Moscow (AsiaNews) - Catholics in Russia see Pope Benedict XVI's announced resignation as an act of courage and are confident that relations with the Orthodox Church - of which the Pope had contributed to a positive development - will not be affected. "Pope Benedict XVI accomplished a great act of courage and submission. He did that for the sake of the Church as he himself confessed. We must not forget that he is 86 years old," Igor Kovalevsky, general secretary of the Conference of Russia's Catholic Bishops, told Interfax-Religion. "This resignation is not a threat to the Church," he added.
Kovalevsky then recalled the intellectual depth of the Pope, called a great theologian and "author of books that everyone, not just Christians, must read." The exponent of the Russian Catholic episcopate also emphasized the contribution made by the Pope in the promotion of interreligious dialogue, "especially with the Russian Orthodox Church."
The Moscow Patriarchate has praised the work of Benedict XVI in favour of ecumenical dialogue. Commenting on the Pope's decision to resign as of 28 February, the Secretary of the Department for External Relations of the Patriarchate, in charge of relations with the Catholics, Archpriest Dmitry Sizonenko, said that "there is no reason to think that there will be drastic change in the Vatican's policy, in its relationship with the Orthodox Churches". According Sizonenko, Benedict XVI has helped to achieve a positive dynamics in relations between the two Churches "will be developed simply by inertia", beyond who sits on the throne of Peter.
The Patriarchate of Moscow, which had strained relations with Pope John Paul II, had found an ally in Benedict XVI in the fight against "aggressive secularism" and the defence of Christian values in the West.
Even Russian scholars think that the relations between Orthodox and Catholics will not be affected by a change at the top in the Vatican. "His decision to resign deserves respect - said the scholar of religions, Roman Silantyev - he was a strong leader and he could continue his mission successfully, if it were not for his age." Benedict XVI, he said, has helped - unlike his predecessor John Paul II - to stopping proselytizing in the east of the Old Continent (referring especially to the Uniate question in Ukraine, still cause for friction between the two Churches) and to improving relations with the Patriarchate of Moscow, which has become "the main ally of the Vatican in defence of Christian values in Europe."
Again compared to Pope John Paul II, Silantyev adds, Benedict did not have "fixed idea" of visiting Moscow because he had already met Kirill several times, before he became Patriarch.