06/11/2019, 15.17
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Putin to talk with the Pope about Ukraine

by Vladimir Rozanskij

Observers think the two will also discuss Syria, the Middle East, including Jerusalem, and perhaps even Venezuela. The Vatican is the only door truly open to Putin in the West. the Russian leader seeks a "Holy Alliance" between the Catholic Church and Russia against the "moral decay" of contemporary society. But no visit to Moscow is in the cards for the pontiff. The Synod of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church is a source of concerns.

Moscow (AsiaNews) – The Vatican Press Office recently announced that Russian President Vladimir Putin will make a state visit to Pope Francis on 4 July. Coming at a very delicate moment in East-West relations and within Orthodoxy, the meeting raises questions in public opinion about its contents.

The coming visit will be Putin's third meeting with Pope Francis since his pontificate began six years ago. It will be the first since the 2016 meeting in Havana between the Pope of Rome and the Patriarch of Moscow Kirill (Gundyayev), which inaugurated a new phase of great harmony between the leaders of the Catholic Church and Russia.

Many observers believe that the situation in Ukraine, Syria, the Middle East, including Jerusalem, and possibly Venezuela will be among the issues Putin and Francis will discuss.

The Russian president has repeatedly expressed his high regards for Pope Francis as one of the most influential international figures for his great moral authority, and for the Vatican’s overture towards Russia, at a time of hostilities, mutual closures, sanctions and threats.

The Russian president was not invited to the recent D-Day celebrations, commemorating the Normandy landings by the Western opponents of Nazism, of which Soviet Russia was the main ally in the East.

The main Western political leaders also snubbed the great St Petersburg Economic Forum, accentuating Putin’s sense of marginalisation. It was just a year ago that he solemnly opened the World Cup of football in Russia, hoping to improve his international image. The Vatican therefore appears to be the only door truly open to him in the West.

Russia has long sought, through its patriarch Kirill and with the support of its political class starting with Putin himself, a "Holy Alliance" between the Catholic Church and Russia against the "moral decay" of contemporary society, to save Europe and its Christian roots.

Since the meeting in Cuba, Catholics and Orthodox have actively worked together in cultural exchanges, and in humanitarian action on behalf of Christians and war refugees in the Middle East, especially in Syria, a tormented nation that was left to the Russians, with the Pope's blessing.

Since the time of Boris Yeltsin, the issue of a papal visit to Russia has always been on the agenda whenever popes and Russian presidents met, eliciting automatic denials from the Patriarchate of Moscow, according to whom “the time is not ripe", echoed by similar statements from the Vatican.

Yet, Francis’s recent visits to Orthodox countries like Bulgaria and Romania, where he showed great interest and affection for the problems of their peoples and their Churches, which are very close to Russia’s, are signs that the "maturation process" might soon lead to a trip to Moscow.

Putin's last visit to Rome, in 2015, was followed by the historic meeting in Havana, and so there could be a surprise this time as well. In Havana Francis and Kirill issued a joint appeal for peace in Ukraine, without naming the guilty or defending victims, calling instead on Ukrainians to "overcome divisions".

By contrast, the recent schism caused by the autocephaly of the Church of Kyiv, has put the Cuban declaration to the test. Putin will certainly try to make sure that the Pope does not recognise the new Church, despite the favourable views of Greek Ukrainian Catholics who are closer to Epiphanius of Kyiv than Kirill of Moscow.

Putin knows that this year the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Synod will be held in Rome in early September.  By canonising Catholic martyrs of communism in Romania, Francis urged local Greek Catholics to help bring Eastern and Western Christianity closer together, something that is even more urgent in the Ukraine.

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