THE Archbishop of Canterbury and the Pope both spoke with the Primate of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Kirill, on Wednesday.
Their separate conversations, via video link, took place amid growing condemnation of the support that the Russian Patriarch has given to President Putin’s aggressive campaign against Ukraine.
In their conversation, Archbishop Welby urged Patriarch Kirill to speak publicly about the need for peace.
Each side has issued a short statement about the conversations, giving limited information about what was said. There appears to have been agreement about what the Lambeth Palace statement calls “a lasting peace based on justice”, but no details about what this might look like, or how it might be achieved.
In the Lambeth conversation, which lasted for 55 minutes, Archbishop Welby “expressed his grave concern about the war in Ukraine which he said is a great tragedy. He stressed the need for an end to the violence in Ukraine and said that war and violence is never an answer.
“The Archbishop said we need to find ways to live as neighbours in Europe without the aggression and human suffering which have been too much part of our life and history.”
Archbishop Welby spoke of the need to be “united in following the great call of Jesus Christ on his disciples to be peacemakers, to do what we can to enable politicians to do their work of establishing the freedom and rights of all people in Ukraine”. The statement goes on: “He appealed to His Holiness to join him in speaking for peace in public, and spoke of the need for a ceasefire.”
For its part, the Moscow Patriarchate acknowledged the “crisis” in Ukraine, and said: “His Holiness Patriarch Kirill set forth in detail the stand taken by the Russian Orthodox Church on the developments since 2014. They dealt with the humanitarian aspect of the crisis, including the church aid to refugees. His Holiness in particular stressed that each person should have the right to freely confess their faith and speak their mother tongue without being subjected to political persecution for it.
“The sides underscored the need to achieve as soon as possible a lasting peace based on justice and agreed to continue the interaction.”
There was a greater dissimilarity between the accounts of the conversation between Patriarch Kirill and Pope Francis. The Vatican pointed out that it took place in the context of an agreement between the two men, signed in Cuba in 2016, that deplored the violence that was then confined just to the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine.
Vatican NewsPope Francis and Cardinal Kurt Koch, President of the Pontifical Council for Christian Unity, in their video call with Patriarch Kirill and Metropolitan Hilarion
A joint statement at that time said: “We deplore the hostility in Ukraine that has already caused many victims, inflicted innumerable wounds on peaceful inhabitants and thrown society into a deep economic and humanitarian crisis. . . We invite our Churches in Ukraine to work towards social harmony, to refrain from taking part in the confrontation, and to not support any further development of the conflict.”
And it exhorted “all Christians and all believers of God to pray fervently to the providential Creator of the world to protect His creation from destruction and not permit a new world war.”
The Vatican account of Wednesday’s conversation quotes Pope Francis as saying: “Wars are always unjust, since it is the people of God who pay. Our hearts cannot but weep before the children and women killed, along with all the victims of war. War is never the way. The Spirit that unites us asks us as shepherds to help the peoples who suffer from war.”
The Moscow Patriarchate’s account is more measured: “Special attention was paid to the humanitarian aspects of the current crisis and the actions of the Russian Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic Church for overcoming its consequences.
“The parties underscored the utmost importance of the ongoing negotiation process, expressing the hope that a just peace would be achieved as soon as possible.”
Analysis: Talks with Patriarch Kirill