June 28, 2015, Sunday — Pope-Patriarch Meeting “On Agenda,” Hilarion Says

Are Rome and Moscow growing closer, despite US-led Western efforts to isolate Russia with recently renewed economic sanctions?

A new interview published this morning in Italy suggests strongly that the answer is “Yes.”

Following a lightning visit three weeks ago (June 10) of Russian president Vladimir Putin to Rome to huddle with Pope Francis for nearly an hour, it seems clear that Rome and Moscow are engaged in a delicate diplomatic ballet.

Rome and Russia seem to be increasingly reaching out toward one another as the Western world turns ever-more “post-Christian” and so also “anti-Catholic.”

As the West attempts to sanction and isolate a post-Soviet Russia due to Russia’s alleged military aggression in Ukraine, inside Russia, by all accounts, there has been occurring for some 25 years a remarkable revival of the formerly persecuted Christian faith (though many Western — and even skeptical Russian — observers “pooh-pooh” this alleged revival, saying it is all “smoke and mirrors” and that there has been no real turn toward faith at all).

Rome has taken note of this.

And during this month alone, Metropolitan Hilarion, the Oxford-educated “foreign minister” of the Russian Orthodox Church, has been in Rome twice to meet with Pope Francis and other top Vatican officials.

So we have Putin once, and Hilarion twice, in Rome during the month of June.

There is clearly something up.

But what?

We know some of the talk is about Ukraine, and the Pope’s desire to help bring about a just solution to the violence in that country.

We know some of it is about the Middle East, the rise of the militant “Islamic Caliphate” called ISIS, and the crisis of the Christians of that region, who have been killed by the thousands and become refugees by the millions.

Official communiques have told us that Pope Francis talked with Putin about these things.

But there may be something more.

There may be a “thaw” occurring in the often frigid, untrusting relations between the two great traditions of Christianity, western and eastern, divided for 1,000 years.

St. Pope John Paul II called for this “thaw” and worked throughout his life for better relations between Catholics and Orthodox, saying that the Church needed to “breathe with two lungs.” Pope Benedict XVI labored for this goal. And now we have Pope Francis…

Metropolitan Hilarion, the Oxford-educated “foreign minister” of the Russian Orthodox Church, has this morning given an interview to the Italian daily Corriere della Sera of Milan in which he says that a meeting between Pope Francis and the Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church, Kirill, is “on the agenda.”

Hilarion says the meeting is not expected to involved a trip of Pope Francis to Russia, but is expected to occur in a “neutral” country, perhaps Austria or Hungary.

Hilarion said it is not certain to occur (as rumored) already during this year, 2015 — but he says that he hopes the meeting will be between “this Pope” and “Kirill” — in other words, not very far into the future, and during this pontificate.

All of this, in light of the economic problems of the European Union and today’s banking crisis in Greece — an Orthodox country which has also looked to Russia for possible financial help — suggests that we may soon need to reflect again on the meaning of the message of Fatima: of what Our Lady told the three shepherd children, about Russia’s future role, and about the needed consecration of Russia, a message that has been approved by the Church as “trustworthy,” though obviously not de fide.

And for this reason, I will be traveling with a small number of members of our Foundation to Moscow, Istanbul and Rome in less than two weeks time. I intend to send reports during the trip.

Hilarion’s interview was published this morning, Sunday, June 28, in Italian.

Here is a Reuters dispatch on the interview, and then the interview itself.

Historic meeting of Pope and Russian Orthodox head seen nearer

By Phil Pullella, Reuters

An historic meeting between Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill of the Russian Orthodox Church is “getting closer every day,” a senior Orthodox prelate said in an interview published on Sunday in Italy.

The unprecedented meeting would be a significant step towards healing the 1,000-year-old rift between the Western and Eastern branches of Christianity, which split in the Great Schism of 1054.

“Now such a meeting is getting closer every day but it must be well prepared,” Metropolitan Hilarion, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church’s foreign relations department, said in an interview with Italy’s Corriere della Sera newspaper.

He said the meeting between the head of the 1.2 billion member Roman Catholic Church and the head of Russian Orthodox Church — which counts some 165 million of the world’s 250 million Orthodox Christians — would take place in a “neutral” country, not in Moscow or the Vatican. Austria or Hungary were possibilities, he said.

