Orthodox say pope-patriarch meeting not an 'all-clear' sign

By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Russian Orthodox officials said the
planned meeting between Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill of Moscow is not a
signal that decades of tension have been resolved, but emphasizes the need to
work together on behalf of persecuted Christians in the Middle East.

As the Vatican was announcing the Feb. 12 date for the
meeting of the pope and patriarch in Cuba, the Russian Orthodox also held a
news conference to speak about it.

Russian Orthodox Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk,
director of foreign relations for the Moscow Patriarchate, told reporters the
activity of the Ukrainian Catholics that prevented the Russian Orthodox from
agreeing to a meeting in the past is still a problem today.

In a statement on the website of Metropolitan
Hilarion’s office, he referred to the Ukrainian Catholics with the pejorative
term “uniates,” and said, “Regrettably, the problem of the uniates
is still there, with uniatism remaining a never-healing, bloody wound that
prevents the full normalization of relations between the two churches.”

At Orthodox urging, the Catholic Church rejected
“uniatism” — the uniting of a segment of an Orthodox Church with
Rome — as a model for future Catholic-Orthodox union, but at the same time it
affirmed the authenticity of Eastern Catholic churches formed in the past under
such a model.

Metropolitan Hilarion said that despite Orthodox
reservations about the Eastern Catholic churches, with the serious problem of
religious persecution of Christians in the Middle East calling for action on
the part of all Christians worldwide, “urgent measures and closer
cooperation” are necessary. “In the present tragic situation, it is
necessary to put aside internal disagreements and unite efforts for saving
Christianity in the regions where it is subjected to the most severe

As for the choice of Havana, Metropolitan Hilarion recalled
that in the late 1990s serious efforts were made to arrange a meeting in Vienna
between St. John Paul and then-Patriarch Alexy II of Moscow; the meeting never

In the current discussions, the metropolitan said, “Patriarch
Kirill, from the very beginning, did not want it to take place in Europe, since
it is with Europe that the grave history of divisions and conflicts between
Christians is associated. The coincidence of the date of Patriarch Kirill’s
visit to Latin American countries with that of the pope of Rome’s visit to
Mexico has become an opportunity for holding the meeting in the New World, and
we hope that it will open a new page in the relations between the two churches.”

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Follow Wooden on Twitter: @Cindy_Wooden.

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