Pope to Meet with Russian Patriarch

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — While a meeting between a pope and a Russian Orthodox patriarch is still only a future hope, the Vatican and the Russian Orthodox Church hope to draw closer by focusing on culture and spirituality.

“Official representatives of the Russian Orthodox Church have never ruled out the possibility of a meeting between the patriarch and the pope,” said Father Filipp Vassiltsev, secretary of the administrator of Russian Orthodox parishes in Italy.

However, the meeting must not be a formal ceremony “just for video cameras and journalists, but must be a significant event for both the Orthodox Church and the Catholic Church,” he said. For that reason, he said, “a meeting of this kind must be well prepared.”

The Russian Orthodox official, who is also pastor of Rome’s St.Catherine of Alexandria Church, made his comments during a Vatican news conference May 7.

Father Vassiltsev and top officials from the Pontifical Council for Culture — Archbishop Gianfranco Ravasi and Msgr. Pasquale Iacobone — held the news conference to announce details of a weeklong series of events throughout Italy sponsored by the Moscow Patriarchate of the Russian Orthodox Church.

Metropolitan Hilarion, president of the Moscow Patriarchate’s Department for External Church Relations and, therefore, the Russian Orthodox official in charge of relations with the Vatican, will take part in the events May 14-20 in Turin, Ravenna, Milan, Bologna, Rome and the Vatican.

The events include a special concert at the Vatican May 20, which is the Russian Orthodox Church’s gift to Pope Benedict XVI in honor of his 83rd birthday, which was April 16. During the concert, Metropolitan Hilarion will read a letter addressed to the pope from Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill.

The concert will feature Russia’s renowned national orchestra directed by Italian conductor Carlo Ponte, the Moscow Synodal Choir and the Horn Orchestra of Russia.

Archbishop Ravasi praised the initiative and said relations with the Russian Orthodox have been “very warm and very friendly.”

Artistic events such as those planned in May “remind us how we can deepen this union between spirituality and culture” and build bridges between the churches of the East and West, he said.

Msgr. Iacobone said the council has worked with Metropolitan Hilarion in the past on cultural initiatives and exchanges, which has resulted in a solid friendship and close understanding “that today I believe, is starting to bear some fruit.”

The concert for the pope as well as a May 19 symposium and a Vatican news conference with Metropolitan Hilarion, Archbishop Ravasi and Cardinal Walter Kasper of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, all represent “an important moment” in ecumenical dialogue, said the monsignor.

Dialogue and communion with the Russian Orthodox Church have been marked by “small, but significant steps which are building and are marking a development — a revolution — perhaps unthinkable up until a few years ago,” he said.

He said that by “focusing on culture, the great values and art”and with the help of God, the two churches hope to draw closer to each other.

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