Hilarion, one of the most influential people in world Orthodoxy, said he could not say if the meeting could take place as early as this year, but there was currently “a good dynamic” between the two Churches.

Francis told reporters on the plane returning from a trip to Turkey last year that he had sent word to Kirill that he was willing to meet the Russian patriarch “wherever you want, you call me and I’ll come.”

The Russian Orthodox Church has accused Catholics of using their new freedoms of religion following the break-up of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s to try to convert people from the Orthodox, a charge the Vatican has denied.

One of the biggest bones of contention is the fate of many Church properties that Soviet dictator Josef Stalin confiscated from Eastern-Rite Catholics, who worship in an Orthodox rite but owe their allegiance to Rome.

Stalin gave the property to the Russian Orthodox Church but after the fall of communism, Eastern Rite Catholics took back many church properties, mostly in western Ukraine.

(Reporting by Philip Pullella; Editing by Rosalind Russell)

The Hilarion Interview

Corriere della Sera, Sunday, June 28, 2015


“On the agenda is a meeting between the Pope and the Patriarch.” Interview with the Orthodox Metropolitan Hilarion Alfeev

Corriere della Sera

by Massimo Franco

The Orthodox Metropolitan Hilarion Alfeyev is a kind of “foreign minister” of the Patriarchate of Moscow, one of the strategists of possible reconciliation between Catholicism and Orthodoxy. “A visit by Pope Francis to Moscow is not on the agenda,” he tells Corriere. “On the agenda in a meeting between Patriarch Kirill and Pope.” The conflict in Ukraine can become the Third World War. Russia is among the few who oppose the massacres in the Middle East.

“A visit by Pope Francis to Moscow is not on the agenda. On the agenda is a meeting between Patriarch Kirill and Pope. I think that will take place in a neutral country, meaning neither in Moscow nor in Rome. Several different countries have already offered to host it. I mention Austria and Hungary. But I do not want nor can I tell if will take place in 2015. It is my hope that it will be this Pope and Patriarch who will reconcile.”

The Orthodox Metropolitan Hilarion Alfeyev speaks softly, in fluent English with a slight Russian accent. He is a kind of “foreign minister” of the Patriarchate of Moscow, one of the strategists of a reconciliation that Catholicism and Orthodoxy seek after centuries of theological division; and that he is are trying to bring about as quickly as possible.

Hilarion, 49 in July, explains what unites the two Christian Churches, and what still divides them. He sketches an analysis of the world situation that sounds like a radical critique of “European secularism” and its “indifference” toward the tragedy of Christians in the Middle East. He warns that the conflict in Ukraine may lead “not to to a new Cold War, but to something worse: a Third World War.”

Eminence, in recent years have the relations between the Moscow Patriarchate and the Vatican improved?
Metropolitan Hilarion: I can say yes. There has been a positive development since the pontificate of Benedict XVI (2005-2013), whom I met many times. And even with Pope Francis I met already four times. We examined their priorities and found the Popes both very well informed and also equally well-disposed.

Do you find a continuity between Benedict and Francis?
Hilarion: Certainly.

Do you think it helps that Bergoglio is neither European nor Eurocentric?
Hilarion: It helps a lot. You know, usually the analysis and understanding of Christianity is based on European data and categories. And therefore likely to mislead. We learn that in the Netherlands thousands of parishes has been closed, and this is the reference, neglecting instead the last 27 years when we have opened 27,000 Orthodox churches in the world, three a day. And we continue to build. I mean to say that the vision is lacking a more comprehensive, global perspective, because in Latin America, Christianity is growing, alive. And in North America, Christianity is not like it is in Europe. Idem in Africa, Asia, Australia. Not to mention the Middle East, where anti-Christian persecution has created a tragic reality. Francis understands the global dimension of these problems.

In your view, has the West has done enough to prevent these massacres?
Hilarion: Honestly no. People do not know almost anything about what is happening in that area of ​​the world, and the impression is that for a long time it has not wanted to listen. I remember I talked to the UN three years ago, greeted by an indifferent silence. In the public policy discussion, this matter has been neglected for too long. And then suddenly, the so-called Islamic State, ISIS, and the anti-Christian persecution, was discovered. In Iraq 15 years ago there were 1.5 million Catholics. Today there are perhaps 200,000 or 300,000. The same happens in Libya, in Syria. I have the impression that in recent years Russia has been among the few countries that have followed a strategy in defense of Christians.

