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Vatican casts doubt on papal meeting with Patriarch Kirill

19 August 2022


The Deputy Commander-in-Chief of the Russian Aerospace Forces, Sergei Dronov, at events dedicated to the 110th anniversary of the formation of the Russian Air Force in the Military-Patriotic Park of Culture and Recreation of the Russian Armed Forces, Moscow, last Friday

The Deputy Commander-in-Chief of the Russian Aerospace Forces, Sergei Dronov, at events dedicated to the 110th anniversary of the formation of the Rus...

A SENIOR Vatican official, Cardinal Kurt Koch, has raised doubts about a possible mid-September meeting between the Pope and Patriarch Kirill of Moscow (News, 5 August). This week, while Ukrainian officials spoke of the continuing destruction of churches across their country, Russian military officers received awards for heroism at an Orthodox service in Moscow.

“A meeting would make sense if a clear common position was worked out, so that this pointless and cruel war would finally end,” Cardinal Koch, President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, said.

“Our bilateral relations are now tainted, however, by Patriarch Kirill’s stance on the war in Ukraine, and our positions are very different. It’s quite clear to the Catholic Church that war is never a solution — it only creates greater problems, with numerous victims and refugees and consequences in the further contamination of creation and world hunger. The Holy See’s position is therefore clear — war is a false path — whereas Patriarch Kirill is convinced war is the right way.”

The Swiss cardinal spoke amid speculation that the Pope would hold talks with Kirill when they attend a Congress of Leaders of World and Traditional Religions, in Kazakhstan, from 13 to 15 September.

Interviewed by the German Catholic News Agency (KNA), Cardinal Koch said that he hoped that “reconciliation and unity” would be highlighted at the World Council of Churches Assembly in Karlsruhe, which begins on 31 August (News, 20 May and 21 June). Nothing could be achieved without sustained “dialogues, discussions and relationships”, he said.

The Russian Patriarch’s position had, however, “caused great tension within the Orthodox Church”, Cardinal Koch said; the Vatican itself no longer maintained “any theological dialogue” with Moscow. It would, therefore, be “viewed as very troubling” if the Pope met Kirill before visiting Ukraine.

The comments were published as fierce fighting continued in eastern and southern Ukraine. The Ukrainian President, Volodymyr Zelensky, accused Russia of “nuclear blackmail” by turning Europe’s largest nuclear plant at Zaporizhzhia into a base for striking at towns near by.

During a phone conversation on 12 August, their third since the Russian invasion on 24 February, President Zelensky’s office reports that he told the Pope that Ukrainians needed support from “world spiritual leaders” in truthfully relaying the “horrors committed by the aggressor” against Ukraine.

In remarks to an Italian journalist, the Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, said that the Pope, who had invoked “mercy and pity for the martyred Ukrainian people” during an address in Rome on Sunday, still hoped to visit both Moscow and Kiyv with the intention of ending the war. He hoped that “some ray of hope will open” to make both visits possible.

In a ceremony in the main cathedral of the Russian Armed Forces, the Cathedral of the Resurrection, Moscow, on Saturday, awards were presented to dozens of Russian military personnel for “courage and heroism” shown in Ukraine “during the special military operation”.

Speaking at the service, during which seven pilots were declared “Heroes of Russia”, two posthumously, the Air Force commander, Lieut. Gen. Sergei Dronov, said that military equipment used to “destroy Ukrainian nationalists” had shown “high efficiency and reliability”. This was widely seen as an attempt to bolster morale in the face of heavy Russian losses.

An armed-forces liturgy was celebrated later at the 6000-seat cathedral. This was dedicated with state funding in June 2020, by the new head of the Russian Orthodox Synod’s new Armed Forces Liaison Department, Fr Oleg Ovcharov.

The Culture and Information Ministry of Ukraine reported last week that 162 mostly Orthodox places of worship had so far been destroyed in the six-month war. It rebutted Russian Defence Ministry claims that Ukrainian troops had used churches as vantage points for heavy artillery and multi-launch rocket systems.

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