Warsaw (AsiaNews/Agencies) - Whilst the world media focused yesterday on Pussy Riot trial, the real news of the day came from the Polish capital where Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill and Archbishop Jozef Michalik, president of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of Poland, signed an historic joint statement calling on their respective believers to erase centuries of violence and prejudice and work together for a society informed by Christian witness.
Entrusting the message of reconciliation to the protection of the Mother God, the two leaders exchanged gifts during the special ceremony. Patriarch Kirill gave the bishops of Poland an icon of the Mother of God of Smolensk, whilst Archbishop Michalik gave the patriarch an icon of Our Lady of Czestochowa.
In the statement, the two leaders said that reconciliation is the product of "a sincere dialogue in the hope that it will help us to heal the wounds of the past and overcoming mutual prejudices," sadly noting the "hostility and even struggle" as well as the "painful experience of atheism imposed on our nations".
In the past, Russia invaded Poland several times. At the start of the Second World War, Poland was invaded by both Germany and Russia. After the war, it came under the influence of the Soviet Union, which exerted stifling control over the two religions with Stalinism even pitting Orthodox against Catholics.
The message noted that all Christians suffered under atheistic regimes (Nazism and Communism) that "fought against all forms of religion and waged an especially cruel war with Christianity and our Churches. Victimized were millions of innocent people, the reminder of which is numerous places of executions and graves both on Russian and Polish soil."
Likewise, the patriarch and the archbishop called on their communities to forgive. At the same time, "Forgiveness does not mean forgetfulness. Memory represents an important part of our identity. We also have the duty of memory before the victims of the past who were tortured to death and gave their lives for the faithfulness to God and their homeland on earth. To forgive means to abandon revenge and hatred, to participate in building harmony and fellowship among people, our peoples and countries, which is the basis for a peaceful future."
The two communities must also work on evangelisation, seeking "today, in the era of religious indifference and secularism, to make every effort so that the social life and culture of our nations not be stripped of principal moral values, the cornerstone of a viable peaceful future."
The two Churches, which must preach the Word of God, reassert the distinction between State and Church, and support tolerance, face "new challenges. Under the pretext of respect for the principle of secularism or the protection of the freedom of choice, moral principles based on the commandments of God are challenged. Advocating abortion, euthanasia and same-sex unions, which trying to present it as a form of marriage, imposed by consumer lifestyles, traditional values are denied and religious symbols are excluded from public space."
With hints to Benedict XVI's teachings, the message goes on to say, "Often we are faced with manifestations of hostility to Christ, his Gospel and the cross, as well as attempts to remove the Church from public life. Falsely conceived secularism takes the form of fundamentalism and in fact is a form of atheism."
Again, "We believe not only terrorism and armed conflict, but also abortion and euthanasia to be grave sins against life and a disgrace to contemporary civilization."
After stressing the value of the family as "the sound foundation of all societies," the patriarch and the archbishop conclude entrusting the "rapprochement of our Churches and reconciliation of our peoples" to the Mother of God.