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Could Pope, Russian Patriarch meet in Finland? [exclusive]

Catholic World News - August 13, 2012

A long-awaited meeting between Pope Benedict XVI and Patriarch Kirill of Moscow could take place in Finland, Finnish Christian leaders believe.

In June, Patriarch Kirill met with three Christian leaders from Finland who were visiting Moscow: Archbishop Leo of the Finnish Autonomous Orthodox Church Archbishop Kari Mäkinen of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, and the Catholic Bishop Teemu Sippo of Helsinki. The three prelates brought an invitation for the Russian Patriarch to make an official visit to Finland. Archbishop Leo, the Finnish Orthodox leader, has indicated that he is confident the Russian Orthodox leader will accept the invitation.

Later, a newscast by Finland’s national Yle-Uutiset network quoted Vatican officials as suggesting that Finland could be an appropriate site for a “summit meeting” between the Pope and the Russian Patriarch. The report indicated that Bishop Sippo made that suggestion during his meeting with Patriarch Kirill in Moscow. Informed sources in both Catholic and Orthodox circles in Helsinki have confirmed the accuracy of the news story.

Three days after their visit to Moscow, the three Finnish religious leaders were in Rome to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the diplomatic relations between the Holy See and Finland. Thus they had an opportunity to exchange thoughts with officials in Rome about the possibility of a summit meeting, and the reactions to that proposal from Orthodox officials in Moscow.

Vatican officials have sought for years to arrange a meeting between the Roman Pontiff and the Patriarch of Moscow. To date all proposals for such a meeting have eventually foundered on demands from the Russian Orthodox Church that the Vatican fulfill certain preconditions for the summit meeting: renouncing “proselytism” in Russia and curbing the work of the Eastern Catholic churches in what Moscow regards as the “canonical territory” of the Orthodox patriarchate. Nevertheless, efforts to arrange a summit meeting have continued.

With a marked improvement in relations between Rome and Moscow during the pontificate of Benedict XVI, many observers judge the chances for a summit meeting have improved as well. A papal visit to Moscow may be unlikely for political as well as ecclesiastical reasons. But Finland could furnish the opportunity for a meeting on neutral grounds.

During his June meeting with the Finnish Church leaders, Patriarch Kirill spoke of the long, friendly relations between the Christian communities of Finland and Russia. He also emphasized the importance of forming a united Christian witness in public life.

No dates have been suggested for a summit meeting, and there has not, as yet, been any substantial discussion of a papal trip to Finland. Only one Roman Pontiff has ever visited Finland: Blessed John Paul II in 1989.

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