Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Orthodox-Catholic Meeting On The Horizon, UPDATED

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- While a meeting between Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and Pope Benedict XVI has not been scheduled, the head of ecumenical relations for the Russian church hinted that the possibility of such a meeting is greater than ever.

Metropolitian Hilarion of Volokolamsk, president of the Moscow Patriarchate's office for external relations, told reporters at the Vatican May 19 that a meeting "is a desire, it is a hope and we must work for it."

He repeated the long-standing position of Russian Orthodox leaders that a pope-patriarch meeting could not be held as long as Catholic-Orthodox tensions remain in Western Ukraine and that the meeting should cap a process of preparing an agreement on common point of faith and on concrete collaboration.

"I think the atmosphere of dialogue has improved and without a doubt relations improve along with the theological dialogue. But I think the theological dialogue still has a long way to go," he said.

"What is important is not the speed of dialogue, but the quality of the results we achieve," said the metropolitan. He was in Rome for a series of events on Russian culture and spirituality sponsored by the Vatican and the Moscow Patriarchate.

"An encounter between a pope and a patriarch should be a historic event, not just because it is the first meeting between the head of the Roman Catholic Church and the Russian Orthodox Church but especially because such a meeting must be sign of the intention to move our relations forward, which is why is must be prepared for well," he said.

"I hope there could be an encounter not between just any pope of Rome and patriarch of Moscow, but between Patriarch Kirill and Pope Benedict XVI," Metropolitan Hilarion said.

Pressed on the question, he said, "By mentioning these two concrete people, I tried to indicate somewhat a desired deadline."

He told reporters that most of the Russian Orthodox clergy and faithful have a very favorable opinion of Pope Benedict and particularly appreciate his efforts to promote traditional moral values and to strengthen the Christian culture of Europe.

Cardinal Walter Kasper, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, told reporters later that the Vatican's position was that a meeting between the pope and patriarch could be the best way to begin to settle the tensions and questions that the Russian Orthodox want resolved before a meeting.

In addition, he said, it would be an opportunity "to give witness to an increasingly secularized world that our churches have the same positions on moral questions."

"We hope that this meeting will not be something eschatological" -- dealing with the end of time -- "but that it would take place in our age," the cardinal said.

However, the cardinal, who is 77 and expected to retire in the next few months, said he did not think he would still be working at the Vatican when the meeting finally happens.


Wrapping up a two-day initiative for the promotion of Russian culture and spirituality at the Holy See, a concert featuring Russian and Italian music will be offered for the Pope. The event marks the culmination of events which have exhibited an increased warmth of relations between the Russian Orthodox and Catholic Churches and could lead to an encounter between their leaders.

The evening concert, which is a special gift from Kirill I, Patriarch of Moscow and of All Russia, to Pope Benedict XVI, will be held at the Paul VI Hall just beside St. Peter's Basilica. It is the final item on the schedule of "Days of Russian Culture and Spirituality in the Vatican."

Metropolitan Hilarion Afleyev of Volokolamsk will begin the event with a greeting, which will be followed by orchestral and choral music, and finally, an address from Pope Benedict.

Vatican and Orthodox Church participants in a May 19 press conference spoke of the Russia Days as a further step forward in the relations between the Churches, which have been separated since the "Great Schism" nearly a thousand years ago. Cardinal Walter Kasper of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity called the current climate "a new stage" in relations.

Speaking about the significance of the concert, Metropolitan Hilarion told reporters that "there are things which cannot be transmitted either through theology or through diplomacy but that can be transmitted through 'language of art.'"

He explained that "a very strong language is the language of music."

Art is valuable in bringing about dialogue between cultures: they can "liberate us from prejudices, from negative feelings toward each other that we might have inherited from the past.”

“I see many positive signs in the development of this particular type of dialogue,” the metropolitan said.

He also mentioned that a landmark meeting between Patriarch Kirill I and Pope Benedict XVI is "possible" in the future. He said that there is still much planning to be done, but "times have changed" and with it, people also change. His idea is that, considering the appreciation of the Orthodox Church for the current Pope, "a meeting should be held between Kirill and Benedict XVI in particular, rather than some patriarch and some pope."

Other events along the course of the two days have been a symposium on Eastern and Western Church history and relations, the inauguration of a photo exhibit and Mass at the local Russian parish of St. Catherine of Alexandria.

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