Ukrainian Catholics don't expect much from pope-patriarch meeting

IMAGE: CNS photo/Alexandre Meneghini, Reuters

By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Ukrainian Catholic leaders gave a very
cautious welcome to news that Pope Francis would meet in Cuba with Russian
Orthodox Patriarch Kirill of Moscow.

“I do not expect that the meeting of Pope Francis with
Patriarch Kirill, planned for Feb. 12, will bring any particular changes.
Although it is good that the meeting will take place,” said Ukrainian
Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk
of Kiev-Halych, the major archbishop of the church.

“I am pleased,” the archbishop said, that “we
are no longer considered an obstacle and aren’t being used to justify one’s
unwillingness to engage in such dialogue.”

Although both St. John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI
expressed hopes for a meeting with the Moscow patriarch, the Russian Orthodox
insisted the activity of the Ukrainian Catholics and of Latin-rite Catholics in
Russia amounted to “proselytism” and was an obstacle to such a

Russian Orthodox Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk, director of foreign
relations for the Moscow Patriarchate, told reporters Feb. 5 that the presence
and activity of the Ukrainian Catholics were still an obstacle to fully normal church
relations; he insisted that Patriarch Kirill agreed to meet the pope because
finding a common way to help persecuted Christians in the Middle East is a more
pressing matter.

Pope Francis, in an interview published Feb. 8 in an Italian
paper, when asked about the meeting, said, “Bridges. They must be
constructed step by step until you are able to shake the hand of the person on
the other side.”

“Bridges last and promote peace,” the pope told
the newspaper Corriere della Sera. Walls not only divide people, but they must
be defended, which takes energy. “For this reason, they need to be taken
down, not built. Anyway,
they are destined to fall, one after another. Think of the Berlin Wall. It
seemed eternal and yet, poof,
in a day it fell.”

Pope Francis insisted he did little to make the meeting happen.
“I just said that I wanted to meet and embrace my Orthodox brothers. Just
that. Then there were two years of secret negotiations, conducted well by great
bishops,” he said.

Father Hyacinthe Destivelle, the official of the Pontifical Council for
Promoting Christian Unity who did much of the work on the Vatican side to
prepare the meeting, told Vatican Radio it was the culmination of much work,
but also is a “point of departure in our relations to the degree that from
now on we can have a normal relationship based on trust.”

The two years of negotiations to set up the meeting were
accompanied by another complicating factor: The Russian annexation of Crimea
from Ukraine in 2014 and the ongoing war in Eastern Ukraine, which naturally
create further tensions between Ukrainian Catholics and Russian Orthodox.

“It is likely that during the meeting of the pope with the patriarch
they will also speak of the present situation in Ukraine,” Archbishop
Shevchuk said in his statement. “I hope that His Holiness Pope Francis,
who always raises his voice in defense of the wronged, will be a voice for
Ukrainians, who are engaged in a battle for the unity and integrity of their

Peter Galadza, acting director of the Sheptytsky Institute at St. Paul University in
Ottawa, Ontario, issued a statement Feb. 5 expressing his hope that the pope not only
would raise the issue of Russian aggression against Ukraine, but also the
support some Russian Orthodox leaders have given to “the notion of a
‘Russian World'” or “Russkiy
Mir,” which sees the entire former Soviet Union as an area needing
the special protection of Russia. Father Galadza said the notion “has
hampered inter-ethnic harmony and understanding” and “evokes the
Russification policies of the USSR.”

Father Destivelle, who is helping draft a joint statement
for the pope and patriarch to sign, said it is likely to focus on “areas
for collaboration and dialogue, which do not have a theological character but
are important for the churches to draw closer together,” including joint
efforts on behalf of persecuted Christians in the Middle East, protecting the
family and the role of Christians in secularized societies.

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