You seem very critical with Europe. Do you consider it a negative model?
Hilarion: I think it is a positive role model in its ability to unite different countries in a geopolitical union. But I see a deviation from the trajectory of the founders like the German Konrad Adenauer and the Frenchman Robert Schumann. They founded an association of Christian countries with Christian roots. Now those roots are not only ignored but rejected in the name of ​​secular humanist values. Secularization is a phenomenon we see a little everywhere, in the West. It is not necessarily bad. It is when it shows up in a militant anti-religious form, as in much of Europe. With the growing Islamic presence, it seems to me that the EU is not in a position to respond effectively. If you abandon Christian values, what may be opposed to Islam? Think of the family. If we want a strong Europe, we need a strong family, that meets the unfavorable demographic trend. We cannot respond with the same-sex marriages, with families where there is not a mother and a father.

Are you not afraid of appearing homophobic, an enemy of homosexuals?

Hilarion: No, we Orthodox are not. Not a problem of one’s private life. This is not to marginalize, persecute or imprison homosexuals. But we must be careful not to destroy traditional families. Careful to make it clear that abortion is a crime. In Russia we talk about this a lot.

But in Russia, abortion is legal…
Hilarion: But I do not speak of what is legal. I am referring to what is morally right, the right of children to be born.

In this you are in tune with the Catholic Church?
Hilarion: On the moral and social values, ​​we are very close.

How did you receive the offer of Pope Francis to set a common date for Easter between Catholics and Orthodox?
Hilarion: We received well, but it needs to be clarified. What does a common date mean? Only in the calendar and fixed forever, or that there is a fixed system of calculation? There are several criteria. To arrive at a reconciliation, we must return to the understanding of the first millennium: from there passes the way of reconciliation.

You are aware that Vladimir Putin, after the audience with the Pope said: “I hope that soon there can take place the desired meeting between you and the Patriarch of Moscow, Kirill?”
Hilarion: We must make a distinction. There are the Russian Orthodox Church and the Catholic Church (religious institutions). And there are the Russian Federation and the Holy See (sovereign states). Putin is following his agenda, the Patriarch is following his own. A meeting has been in preparation for 20 years. It was to occur in 1997 between Alexi II and Pope John Paul II but the meeting was canceled at the last minute. Now we are growing closer to a meeting every day, but it must be prepared.

You always gives this standard response. Is a meeting not much closer now than in the past?
Hilarion: A trip by the Pope to Moscow is not on the agenda. Rather, what is on the agenda is a meeting. But again, it must be prepared, perhaps preceded by a joint statement. It must be in a neutral location. Many nations have offered to host such a meeting…

For instance?
Hilarion: I cite two countries: Austria and Hungary.

It is rumored that it will take place during 2015…
Hilarion: I will not set a date. I will say that there is a good dynamic, and I see it as a near-term prospect. My hope is that it will not be a future pope and a future Patriarch, but these two, who will meet.

Are you surprised that Francis has never characterized Putin as an aggressor in the conflict in Ukraine?
Hilarion: I’d rather not talk about politics. It is something other than the Orthodox Church.

You know that you (the Russian Orthodox Church) are considered very close to the Kremlin and its policy…
Hilarion: That is not true. We are an international body, present in many countries, and we do not take sides in a conflict between countries. Associating us with the Kremlin is wrong. We have a common agenda on some issues, maybe we consult. But we decide independently. We are separate from the state not only on paper. The Anglican model, in which the king or queen “bless” the Primate of the national church, as in Britain, we had at the time of Peter the Great until the Revolution of 1917. Then no more.

Can we at least say that you see the danger of a “geo-religious” confrontation between Orthodox and between Catholics and Orthodox, as a result of the conflict that is tearing apart the Ukraine?
Hilarion: I see such a risk, and it is very high. Relations between Russia and the West are pointing in a direction that can lead, not to a new Cold War, but to the Third World War. The spiral sanctions-retaliation-threats does not lead anywhere. And the consequences for the people living there are of great suffering. The humanitarian catastrophe and divisions inevitably cause damage on the religious. All the more so in a divided nation, we need a united Church.

