Change of Course?

- by Dr. Robert Moynihan, Inside the Vatican

VATICAN CITY, Wednesday, April 27, 2005 -- Will the "miracle" actually occur? Will the long-postponed dream of the late Pope John Paul II to improve relations with the Orthodox in order to allow Europe to "breathe with two lungs" (the Latin West and the Greek East) now become a reality after his death?

Vatican watchers are seriously pondering these questions following a series of dramatic statements from Russia, and from the Orthodox world in general, suggesting that the arrival on the scene of Pope Benedict XVI may be a catalyst for quick and real progress in the relations between the Orthodox and Catholic Churches.

The latest statements came from Russian Orthodox Patriarch Alexi, who expressed willingness to meet with Benedict XVI.
Here are news reports from Russia on the latest developments.


Article #1

Russian patriarch wants improved relations with Vatican.
27 April 2005; 06:20 am
(c) 2005 Interfax Information Services, B.V.

MOSCOW. April 27 (Interfax) - Patriarch Alexy II of Moscow and All Russia has praised the new pope's personal qualities and said he hopes that the pope will make a maximum effort to improve relations with the Russian Orthodox Church.

"Pope Benedict XVI enjoys great authority, has a broad outlook and a powerful intellect, and is fearlessly defending traditional Christian values from the people who are trying to depart from them, trample them underfoot or disparage them. This has won the new pope respect in the Christian world, including in the Orthodox Church," Alexy II said in an interview published by Kommersant on Wednesday.

Alexy II acknowledged that Orthodox believers and Catholics have theological disagreements, however, he also pointed out that their positions are similar on many of the key present-day problems.

"I sincerely hope that Pope Benedict XVI will do everything possible to improve relations with the Russian Orthodox Church," he said, adding that the new pope is definitely well informed about the problems complicating relations between the two churches.

The Russian patriarch said that the new pope's desire to improve relations with all Christian confessions "inspires the hope that an Orthodox-Catholic dialogue will be developed."

Asked whether a meeting with the new pope is possible, the Russian patriarch said that it would depend on whether the Vatican will adjust its policy regarding the Russian Orthodox Church.

Article #2

27 April 2005; 03:05 pm
(c) 2005 ANSA.

(ANSA) - Moscow, April 27 - The leader of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Alexei II, has said he will meet Benedict XVI if the new pope shows enough determination and tact in seeking better relations.

In an interview published on Wednesday, the Moscow patriarch expressed a basically positive attitude to the new leader of the Catholic Church, again hinting there was hope of a thaw in relations between the two churches.

Alexei told Moscow daily Kommersant that Benedict had a "powerful intellect" and he praised the pontiff's record for strenuously defending traditional Christian values.

"The entire Christian world, including the Orthodox one, respects him. Without doubt theological differences exist," he said. "But as far as his views on modern society, secularisation and religious relativism are concerned, our
points of view are very similar."

The Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church have been divided since the Great Schism of 1054. Benedict's predecessor sought to bring the two halves of Christianity closer together and, with visits to Orthodox Romania and Greece, made some progress.

But his longed for visit to Russia never happened. Despite his best efforts, John Paul never managed to obtain an invitation to visit Moscow, the centre of the Russian Orthodox Church.

Alexei II resolutely resisted the Vatican's overtures and continued to accuse the Catholic Church of proselytising, or trying to poach believers in Russia and the former Soviet Union.

"My meeting with the new representative of the Roman Catholic Church will depend on his approach to the Russian Orthodox Church, on how much willingness, wisdom and tact he shows in attempting to resolve the existing problems," he told Kommersant.

"If it happens, our meeting must demonstrate to Christians and to the whole world that our relations have changed for the better, that the difficulties of recent years have been overcome."

The patriarch again drew attention to "proselytism" in Russia and Ukraine and called on Benedict to do "everything in his power to improve relations with the Russian Orthodox Church."

Article #3

Russian Catholics to perform pilgrimage to John Paul II's grave.
27 April 2005; 04:16 am
(c) 2005 Interfax Information Services, B.V.

MOSCOW. April 27 (Interfax) - A small group of Russian Catholics will go to Rome in mid-May to visit the St. Peter Basilica and the grave of the late Pope John Paul II in the Vatican.

"Unfortunately, for quite understandable reasons, only a few people from Russia managed to bid farewell to our dear pope during his funeral on April 8," head of Russian Catholics Archbishop Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz told Interfax on Tuesday.

People are so eager to pay tribute to the late pope that they themselves have asked the Catholic Church's office in Russia to organize this pilgrimage, Kondrusiewicz said.

The archbishop said he hopes that the first group will be followed by other pilgrims.

Article #4

Rssn Metropolitan sees some prospects for relations with Vatican, by Olga Levitskaya, Oleg Osipov.
6 April 2005
(c) 2005 ITAR-TASS

ROME, April 26 (Itar-Tass) - Chairman of Moscow Patriarchate's department for external relations, Metropolitan Cyril of Smolensk and Kaliningrad, said in an exclusive interview with Itar-Tass Tuesday he could see some prospects for relationship between the Russian Church and the Vatican.

He said it in the aftermath of Monday's meeting with Pope Benedict XVI. "Both sides have shown readiness to develop relations," Metropolitan Cyril said shortly before departure from Rome.

"We recalled such readiness had been displayed during the previous pontificate as well," he said.

"The most important thing is we managed to get an improvement in their [Vatican's] stance on the situation in Russia and Ukraine," Metropolitan Cyril said.

