|Promoting Unity, Building the Peace
look at the events that unfolded on the scene of interecclesial relations
in the course of the year 2003, and particularly on relations between the
Holy See and the Patriarchate of Moscow, could lead observers who are
awaiting decisive and courageous steps in common witness from the Catholic
and Orthodox Churches to think that it is a slow and ascending journey.
Such impressions, nonetheless, can be disproved in a certain way by the
announcement made last 22 January: "Cardinal Walter Kasper, President of
the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, receiving the
invitation of the Conference of Catholic Bishops of the Russian
Federation, will visit Moscow this 16 February (2004)".
The Cardinal was set to meet Catholic Bishops present in the Russian
Federation as well as the Catholic Community at Moscow and, as the
announcement revealed, "during this visit, which is animated also by
heartfelt respect for the Russian Orthodox Church, he will be received in
audience by His Holiness Alexis II, Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia,
and will have a meeting with the Metropolitan of Smolensk and Kaliningrad,
Kirill, the President of the Department for Ecclesiastical Foreign
Relations of the Patriarchate of Moscow, in view of the ecumenical
dialogue between the two Churches".
This announcement opens new prospects for all contacts between the
Catholic Church and the Russian Orthodox Church and for the quality of
their relations internationally and locally.
Spirit of exchange and enrichment
These last relations have had a noteworthy force in the course of the
past year. The initiatives promoted by the Pontifical Representative in
the Russian Federation are especially remembered, thanks to which the
climate of such relations has notably improved on the local level and
reciprocal trust has grown, an indispensable condition for every further
In this context the regular meetings of the Pontifical Representative
with the Primate of the Russian Orthodox Church, His Holiness Alexis II,
are recorded, together with the other institutions of the Patriarchate,
such as the Department for Ecclesiastical Foreign Relations, led by the
Metropolitan of Smolensk and Kaliningrad, Kirill.
The Nuncio's visits to Catholic communities spread throughout the
territory of this great Country are no less important. In the course of
such visits, alongside meetings with the civil Authorities, there is also
among the priorities a visit to the local Orthodox bishop. In many cases
such encounters foster the already-existing collaboration or favour the
start of other forms of meeting and collaboration between the Orthodox and
Catholic communities, aimed at eliminating and overcoming mutual prejudices
inherited from the past or that have arisen following misunderstandings
and interpretations of events that have affected both Churches.
At the level of contacts between the Holy See and the Patriarchate of
Moscow, we note the regular exchange of epistles between Pope John Paul II
and Patriarch Alexis II, or that of the Pontifical Council for Promoting
Christian Unity and the Department for Ecclesiastical Foreign Relations of
the Patriarchate of Moscow. The Presidents of these bodies, Cardinal
Walter Kasper and the Metropolitan Kirill, respectively, have met on two
occasions: 19 March 2003 at Geneva and in the first days of September at
Aachen in Germany.
The Catholic Committee of Cultural Collaboration has continued to
provide monetary support for the educational institutions of the
Patriarchate of Moscow stationed in various countries of the Community of
the Independent States, and support has been maintained for those
institutions that, by preserving their autonomy and maintaining their own
Orthodox inspiration through editorial and educational activity and
conferences and summer courses on theology, work with the participation of
Catholic experts for Orthodoxy in Russia, Belarus and Ukraine and for a
meeting and collaboration between Catholics and Orthodox in a spirit of
mutual exchange and enrichment.
The Russian Orthodox Church
Throughout 2003, various Catholic organizations continued to offer
their fraternal support and help for the Russian Orthodox Church,
including such agencies as Kirche in Not and Renovabis.
These agencies' activity cannot be interpreted as an isolated and
independent choice; rather, they express the entire solidarity of the
Catholic faithful which arises and is nourished from the teaching of the
Catholic Church and the Holy Father. Any sort of attempt to deny the
intrinsic, ecclesial dimension of the solidarity that the agencies or the
Catholic faithful promote would mean that one is trying to reduce it to a
mere act which, noble as it may be, would be left void of its testimonial
value to brotherly love, respect and high regard for the Russian Orthodox
The brief overview just presented of relations between the Catholic
Church and the Russian Orthodox Church does not desire to close with a
statement, but rather, desires to open itself up to those testimonies that
the Catholic Church and the Russian Orthodox Church are called to give
today to Europe and the World.