Corriere della Sera, 28 June 2015

(The original interview in Italian.)



“E’ in agenda un incontro tra il Pontefice e il Patriarca.” Intervista al Metropolita ortodosso Hilarion Alfeyev

Corriere della Sera

by Massimo Franco

Il Metropolita ortodosso Hilarion Alfeyev è una sorta di “ministro degli Esteri” del Patriarcato di Mosca: uno degli strateghi della possibile rappacificazione tra cattolicesimo e ortodossia. “Non è in agenda una visita di papa Francesco a Mosca — dice al Corriere –. E’ in agenda un incontro tra il Patriarca Kirill e il Pontefice.” Il conflitto in Ucraina può diventare la Terza guerra mondiale. La Russia tra i pochi schieratisi contro i massacri in Medio Oriente.

“Non è in agenda una visita di papa Francesco a Mosca. E’ in agenda un incontro tra il Patriarca Kirill e il Pontefice. Penso che avverrà in un Paese neutrale, che significa né a Mosca né a Roma. Si sono già offerti per ospitarlo diversi Paesi. Cito Austria e Ungheria. Ma non voglio né posso dire se avverrà nel 2015. La mia speranza è che siano questo Papa e questo Patriarca a riconciliarsi.”

Il Metropolita ortodosso Hilarion Alfeyev parla a voce bassa, in un inglese fluente, con una leggera inflessione russa. E’ una sorta di “ministro degli Esteri” del Patriarcato di Mosca: uno degli strateghi di una rappacificazione che cattolicesimo e ortodossia inseguono dopo uno scontro teologico che dura da secoli; e che si sta cercando di rendere possibile quanto prima.

Hilarion, 49 anni a luglio, spiega quello che unisce le due confessioni cristiane, e quello che ancora le divide. Abbozza un’analisi della situazione mondiale che suona come una critica radicale al “secolarismo europeo” e alla sua “indifferenza” rispetto alla tragedia dei cristiani del Medio Oriente. E avverte che il conflitto in Ucraina rischia ” non di portare a una nuova Guerra fredda, ma a qualcosa di peggio: ad una Terza guerra mondiale.”

Eminenza, rispetto agli ultimi anni sono migliorati i rapporti tra Patriarcato di Mosca e Vaticano?
Metropolitan Hilarion: Posso dire di sì. C’è stata un’evoluzione positiva a partire dal pontificato di Benedetto XVI, che ho incontrato molte volte. E anche con papa Francesco ci siamo visti già in quattro occasioni. Abbiamo esaminato le rispettive priorità e ho trovato Papi molto bene informati e altrettanto ben disposti.

Vede una continuità tra Benedetto XVI e Francesco?
Hilarion: Certamente.

Pensa che aiuti il fatto che Bergoglio non sia né europeo né eurocentrico?
Hilarion: Aiuta molto. Sa, di solito l’analisi e la comprensione della cristianità si basano su dati e su categorie europei. E dunque rischiano di risultare fuorvianti. Si viene a sapere che in Olanda si sono chiuse mille parrocchie, e questo è il riferimento, trascurando che invece negli ultimi 27 anni noi ortodossi abbiamo aperto ventisettemila chiese nel mondo, tre al giorno. E continuiamo a costruirne. Intendo dire che viene a mancare una visione più vasta, di tipo globale, perché in America latina il cristianesimo è in crescita, vivo. E anche in America del Nord il cristianesimo non è come quello europeo. Idem in Africa, Asia, Australia. Per non parlare del Medio Oriente, dove le persecuzioni anticristiane hanno creato una realtà tragica. Francesco comprende la dimensione globale di questi problemi.”

