06/22/2005, 00.00
RUSSIA - VATICAN
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Cardinal Kasper in Moscow: we want to deepen Orthodox-Catholic dialogue

by Viktor Khroul - Olga Karpova

In Moscow for a visit, the President of the Pontifical Council for Christian Unity announced the resumption of Orthodox-Catholic theological dialogue and other "small steps" of collaboration.

Moscow (AsiaNews/Svet Evangelia) – Cardinal Walter Kasper, President of the Pontifical Council for Christian Unity is visiting Moscow from 20 to 23 June. According to information published by the Vatican press office, the cardinal has on schedule several meetings with the Orthodox Patriarchate "to mark the solemn inauguration of the pontificate of Benedict XVI". From the start of his mission, Pope Benedict XVI has declared himself willing to undertake ecumenism as a key commitment. On 29 May, he said: "I want to reiterate my willingness to take on the fundamental commitment of working with all my energies towards the rebuilding of full and visible unity among all the followers of Christ." Yesterday, Cardinal Kasper gave an interview to the Russian weekly Svet Evangelia ("the Light of the Gospel") to Viktor Khroul and Olga Karpova, AsiaNews correspondents in Russia. Here is the interview:

Your Eminence, your visit was planned with the aim of continuing dialogue with the Moscow Patriarchate, promoted after the solemn inauguration of the new Pontificate. Are we to expect some news about the dialogue?

Metropolitan Kirill [head of the External Relations Department of the Moscow Patriarchate] was present during the mass inaugurating the mission of Benedict XVI. On that occasion, they had a meeting of half an hour during which they decided to continue dialogue on principal problems in our relationship. Now we are looking to continue and perhaps even to deepen this dialogue. From the very beginning of his pontificate, the Pope declared this to be his main priority. We are here to see what kind of new steps may be taken.

The Patriarch has declared many times that the Russian Orthodox Church wants to see concrete steps from Vatican. What kind of steps could these be?

I couldn't tell right now. First I must meet Metropolitan Kirill and speak to him.

Do you have any proposals?

There won't be anything special. I am here to repeat our proposals. The point is that steps cannot be taken by our side alone, dialogue is always a reciprocal affair. We want to see what we can do together, to study possibilities. They may not be decisive steps, but small ones. In any case, many small steps lead to the goal. There are two parties involved in dialogue: both sides should take steps.

The two parties are the Moscow Patriarcate and the Holy See. Is there also a role for the local Catholic community to play?

Without the local Church, ecumenism would be very abstract. I had a very long talk with the [Catholic] Archbishop [of Moscow] Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz and I will update him at length after my talks. All the steps we have taken up to now were taken with the local Church. There are relations between the Holy See and the Moscow Patriarchate, and relations between the Russian Catholic Church and the Russian Orthodox Church: both levels must go together.

You will not be meeting Patriarch Alexei II. Was this planned before your visit?

I did not ask to meet him because we are only at the beginning of deliberations. Our aim now is to discuss concrete, technical aspects.

Will you also discuss the matter of the Ukranian Greek-Catholic Church? [accused of proselytism – ndr)

No, it is not my task to speak about matters linked to another Church. They themselves must do so and this is not the scope of my negotiations. I must say that on this point, the new pope takes the same position as John Paul II.

Your dialogue will focus on local, Russian problems?

We will discuss what the Holy See and the Russian Orthodox Church can do together in Europe and for Europe, for Christian values in Europe: it is a field of common interest.

During the Eucharistic Congress in Bari, you said you hoped to further international dialogue with Orthodox Churches in autumn. What did you mean?

In 1980, we formed a mixed theological commission, composed of all the Orthodox Churches and the Catholic Church. The last plenary meeting took place in 2000 in Baltimore (USA). Now, all the Orthodox Churches (including Russia) want to resume theological dialogue and to develop dialogue within the commission. It is not something completely new, but there is the need to reorganise the Commission to restart in autumn.

Some time ago, the Orthodox bishop Mark [vice-president of the Department of the External Relations of the Moscow Patriarchate] wrote a letter to the Apostolic Nuncio Mgr Antonio Mennini, asking him to clarify the position of the Catholic Church regarding religion classes in schools in Russia. Will the clarification be published?

The Apostolic Nuncio did reply and sent his letter to Bishop Mark. I do not think it wise to publish this letter for now. But I think the answer will prove very satisfactory for the Moscow Patriarchate.

Eminence, does the program of your visit include a press conference after your meeting with Metropolitan Kirill?

No. First I must inform the Holy Father about the meeting; then I will be able to speak to journalists.  

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