

Asianews.it wrote: “For some Russia experts Cardinal Kasper was supposed to meet the Orthodox leader to jumpstart the Joint Orthodox-Catholic Theological Commission but apparently he failed to do so.

It also reported a pretty strong remark by Alexiy about the statement that came out of the Ravenna meeting of theologians that Russian Orthodox delegates walked out of: “The problem is not only that a statement was approved without our participation but the way it was done confers upon Constantinople a status like that of the Vatican for Catholics.”

Warm words hint at further Vatican-Moscow thaw

Cardinal Walter Kasper and Russian Orthodox Patriarch Alexy meet in Moscow, 29 May 2008/Alexander NatruskinWith some news events, not much happens but the atmosphere is so striking that it’s worth mentioning all the same. That was the case in Moscow this week as Cardinal Walter Kasper, head of the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Christian Unity, met Russian Orthodox Patriarch Alexiy II.

Though this was an unofficial visit, the patriarch and the cardinal both took care to use language noticeable for its friendly, accommodating and even warm tone in their greetings – a continuation of what is seen as a “thaw” and “emerging cooperation” between the two churches.

“I am convinced of the necessity in an Orthodox-Catholic dialogue, based on the coincidence of our positions on many of the issues facing the Christian world today,” Alexiy told Kasper. “I believe (your) interest in the life and traditions of the (Orthodox) Church will turn out to be important between our two Churches.”

Praying for news at the Vatican

You’ve probably seen on TV how reporters swarm around leaders coming out of closed-door meetings and the politicians step up to deliver their soundbites for the cameras. The Vatican held a big closed-door meeting on Friday and a wave of cardinals — the “princes of the Church” who rank among the most prominent leaders of Roman Catholicism — emerged at their lunch break to find a pack of journalists eager to pounce on them with questions. I’m in Rome for a few days and was out there waiting for them in a parking lot between St. Peter’s Basilica and the Pope Paul VI Hall where they were meeting. The scene was quite different from those “normal” media scrums.

Cardinals leave closed-door meeting with Pope Benedict, 23 Nov. 2007The session was a rare meeting of cardinals from around the world who are here at the Vatican for a ceremony on Saturday when 23 men “get their red hats,” i.e. join the College of Cardinals whose members under 80 years old elect the next pope. They were discussing the Catholic Church’s sensitive relations with other Christians — Orthodox they want to get closer to, Anglicans who are drifting further away, Protestants who are increasingly divided and Pentecostals who are encroaching on their flocks. These sessions presided over by Pope Benedict are supposed to remain confidential. So the men who emerged from the meeting looked and acted like anything but a bunch of politicians hoping to make it on to the evening news.

Some strode past the waiting journalists flashing half a smile and a quarter of a wave. Others found polite variations of the old “no comment”, like one who offered the (weak) joke: “If anything important had happened, you reporters would know it already.” Another walked straight up to a reporter from his home town, said he knew there was no way he could leave without talking to him, and then confessed with a smile: “But actually, I have nothing to say.”