Moscow, November 12, Interfax - Relations between the Russian Orthodox and Roman Catholic Churches are improving and a meeting between Pope Benedict XVI and the Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia, may be in the cards, a Russian Orthodox bishop said.Catholic-Russian Orthodox Rapprochement:
"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," Archbishop Hilarion of Volokolamsk, the head of the Department for External Church Relations, told reporters in 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," the Archbishop said.
Preparations for such a meeting must involve finding "a common platform on all remaining points of dispute," the Archbishop said.
One such issue is the relations between the Uniate community and Orthodox believers in Ukraine. In the early 1990s, "the fragile interdenominational balance was upset and a serious situation took shape that still exists," Archbishop Hilarion said.
At the same time, conversion of Orthodox believers into Catholicism is less of a problem today than it was a decade ago, he said.
Benedict XVI is "a very reserved, traditional man who does not seek the expansion of the Catholic Church to traditionally Orthodox regions," the Archbishop said.
When Benedict XVI, shortly after being elected Pope, met with Metropolitan Kirill (the present Russian Patriarch, then head of the DECR), a papal visit to Russia "was taken off the agenda as now it appears to us to be impossible," the bishop said.
After Metropolitan Kirill was elected Patriarch, "one can hope for further steps" in Orthodox-Catholic dialogue because the Patriarch "will continue the line on relations with Christians of other denominations that he pursued as part of his former activities," the Archbishop said”.
Relations between the Vatican and the Russian Orthodox Church have been tense for centuries, but in a sign that relations are finally thawing, Archbishop Ilarion, who heads the Russian Orthodox Church’s foreign relations department, said that both sides wanted a meeting, although he emphasised that problems remained.Zenit:
Ilarion spoke of a rapprochement under Pope Benedict XVI that would allow for a meeting with the new Russian Orthodox Patriarch, Kiril, who took up his office in February after the death of the previous patriarch.
“There have been visits at a high level,” said Illarion. “We are moving towards the moment when it will become possible to prepare a meeting between the Pope and the Moscow patriarch.”
He added that in recent years there had been “noticeable improvements” in relations between the two churches.
“The progress in relations between the Russian Orthodox Church and the Catholic Church began after Benedict XVI became pope. He is…a person who does not aim to grow the Catholic Church in traditional Orthodox regions.”
Some observers had hinted a meeting between the two Church leaders was forthcoming, but many issues still stand in the way of bridging the split, which dates from 1054 when Patriarch of Constantinople was excommunicated from the Catholic Church.
The breach heralded the Great Schism that finally divided the Christian churches of East and West – which had long had political and theological differences, including the wording of the Nicene Creed – and led to the creation of the Eastern Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic Church.
Relations have been tense ever since, and were strained again in recent years by Orthodox accusations of Catholics proselytising in Russia - although historians have cast doubt on such claims.
Mark Nash of the Agency for Evangelisation, who has studied the relationship between the Russian Orthodox and Catholic Church, said a "a lot of the instances of 'proselytising' were in orphanages and children's programmes.
"The chancellor of the Russian Bishops' Conference, Father Igor Kovalevsky, who was on the joint committee tasked with investigating the allegations, said they were 'misunderstandings'."
Dr Jeremy Smith, senior lecturer in Russian history at the University of Birmingham, added that his impression was that the Catholic Church "had not really engaged in proselytising".
"Consequently, [the Catholic church] has remained on relatively good terms with the Orthodox clergy, especially at a local level," he said.
He added that the Russian authorities aimed anti-proselytising laws "more strongly against organisations like the Moonies".
Such legislation, he added, marked an attempt by the government to establish the Russian Orthodox Church as "a centrepiece of Russian identity, albeit as a pillar of the state, after the fall of Communism".
The head of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity is affirming the enemies of believers are secularism and godlessness, not members of other faiths.
Cardinal Walter Kasper stated this Tuesday during a meeting with the bishops' conference of Belarus. The prelate arrived Sunday to this country for a visit at the invitation of Metropolitan Filaret of Minsk and Slutsk.
Along with Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, retired archbishop of Washington, the Vatican official participated in a conference on Christian-Jewish dialogue that ended Wednesday.
On the day of his arrival, Cardinal Kasper gave the homily in an opening Mass, in which he recalled that this is his second visit to Minsk, his first taking place Dec. 14-18, 2002.
He affirmed that he visited "the Belarusian capital to meet with the Most Reverend Metropolitan Filaret and lecturers of the Institute of Theology of Belarusian State University."
The prelate stated: "We already became good friends as we are guided by the same objective: to work together in order to reach full communion of the Catholic and the Orthodox Church."
In his meeting with the Catholic bishops' conference, Cardinal Kasper stated: "We need to listen to other people, change our way of thinking and hearts. Only then will it be the true ecumenism."
He described three columns of ecumenism: dialogue with the Orthodox Church, dialogue with Protestant communities -- such as that with the Anglicans that has been recently furthered by the document on those wishing to enter the Catholic Church -- and working with new movements in the Church.
The cardinal affirmed: "Our enemies today are not other confessions, but secularism and godlessness.
"This is why we need a joint answer to the challenges of the present."