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Cyprus: setting for an ecumenical summit? October 01, 2009

Pope Benedict XVI will travel to Cyprus in June 2010. That announcement, made by Cypriot government officials on October 1, has triggered speculation about the possibility that a much more important announcement could follow.

Could Cyprus be the setting for a long-awaited "summit meeting" between the Roman Pontiff and the Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill?

Just two weeks have passed since Archbishop Hilarion, the top ecumenical-affairs officer of the Moscow patriachate, visited Rome. During his visit, Vatican officials spoke optimistically about arranging a meeting between Pope Benedict and the newly installed leader of the Russian Orthodox Church. Cardinal Walter Kasper-- who, as president of the Pontifical Council for Christian Unity, would coordinate plans for any such a summit-- disclosed that his Russian interlocutors "not refusing a meeting with the Pope."

If such a meeting did occur, however, Cardinal Kasper told reporters that it would not take place in Moscow or in Rome, but at some "neutral" location. Archbishop Hilarion had made a similar statement after talks in Rome in March 2007; the Russian prelate said that a "summit" meeting between the leaders of the world's two largest Christian churches would not be held in Russia or in Italy, but in some other country.

Shortly after Archbishop Hilarion made that statement in March 2007, the Vatican received a visit from the Orthodox Archbishop Chrysostom II of Cyprus, who told reporters that he was hoping to arrange the summit meeting, and offered Cyprus as a possible location. After his talks in Rome, Archbishop Chrysostom traveled to Moscow, hoping to persuade then-Patriarch Alexei II to agree to the meeting. He was evidently unsuccessful.

The death of Patriarch Alexei, and the succession of Patriarch Kirill-- who was, prior to his election, Archbishop Hilarion's predecessor as Moscow's top ecumenical official-- has given new life to the prospects of a meeting between the Pope and the Moscow Patriarch. And the visit by Archbishop Hilarion to Rome, followed quickly by the revelation that the Pope will travel to Cyprus, is spurring new hope that the meeting could take place in 2010.