The Middle East and extremism, but also ecumenism, in talks between Putin and Pope
A Vatican statement tells of a “very positive atmosphere” and “cordial relations”. Putin referred greetings from Alexi II, the Pope in turn sent his greetings to the Patriarch. Moscow Patriarchate sources tended to exclude that Benedict XVI and the Russian President would have touched on questions linked to relations between Catholics and Orthodox in Moscow.

Vatican City (AsiaNews) – Relations between Catholics and Orthodox were also on the agenda of talks between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Benedict XVI, which took place this evening in the Vatican, in a “very positive climate”.  The “cordial relations” between the Vatican and Federation as well as international concerns, in particular the current Middle East crises, were other themes broached in discussions, which also touched upon the “problems of intolerance and extremism”, according to a press office statement released by the Holy See.

The Vatican, then has judged the first meeting between Benedict XVI and Putin to as positive, which also saw a parallel encounter between Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov and Secretary of State Tarcisio Bertone. “The meeting – reads the Vatican note – which took place in a very positive atmosphere, highlights existing relations between the Holy See and the Russian Federation, as well as the shared desire to further develop said relations, through specific cultural initiatives.  In light of this, bilateral themes of common interest were discussed with careful consideration also paid to relations between the Catholic Church and Orthodox Church.  Current international questions were also analyzed, in particular the Middle East. Finally, the problems of intolerance and extremism were addressed, which constitute a grave threat to civil relations between Nations, underlining the necessity to preserve and favour peace through negotiated solutions to ongoing conflicts”.

Even Russian journalists in the presidential cortege speak of a “climate of great cordiality, beyond protocol, sign of a significant event”. The Russian Presidential spokesman, Aleksiei Gromov, told the press that Putin had referred greetings from the Patriarch of Moscow Alexi II to the Pope, who likewise extended a salute to the leader of the Russian Orthodox Church.

Putin arrived at the Vatican shortly before 6 pm, dressed in a blue suit and red tie.  He was met in the St Damascus courtyard by the Papal gentlemen; he was escorted to the third floor, passing through the halls which lead to the private library and the Pope’s study.  Benedict XVI greeted the Russian President moving forward to meet him in the library, in the adjacent Throne room.  “I warmly welcome you to the Vatican”, he said to him in German, a language which Putin knows well, and a handshake which journalist present describe as “long and cordial”. “Now, we must allow for photographs” added the Pope, after Putin positioned himself at the desk, the same place occupied by Gorbachev in his historic visit with John Paul II and then the doors closed on the private meeting which lasted over 25 minutes.  Putin and Benedict XVI spoke in German assisted by two interpreters.  

Following the encounter, there was the presentation of the delegations and the exchange of gifts.  The Russian President presented the Pope with a modern icon of St Nicolas.  The Pope for his part, gifted the premier with an incision of a view of St Peter dated to 1662.

The possibility that the issue of relations between the Moscow Patriarchate and the Catholic Church be addressed had been substantially excluded by Orthodox sources, who maintained that the nature of the meeting was “between two heads of State”.  

However this morning, a long analyses published by the Russian Interfax agency, began by recalling that “previous meetings between Pontiffs and Russian leaders have not always produced stability or peace in Catholic Orthodox relations”. As in the case of Gorbachev in 1990. The article continued by noting that in the current climate of  rapprochement,  the sister Churches “have discovered a common ground for the development projects of a social and ethical nature”,“ the first’ and ‘the third’ Romes now have a unique chance to pursue the ecumenical movement and to secure a future for traditional values in Eurasia. And the president of Russia’s visit may be very helpful to achieve this goal.” In the end it is hoped that “the current political warming and constructive voices sounding from the leadership be adequately, unlike they were before, reflected in the church policies, including the level of local parishes and laity groups”.