The recent Address delivered by Pope John Paul II on 12 January 2004 to
the Diplomatic Corps accredited to the Holy See offers some ideas that
could serve as a point for common reflection and an eventual and more
meaningful cooperation with the Patriarchate of Moscow. Obviously, it is
not collaboration dictated by any sort of pragmatism; rather, it is that
ecumenical commitment which aims at overcoming divisions and permits the
respective faithful to live and experience the numerous bonds of communion
by which they are already united between themselves.
Only by this reality will a living witness be able to spring up in a
position to extend itself at every level of ecclesial life; a witness that
will more convincingly spread those Christian values on which Europe's
identity is founded.
The common commitment
It is precisely our Continent which is above all in need of a renewal
and a common commitment by the Catholic and Orthodox Churches. The
Christian identity of Europe and the values that have formed it through
the centuries are today having a difficult time finding a place in the
area of the important European structures and social life of certain
Although, as the Holy Father affirmed in the aforementioned Address,
"Everyone may agree to respect the religious sentiment of individuals, but
the same cannot be said of the 'religious factor', that is, the social
dimension of religions; here the engagements made in the context of what
was formerly known as the 'Conference on Security and Cooperation in
Europe' have been forgotten" (Address to the Diplomatic Corps
Accredited to the Holy See, 12 January 2004; L'Osservatore Romano
English edition [ORE], 21 January 2004, p. 3).
Such a tendency, which wishes to ignore "what Christianity has
contributed to the culture and institutions of the Continent: the dignity
of the human being, freedom, the sense of the universal, schools and
universities, social services", addresses in a particular way the Churches
regarding their presence and role in affirming Gospel values in today's
This commitment becomes more urgent in the face of the tendency towards
laicism that wishes to reduce the presence of religion to the private
sector and to propose life models that are inconsistent with a religious
view on life.
Under the various atheistic regimes and ideologies, the Russian
Orthodox Church and the Catholic Church, together with other Christian
communities, have already undergone long periods of limitations and
restrictions accompanied by persecutions, whose devastating consequences
on life have been felt up to our day by many societies. Among these
consequences, it is enough to mention: signs of social injustice, the
break-down of families, and the loss of moral values and propagation of
alternative lifestyles that attempt to present as a way of life a modern
society free from any bond with natural law.
In the face of these challenges, the Holy Father has said that as
Christians: "All together, we can effectively contribute to respect for
life, to safeguarding the dignity of the human person and his or her
inalienable rights, to social justice and to the preservation of the
Bond between unity and peace
Lastly, in the perspective of common action between the Catholic Church
and the Russian Orthodox Church, a concern for world peace cannot be
Peace always remains an imperative for Christians, and wherever it is
threatened, in the Middle East or elsewhere, these same people cannot
shrink from their duty to act together by investing all their spiritual
forces to achieve it.
But there also exists here interdependence between the unity of
Christians and their commitment to peace. In fact, as the Holy Father
notes: "We do not give sufficient importance to the pacifying influence
that Christians could have, were they united, on their own community as
well as on civil society".
And he adds, "If I say this, it is not only to remind all who claim to
be followers of Christ of the pressing need to set out with determination
on the road that leads to the unity that Christ desired, but also to point
out to the leaders of societies the resources they could find in the
Christian heritage as well as among those who practise it".
Unity, therefore, is not an optional accessory; rather, it is an
essential quality of the vocation of Christians and their presence in the
world. This calling in a certain way conditions the Lord's ardent prayer:
"so that the world may believe" (Jn 17:21), and the efficacy of that
particular mission which they must complete towards humanity as a whole.
In order for such a mission to proceed, the unique contribution that
both the Catholic Church and Russian Orthodox Church can offer must not be