Pope Meets Top Russian Orthodox Ecumenist

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Pope Benedict XVI met Sept. 29 with Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk, the chief ecumenist of the Russian Orthodox Church.

Held at the papal villa in Castel Gandolfo, it was the third meeting between the pope and the metropolitan. The Vatican press office announced the meeting, but did not provide details.

The Russian church official told Vatican Radio Sept. 29, “Whenever I meet with him I am encouraged by his spirit, by his courage and by his dedication to the life of the church worldwide.”

Metropolitan Hilarion also said he is impressed with the pope’s knowledge of Orthodox tradition and with how closely the pope follows the official Catholic- Orthodox theological dialogue.

Asked about the possibility of Pope Benedict XVI meeting Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill of Moscow — a meeting long hoped-for by the Vatican — he said, “We believe that such a meeting will take place sometime in the future. We are not yet ready to discuss the date or the place or the protocol of such a meeting, because what matters for us primarily is the content of this meeting.”

“It requires a very careful preparation, and we should not be hurrying up, and we should not be pressed to have this meeting at a particular point of time” said the metropolitan, responding to a suggestion that the meeting might take place in 2013 when the Serbian Orthodox Church hosts a major celebration marking the 1,700th anniversary of the Edict of Milan, which proclaimed religious freedom throughout the Roman Empire.

The website of the Russian Orthodox Church said Metropolitan Hilarion had met Sept. 28 with Swiss Cardinal Kurt Koch, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, and that, after meeting the pope, he would meet Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, Vatican secretary of state, and Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, president of the Pontifical Council for Culture.

The website said Metropolitan Hilarion and Cardinal Koch talked about joint efforts for “protecting Christians and overcoming Christianophobia” in places where they have come under attack, and they discussed the ongoing work of the international Catholic-Orthodox theological dialogue.

When Metropolitan Hilarion met Pope Benedict and top Vatican officials in May 2010 he indicated that relations were improving and said he hoped a meeting between a pope and a patriarch — a desire that Blessed John Paul II had nurtured for years — would finally happen during the pontificate of Pope Benedict and the patriarchate of Patriarch Kirill.

Retired Cardinal Jozef Tomko met Sept. 27 in Moscow with Patriarch Kirill at the end of a trip to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the consecration of the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in the Russian capital.

Cardinal Tomko told Vatican Radio Sept. 28, “There is greater trust” between the Catholic and Russian Orthodox Churches and a growing “desire to be closer and collaborate in a Christian way. This is a very positive spirit of ecumenical dialogue.”

He said he and the patriarch spoke about the need for greater evangelization efforts, ways to face the clergy shortage both churches are experiencing and about “the need for an authoritative voice to defend Christian ethics” in society.

Catholics and Orthodox, the cardinal said, “must work together to save the faith in society and promote the public dimension of religion, which is not just a private matter that has nothing to do with society.”

After leaving Rome, Metropolitan Hilarion, a composer, was scheduled to travel to Milan for a concert of Russian church music. Svetlana Medvedeva, wife of the Russian president, also was expected to attend the concert.

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