OXFORD, England (CNS) — Applauding the election of Pope Francis, Orthodox leaders are stressing their hope for continued cooperation with the Catholic Church during his pontificate.
“As head of the Russian church, I greet the new pontiff’s desire to care for the poor and suffering. These ministries are now a priority for the Russian Orthodox Church, and they open up possibilities for cooperation and interaction,” said Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill of Moscow.
The patriarch also stressed that Orthodox Christians and Catholics should work together to defend fellow believers in countries where they are persecuted and to affirm traditional moral values in the modern world.
In a 15 March telegram, the patriarch said that, under Pope Benedict XVI, Catholic-Orthodox ties had gained a “new impetus” and “positive dynamics” that he hoped would continue in the new papacy.
He said the new pope’s namesake, St. Francis of Assisi, was revered among Orthodox Christians for his “sacrificial devotion” and “zealous preaching of the Gospel.”
Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk, chairman of the Russian Orthodox department for external church relations, did not rule out a possible meeting between Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill, but said such a meeting would depend primarily on how quickly the two churches are able to resolve recent administrative disagreements.
“Pope Francis has declared his spiritual affection for the Orthodox Church and wish for closer contacts more than once,” said Metropolitan Hilarion, who was to lead the Russian Orthodox delegation to the pope’s 19 March inauguration.
“Serving and protecting the poor and deprived are among the priorities for Christian churches today, and the Russian Orthodox Church attaches great importance to this mission. We think it will offer us a broad field for joint work with the Roman Catholic Church,” he said.
Catholic-Orthodox ties, long tense over Orthodox complaints of Catholic encroachments in the former Soviet Union, are widely believed to have improved after the April 2005 election of Pope Benedict XVI. Interchurch relations have been helped by growing mutual contacts and a declared readiness to cooperate in safeguarding moral and spiritual values in Europe.
Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople, spiritual leader of the world’s Orthodox Christians, planned to attend the inauguration of Pope Francis. According to the Vatican newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, he is the first patriarch of Constantinople to attend a papal installation since the Great Schism of 1054 separated Christianity between East and West.
While Patriarch Bartholomew did not attend the installation of Pope Benedict XVI in 2005, he was a frequent visitor to the Vatican during Pope Benedict’s pontificate.
Catholicos Karekin II, patriarch of the Armenian Apostolic Church, and Greek Orthodox Metropolitan Seraphim also will attend the inauguration along with at least 35 members of Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox delegations.
On 13 March, Patriarch Bartholomew said in a statement that he hoped Pope Francis’ papacy would be “a source of peace in a world of turmoil and division,” and “a continuation of our journey toward reconciliation and consolidation of the dialogue toward unity as sister churches.”
Romanian Orthodox Patriarch Daniel Ciobotea said he hoped Pope Francis would “support Romanian Orthodox believers living in large numbers” in Europe.
Pope Tawadros II of Alexandria, patriarch of the Coptic Orthodox Church, sent a congratulatory telegram to Pope Francis on 14 March, saying: “News of your election as head of the Catholic Church fills my heart with joy. I congratulate you and the cardinals wholeheartedly for this blessed choice.”