Catholic World News News Feature
Cardinal Kasper to Moscow for ecumenical talks June 20, 2005
Cardinal Walter Kasper, the president of the Pontifical Council for Christian Unity, is traveling to Moscow this week to meet with officials of the Moscow patriarchate.
A June 20 Vatican announcement indicated that Cardinal Kasper would be in Moscow June 20 -23, to speak with Russian Orthodox leaders "on the occasion of the solemn inauguration of the pontificate of Benedict XVI." His visit to Moscow will coincide with a visit by the secretary-general of the World Council of Churches, Rev. Samuel Kobia, who was in Rome last week.
Russian Orthodox Patriarch Alexei II has welcomed the statements by Pope Benedict XVI, affirming his commitment to ecumenical progress. In a June 14 interview with the Russian journal Russkaja Gazeta, Alexei said he is "optimistic" about the future of relations with the Holy See, adding that he hoped the Vatican was ready to remove obstacles to further dialogue. In the past the Russian prelate has persistently charged that Catholic leaders must renounce "proselytism" within countries that are predominantly Orthodox.
In a May 25 bid for new initiative on the ecumenical front, Cardinal Kasper suggested a "synod for reconciliation" between Catholic and Orthodox leaders. The German cardinal argued that the Catholic and Orthodox churches are "the heirs of the common European culture," and should joint to promote "values that are seriously threatened" both by the growth of secularism in western Europe and by the decades of atheistic propaganda under the Communist regimes of eastern Europe.
Relations between Moscow and Rome have been seriously troubled in recent years, with tensions reaching a peak in 2002 after the Vatican created four new Catholic dioceses on Russian soil. But in February 2004 Cardinal Kasper met with Patriarch Alexei in Moscow to re-start dialogue, and in August 2004 Pope John Paul II made a dramatic gesture by returning the cherished icon of Our Lady of Kazan to the Moscow patriarchate.
Asked about the prospects for substantive progress in ecumenical talks, an informed Vatican source said that "it depends on the response from all the Orthodox churches." The Vatican official said that Pope Benedict was making "generous" offers to start the dialogue, but it could not be done unilaterally.
In September, leaders of the different Orthodox churches will meet in Istanbul to discuss theological talks with the Catholic Church. Archbishop Giovanni Lajolo, the Vatican's top foreign-policy official, will also be in Istanbul early in September. He is expected to visit Moscow later in the fall.