00 9/16/2009 12:07 AM

Orthodox prelate's visit to Rome
showcases improving relations

Vatican City, Sep 15, 2009 (CNA) - The Russian Orthodox and the Roman Catholic Churches have improved relations under Pope Benedict XVI, and in a sign of a growing closeness, the Vatican announced today that Archbishop Hilarion (Alfeyev), the Russian Orthodox head of External Church Affairs, is paying his first visit to Rome.

From left: Photo on the banner of the bishop's personal website; Hilarion with the late Patriarch Alexei (center) and current Patriarch Kirill (left); photo on the bishop's Facebook page.

Archbishop Hilarion of Volokolamsk is visiting Rome at the invitation of Cardinal Walter Kasper, the president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity. His trip began today and will last until September 20.

Archbishop Hilarion's post was previously filled by then-Archbishop Kirill, who was elected the Patriarch of Moscow and all Russia this past January.

This week's visit to Rome will be Archbishop Hilarion's first, since he was appointed as president of the Department for External Church Affairs of the Patriarchate of Moscow after the selection of Kirill.

The archbishop will be received by the Holy Father and will meet, among others, Cardinal Secretary of State Tarcisio Bertone; Cardinal Walter Kasper; Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, prefect of the Congregation for the Oriental Churches, and Archbishop Gianfranco Ravasi, president of the Pontifical Council for Culture.

"In the wake of the many meetings and conversations with the Patriarch in the past," says a statement issued by the Council for Christian Unity, "this visit will confirm the ties of friendship between the Catholic Church and the Russian Orthodox Church, on the solid basis of mutual understanding and respect, with a view to closer collaboration and to favor the presence of the Church in the lives of the peoples of Europe and the world."

At a meeting with the ambassador from the Dominican Republic to Russia, Archbishop Hilarion said that relations between the two Churches are good and have particularly improved under Pope Benedict.

“We have frank and rather efficient dialogue and its objective is to present the Christian vision to our present world and give answers to the questions raised by today’s reality,” the Orthodox archbishop said according to Interfax news agency.

NB: Bishop Hilarion is relatively young (born 1966), and studied piano, violin and composition in the conservatory before he went on to priesthood. From 2002 until he was appointed to his present position, he was the Russian orthodox representative to European institutions and was based in Vienna. At least two of his compositions, St. Matthew's Passion and Christmas Oratorio, have been performed in Rome.


I'll post the following as a post-script to the above.

I know it's good form - and protocol - to be optimistic in official statements that have to do with improving relations between two parties, but it's the 'positive' equivalent of 'crying wolf' - you can't keep saying it for months and years - without any appreciable progress - and expect not to elicit "Ho-hum" as a reaction.

But maybe Patriarch Kirill will make a difference this time - I can't see what objection he could have to meeting in a third country.

Vatican sees end to tensions
with Russian Orthodox


VATICAN CITY, Sept, 17 (AP) – Relations with the Russian Orthodox church have vastly improved, possibly paving the way for a papal visit to Moscow or a historic meeting between the Pope and the Orthodox patriarch outside of Russia or the Vatican, a senior Vatican cardinal said Thursday.

Cardinal Walter Kasper told Vatican Radio "we have overcome all the tensions in recent years."

He spoke after meeting with Archbishop Hilarion, head of external relations for the Moscow patriarch's office. Hilarion is scheduled to meet Friday with Pope Benedict XVI.

Kasper said "yes" when asked if a trip to Moscow was a "little bit closer" but said that was not on the agenda for the moment.

More likely was a meeting between Benedict and Patriarch Kirill in another country.

"They are not refusing a meeting with Pope: this will probably not take place in Moscow or Rome but in a third location," Kasper said.

The previous Pontiff, John Paul II, was frustrated in his efforts to visit Moscow, a trip that would be seen as an important sign that differences between Roman Catholicism and Orthodox Christianity were being narrowed.

The Moscow church blocked any visit, accusing the Vatican of poaching for converts in Russia and other traditionally Orthodox lands of the former Soviet Union. The Vatican always denied the charge.

Kasper said the two churches plan to resume theological talks soon in Cyprus. [NB: The theological talks involve not only the Russian Orthodox but all the other Orthodox Churches.]

As part of signs of an improving climate, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev told Italian reporters in July that Moscow wants to improve its ties with the Vatican.

[Edited by TERESA BENEDETTA 2/13/2010 4:33 PM]