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New hints of movement toward Vatican-Moscow 'summit'

Catholic World News - December 02, 2009

On the eve of a meeting between Pope Benedict XVI and Russia’s President Dmitri Medvedev, there are new signs of substantial progress in relations between the Holy See and the Orthodox Patriarchate of Moscow, and hint that a “summit” meeting between the Pope and Russian Patriarch Kirill might be under discussion. The Russian Orthodox Patriarchate of Moscow has published a collection of speeches by Pope Benedict XVI, and a government official in Belarus has suggested that his country might be an appropriate place for the much-anticipated ecumenical summit.

The new book produced by the Moscow patriarchate, Europe Spiritual Homeland, is a collection of talks by Pope Benedict over the past decade—both before and after his election as Roman Pontiff—addressing the spiritual crisis in Europe. The book, published in Italian and Russian, carries an introduction by Archbishop Hilarion, the chief ecumenical officer of the Russian Orthodox Church.

Since the January election of Kirill to succeed Alexei II as Patriarch of Moscow, ecumenical contacts with the Vatican have increased dramatically. The new Russian Patriarch has strong personal ties with Pope Benedict; he met with the Pontiff on three different occasions while serving as the chief ecumenical official for the Moscow patriarchate. Patriarch Kirill has expressed a keen interest in cooperating with the Catholic Church, especially in the struggle against secularism in Europe: the topic of the new collection of papal speeches. On the same day’s a the book’s introduction, the director of religious affairs for the government of Belarus told reporters that his country might be an ideal location for a meeting between Pope Benedict and Patriarch Kirill. At a press conference in Minsk, Leonid Gulyako said that relations between the Orthodox and Catholic churches have always been warm in Belarus. The country’s President Alexander Lukashenko had issued an invitation for Pope Benedict to visit Belarus during an April meeting at the Vatican.

Although there has been no public discussion of any plan for a meeting between the Pope and the Russian Patriarch, officials of both the Vatican and the Moscow patriarchate have suggested in the past that such a meeting would probably take place neither in Rome nor in Moscow but at some “neutral” location.

The visit to Rome by President Medvedev is significant in itself, since the Russian leader has advanced the possibility that Russia might open a full embassy to the Holy See. (The Russian Federation currently has a special diplomatic representative at the Vatican.) Medvedev—who was baptized into the Orthodox Church as an adult, and whose wife Svetlana Medvedev is a known for her devotion to the Orthodox Church—could also serve as an intermediary in futhering talks between the Holy See and the Moscow patriarchate.

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