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Hot (but speculative) rumor: Pope to meet Russian Patriarch next month?

By Phil Lawler (bio - articles - email) | Jan 26, 2016

The veteran Vatican-watcher Sandro Magister of L’Espresso has gone out on a limb to suggest that Pope Francis could meet with Patriarch Kirill of Moscow next month.

There has never been a face-to-face meeting between a Roman Pontiff and a Russian Orthodox Patriarch. Nor has there been any recent public discussion of plans for such a summit meeting. But in this case, Magister reasons, that silence could itself be suggestive: an indication that both sides are interested in real action rather than public posturing.

During the pontificate of St. John Paul II, there were frequent public discussion about a visit to Moscow. But each time a practical proposal emerged, the Moscow patriarchate would announce that the meeting could not take place until the Vatican acceded to certain demands from the Russian Orthodox side. Under Pope Francis there have been no rumors about a trip to Russia, and so there have been no Russian statements to shoot down the rumors. Pope Francis has merely that he would like to meet with Patriarch Kirill. In his words: “I told Kirill: ‘I’ll go wherever you want; you call me and I’ll come.’”

That statement could be interpreted to indicate the Pope’s interest in arranging a meeting that would take place on neutral territory: not expecting the Russian Orthodox leader to make a pilgrimage to Rome, nor forcing the Roman Pontiff to travel to Moscow. If that’s the case, it’s interesting that in February, both will be abroad: Pope Francis visiting Mexico, Patriarch Kirill in Cuba.

There is, again, no overt evidence to show that a summit meeting is being planned. But as Magister points out, Francis is “the Pope of surprises,” and Kirill has been shaking up the Moscow patriarchate, evidently determined to put his own stamp on the leadership of the world’s largest Orthodox body. Lesser prelates in both Rome and Moscow could no doubt think of many reasons why a meeting now would be imprudent But both men have shown a penchant for making a dramatic gesture, and letting the bureaucracy sort things out later.

Phil Lawler has been a Catholic journalist for more than 30 years. He has edited several Catholic magazines and written eight books. Founder of Catholic World News, he is the news director and lead analyst at CatholicCulture.org. See full bio.

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