08/22/2017, 09.14
RUSSIA - VATICAN
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Moscow, dialogue between Orthodox and uniates in the heart of peace

by Vladimir Rozanskij

Card. Pietro Parolin’s trip to Moscow is an opportunity to rebuild understanding between Catholics and Orthodox, marked by the wounds of the atheist past and the Ukrainian conflict. Russian Latin rite faithful seem to have a mediatory role. Yesterday there was the meeting between Card. Parolin and Metropolitan Hilarion. Today, the much anticipated meetings with Kirill and Foreign Minister Serghei Lavrov.

Moscow (AsiaNews) - Vatican Secretary of State, Card. Pietro Parolin is on official visit to Russia from August 21st to 24th. Today he is scheduled to  meet the Orthodox Patriarch of Moscow Kirill and Foreign Minister Serghei Lavrov; Tomorrow, President Vladimir Putin.

Yesterday Parolin met metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk, chairman of the Department for External Church Relations (Dree). The theme was primarily the Syrian crisis and the tragic condition of Christians in the Near East. The official press release of the Patriarchate states that "considering the possibilities of solving the Syrian crisis, the two interlocutors agreed that it is first necessary to eliminate terrorism from the territory of Syria, and only after the achievement of peace will the country be in a position to determine its political future. "

The other hot topic is the Ukrainian question and religious freedom in that country. The Ukrainian Parliament is preparing some laws that in fact discriminate against the position of obedience to the Orthodox Church of Moscow. Hilarion quoted "with disappointment the cases of politicized statements and aggressive actions by the representatives of the Greek-Catholic Church in Ukraine," but acknowledged the support the Orthodox received from the Holy See. "The parties - the official statement says - have expressed the common conviction that politics should not become involved in ecclesiastical life, and that the Churches in Ukraine are called to play a peaceful role by working to restore civil cohesion in the country." On the Syrian issue and the situation of Christians in the Middle East there is almost total agreement between Russian Orthodox and Catholics. Not so on the uniate issue. Below our correspondent outlines prospects in this area.

While Cardinal Pietro Parolin's visit to Moscow is under way, there is growing concern about the prospects of dialogue and collaboration between Russian Catholics and Orthodox, one of the keys to a better understanding between Russia and the West. The conflict between Russians and Ukrainians begun in 2014, which created the new "Cold War" climate, which is in fact a cultural and confessional issue, long before being a economic, military or political one.

For years after the great opening of the early 1990s, the Moscow Patriarchate denounced the two great obstacles to the relationship with the Catholic Church: the so-called "proselytism" of Catholics in Russian territory, and disputes with the Greek-Catholics Ukrainians. The first problem has long been solved: after the reopening season of churches and parishes, the Russian Catholic community has now accepted, under the leadership of the Vatican, to remain in a well-defined dimension without expansionist ambitions. For a number of years there has been a joint commission between local Catholics and representatives of the Orthodox Patriarchate to evaluate every single initiative of Catholics whether it is opening up a new parish or creating educational or charitable structures. It was the way forward proposed in 1989 by then metropolitan Kirill, now patriarch, as the head of the external relations of the patriarchate. He suggested not appointing Catholic bishops in Russia, and leaving Orthodox protection in situations where a Catholic mission had become necessary.

It is estimated that about one million Catholics live in Russia, out a population of over 140 million. Pope John Paul II then believed that he had to provide effective structures for the pastoral care of his Russian faithful: in 1990 he sent the apostolic nuncio, who in 1991 organized the appointment of certain bishops as apostolic directors. The bishops are now residential, but the idea of ​​orthodox protection is once again a decisive issue in relations between the two Churches in the area. This argument will not be particularly challenging in the talks led by card. Parolin and he will probably limit himself to seeking greater flexibility in registration procedures and pastoral work for priests operating in the area.

In the same year, the nuncio Msgr. Colasuonno also attempted to resolve the Ukrainian question, suggesting Ukrainian-Greek Catholics sit around a table with the Russian counterpart to assess open issues. The same metropolitan Kirill participated in the meeting, while the Ukrainian delegation was led by Archbishop Volodymyr Sternjuk, who administered the vacant seat of the archbishop of Lviv. Sternjuk, who had undergone years of harsh persecution under the Soviet regime, refused to deal with anyone who had bent to compromise with atheist communists, and left the meeting without any conclusion. The overwhelming history of Ukrainian politics has changed the tables on many occasions over time, but the hostility between the two contenders remained like embers under the ashes, exploding in the Majdan revolt of 2013-2014. The Moscow Patriarch accuses them of being the true inspirers of the anti-Russian uprising; Greek-Catholics insist on the responsibility of orthodoxy in the aggression of Russian military forces in Ukrainian territory.

It is no coincidence that the Vatican Secretary of State visited Belarus and Ukraine before coming to Moscow as a referee in a recent, but multi-century and extremely complex rebound: the boundaries between the East And the West in Europe have never been defined and stable, and the same name "Ukraine" means "at the border", to indicate not so much an ethnic but an original condition of the Eastern Slavs, always looking for the limits of a Boundless territory.

Ukraine is now an independent country of over 50 million people, and Greek Catholics reach 10% of the total population. There is also a significant minority of Latin Catholics, of Polish ethnicity. There are three Orthodox jurisdictions in the country: the majority in communion with Moscow, an independent Patriarchate in Kiev, and even a minority subjugated directly to the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople.

The Patriarchate of Moscow has shown appreciation for the balance of Vatican diplomacy in Ukraine, as the secretary for inter-Christian relations, Hiermonk Stefan (Igumnov), said in a statement issued by many press organs recently: "No statement by Holy See has allowed itself to be used as a provocation to push the conflict in that country religiously. "

Even the secretary and spokesman of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of Russia, Msgr. Igor Kovalevski said at a press conference on August 17 that "knowing many representatives of the Greek-Catholic Ukrainian Church, I can assure them that they are ready for constructive dialogue with the Russian Orthodox Church. It is a dialogue that somehow has already begun, and continues at various levels. "

Russian Catholics always seek to mediate between the two contenders. There is even an Exarchate for Greek-Catholics in Russia, which only became operative in  the first years after the revolution but there are several Catholic parishes of Eastern Rite in Russia, for Ukrainians there, but also for small groups of Russians Catholics who, feeling in communion with Rome, do not intend to give up their orthodox traditions.

The hope is that it will be possible to repair the many mistakes of the past, and to restore not only mutual tolerance and respect, but above all the ideal that accompanies the Christians of the Russian and Ukrainian territories: that of truly universal Christianity, "Catholic" by  fact and not by name, which can unite in one breath the "two lungs" of the Church for the sake of the whole of humanity.

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