Benedict XVI and His Beatitude Cyril know each other fairly well since the mid-1970's.

"The first time I met Joseph Ratzinger [the Pope's name before pontificate] was in 1974, and he impressed me then as a profound person, expansively knowledgeable in theology and simple in communications at the same time," Metropolitan Cyril said.

"You can discuss any problems with him, and I had a chance to see yesterday he hasn't changed a bit during the past thirty years," he said.

"Benedict XVI remains open for a dialogue," Metropolitan Cyril said. In the meantime, Patriarch of Moscow and all Russia Alexy II said Monday a papal visit to Russia was hardly on the cards in the near future.

As he addressed a news conference in Moscow, he also said he could not project future relationship with the Vatican clearly.

Alexy II indicated the Russian Orthodox Church expects the Holy See to take steps towards eliminating the factors that Moscow Patriarchate finds troublesome.

These include Catholic proselytism inside Russia and on the territories where the population has traditionally espoused Eastern Orthodoxy, the attempts to establish four dioceses on Russia's territory, the eastwards expansionism of Greek Catholics [also known as Catholics of the Eastern rite] in Ukraine, and huge imbalances of rights that the latter faction of the Latin Church and Russian Orthodox communities have in western Ukraine.

Article #5

Roman Catholic, Russia Orthodox Churches should cooperate -- Pope, by Olga Kostromina
26 April 2005
(c) 2005 ITAR-TASS

MOSCOW, April 26 (Itar-Tass) - The Roman Catholic and Russian Orthodox Churches must develop cooperation, Pope Benedict XVI said on Monday during the talks with Metropolitan Kirill of Smolensk and Kaliningrad, who headed the Moscow Patriarchate delegation for the pope enthroning ceremony.

The pope expressed confidence the two Churches should together defend common Christian values in Europe's life at present.

The importance to settle the problems in relations between the Vatican and the Russian Orthodox Church was emphasised during the meeting.

The pope also noted the importance of the theological and liturgical tradition of the Orthodox East and expressed his respect for the mission and pastor service of the Russian Orthodox Church.

In the Apostolic Palace, Benedict XVI received delegations of Christian Churches and other denominations.

Metropolitan Kirill conveyed to the pope congratulations and greetings from Patriarch Alexy of Moscow and All Russia.

Archbishop Mitrofan of Pereyaslavl-Khmelnitsky greeted Benedict XVI on behalf of Metropolitan Vladimir of Kiev and All Ukraine.

Delegations of Christian denominations that participated in the enthroning ceremony also attended the evening service led by the pope.

Article #6

Orthodox, Catholic churches approaching new relations - Russian church figure
26 April 2005; 05:13 pm
(c) 2005 Interfax Information Services, B.V.

MOSCOW. April 26 (Interfax) - The Russian Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches have possibly reached the threshold of a new stage in their relations.

"All the prerequisites are available to overcome problems that have cropped up between our churches in recent years," Metropolitan Kirill of Smolensk and Kaliningrad, who heads the Moscow Patriarchate's foreign relations department, told Interfax after a visit to the Vatican and talks with the new pope.

He said Pope Benedict XVI had made a good impression on him. "The tonality of our talks suggested that the pope's attitude to further relations with the Russian Orthodox Church is positive, and that he is prepared to put forth maximum efforts to ensure the earliest possible positive
settlement of our problems and prevent new ones from arising," said Metropolitan Kirill.

Article #7

Pope Benedict XVI sends brotherly greetings to Alexy II
26 April 2005; 01:25 pm
(c) 2005 Interfax Information Services, B.V.

VATICAN/MOSCOW. April 26 (Interfax) - Pope Benedict XVI sent brotherly greetings to Patriarch Alexy II of Moscow and All Russia at a meeting with Metropolitan Kirill of Smolensk and Kaliningrad in the Vatican on Monday evening.

Metropolitan Kirill headed a Russian Orthodox Church delegation at the pontiff's enthronement ceremony, the Moscow Patriarchate's external relations department said in a statement on Tuesday.

The pope "expressed his agreement that there is the need for the two Churches to develop cooperation in defending common Christian values in the affairs of contemporary Europe," it said.

Benedict XVI especially emphasized the importance of the Orthodox East's theological and liturgical tradition and expressed his respect for the Russian Orthodox Church's mission and pastoral service, it says.

Article #8

Russian top clergyman says ready to improve relations with Vatican
26 April 2005; 09:21 am
(c) 2005 The British Broadcasting Corporation. All Rights Reserved. No material may be reproduced except with the express permission of The British Broadcasting Corporation.

The following is the text of a report by Russian TV on April 26/05

[Presenter] The first meeting between a representative of the Russian Orthodox Church with the new pontiff has taken place in the Vatican. Kirill, metropolitan of Smolensk and Kaliningrad, head of the foreign relations department of the Russian Orthodox Church, congratulated Benedict XVI on his election and conveyed good wishes from Aleksiy II, patriarch of Moscow and All Russia. Interviewed before leaving for Moscow, Metropolitan Kirill said that both the Russian Orthodox Church and the
Vatican are now ready for dialogue.

[Kirill] I believe that a very good foundation has been laid down now. Both sides are ready to develop relations. We have stressed more than once that we were ready for this at the time of the previous pontiff too. The main thing is
to ensure that we attain real changes for the better in Russia and Ukraine.

Source: RTR Russia TV, Moscow, in Russian 1300 gmt 26 Apr 05