05/23/2008, 00.00
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Cardinal Kasper in Russia for "deeper" understanding of Orthodoxy

by Jean-Francois Thiry
The head of the Pontifical Council for Christian Unity has begun his visit to Russia, in an atmosphere of renewed fraternity between the two Churches. A meeting with Alexy II is expected by May 30. On the table are delicate questions like the resumption of the work of the commission for theological dialogue, and a meeting between the patriarch and the pope.

Moscow (AsiaNews) - The desire for a "deeper understanding of Orthodoxy", but evidently also more delicate questions, like resumption of the work of the commission for theological dialogue and the discussion of a possible meeting between the patriarch and the pope, have brought Cardinal Walter Kasper to Russia.  At the invitation of Metropolitan Kyrill of Smolensk, president of the department of for external relations at the patriarchate of Moscow, the president of the Pontifical Council for Christian Unity will be in Russia from May 21-30.

The cardinal has already met with the Catholic community of the capital: yesterday evening, he was welcomed by the new archbishop Paolo Pezzi, and participated in the Mass for Corpus Domini in the cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Moscow.  That morning, at the cultural centre "Library of the Spirit", he inaugurated a new exhibit of icons (in the photo) painted by a young iconographer, Irina Marcelo Curto.  The event was also attended by Bishop Mark, vice-president of the department for external relations at the patriarchate of Moscow; Bishop Nifon, representative of the patriarchate of Antioch in Moscow; the nuncio Antonio Mennini, and various members of the diplomatic corps.  From this very first meeting, the emphasis was placed on the importance of dialogue and mutual understanding, which is the stated purpose of the cultural centre "Library of the Spirit".

Emphasising his desire to encounter Orthodox culture, Cardinal Kasper highlighted the fact that the icon, the heritage of the undivided Church, is growing in importance in the West as well, thanks to its capacity to speak to the heart of men and to be understood even by many who seem to have lost any connection to the Church.  Bishop Mark pointed out a significant coincidence: the arrival of Cardinal Kasper coincides with the feast of St Nicholas (according to the Julian calendar), and constitutes a sort of symbol of the unity that we - Christians of the East and of the West - must help each other to recognise.

In the course of this visit, the cardinal will meet with the Catholic community of the capital, which recently received a new pastor, Archbishop Paolo Pezzi.  Meetings with the other communities of the country are scheduled in upcoming days in Smolensk and Kazan, where the cardinal will go to pay homage to some of the Orthodox shrines.  In particular, in Kazan he will pray before the icon of the Virgin that John Paul II had for years kept in his chapel, and gave to Patriarch Alexy II in 2004.  And to the Russian Orthodox patriarch, Cardinal Kasper will communicate a message and give a gift on behalf of Benedict XVI, at a meeting that should be the culmination of his visit.

The novelty of this visit - the experience of a Church rather than a series of negotiations - was in a certain way suggested by the new phase of relations established between the two Churches a few years ago.  The face of the Orthodox Church, like that of the Catholic Church in Russia, is very different today compared to five or ten years ago: many fears and obstacles have disappeared, dispelled by mutual understanding; respect for the person of Benedict XVI and the gradual opening of Russia to the West favour the enhancement of collaborative relations, of practical cooperation among Orthodox and Catholic parishes, communities, and cultural institutions in various areas of cultural and social life, in the attempt to respond the challenges and problems that the Churches note with growing recognition within themselves and within the societies in which they live.

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