A suo avviso l’Occidente ha fatto e sta facendo abbastanza per evitare quei massacri?
Hilarion: Onestamente no. La gente non sa quasi nulla di quello che accade in quell’area del mondo, e l’impressione è che per molto tempo non abbia voluto ascoltare. Ricordo ne parlai all’Onu tre anni fa, accolto da un silenzio indifferente. Nella stessa narrativa politica l’argomento è stato assente troppo a lungo. E poi di colpo si è scoperto il cosiddetto Stato islamico, l’Isis, e le persecuzioni anticristiane. In Iraq quindici anni fa c’erano un milione e mezzo di cattolici. Oggi saranno due o trecento mila. Lo stesso accade in Libia, in Siria. Ho l’impressione che negli ultimi anni la Russia sia stata tra i pochi Stati che abbiano seguito una strategia in difesa dei cristiani.

Lei sembra estremamente critico con l’Europa. La considera un modello negativo?
Hilarion: Credo sia un modello positivo nella sua capacità di unire Stati diversi in un’unione geopolitica. Ma vedo una deviazione rispetto alla traiettoria di fondatori come il tedesco Konrad Adenauer e il francese Robert Schuman. Loro fondarono un’associazione di Paesi cristiani, con radici cristiane. Ora quelle radici non solo sono ignorate ma respinte in nome di valori secolaristi.
La secolarizzazione è un fenomeno che si registra un po’ ovunque, in Occidente. E non è necessariamente negativo.
Lo è quando si presenta in forma antireligiosa e militante, come in gran parte dell’Europa. Con la presenza islamica che cresce, mi pare che l’Unione Europea non sia in grado di rispondere con efficacia. Se si rinuncia ai valori cristiani, che cosa si oppone all’islamismo? Pensiamo alla famiglia. Se si vuole un’Europa forte, occorre una famiglia forte, che risponda ai trend demografici sfavorevoli. Non si può rispondere con i matrimoni omosessuali, con le famiglie dove non ci sono una madre e un padre.

Non teme di apparire omofobico, nemico degli omosessuali?
Hilarion: No, noi ortodossi non lo siamo. Non è un problema di vita privata. Non si tratta di marginalizzare, perseguitare o imprigionare gli omosessuali. Ma attenzione a distruggere la famigli tradizionale. Attenzione a non dire con chiarezza che l’aborto è un crimine. In Russia ne discutiamo molto.

Ma in Russia l’aborto è legale…
Hilarion: Ma io non parlo di ciò che è legale. Mi riferisco a quello che è moralmente giusto, del diritto dei bambini a nascere.

Su questo siete in sintonia con la Chiesa cattolica?
Hilarion: Su i valori morali e sociali siamo molto vicini.

Come avete accolto l’offerta di Francesco di fissare una data unica per la Pasqua tra cattolici e ortodossi?
Hilarion: L’abbiamo accolta bene, ma va chiarita. Che significa data unica? Unica nel calendario e fissata per sempre, o che ci sia un sistema fisso di calcolo? Ci sono diversi criteri. Per arrivare a una riconciliazione, occorre tornare a quelli del primo millennio: di lì passa la riconciliazione.

Sa che Vladimir Putin, dopo l’udienza con il Papa gli ha detto: spero che presto si possa realizzare l’incontro auspicato tra lei e il Patriarca di Mosca, Kirill?
Hilarion: Distinguiamo. Esistono la Chiesa ortodossa russa e la Chiesa cattolica. Ed esistono la Federazione Russa e la Santa Sede. Putin segue la sua agenda, il Patriarca la propria. Un incontro è in preparazione da vent’anni. Si doveva fare nel 1997 tra Alexei II e Giovanni Paolo II ma saltò. Adesso si sta avvicinando ogni giorno di più, ma va preparato.

Lei dà sempre questa risposta standard. Non si è molto più vicini di qualche tempo fa ad un viaggio?
Hilarion: Un viaggio a Mosca del Papa non è in agenda. E’ in agenda semmai un incontro. Ma ripeto, va preparato, magari preceduto da una dichiarazione comune. E deve avvenire i un luogo neutrale. Si sono offerti in molti di ospitarlo.

Ad esempio?
Hilarion: Cito due nazioni: Austria e Ungheria.

Si dice entro il 2015…
Hilarion: Non voglio indicare una data, diciamo che c’è una buona dinamica, e che vedo una prospettiva vicina. La mia speranza è che non si incontrino un futuro Papa e un futuro Patriarca, ma questi due.

E’ sorpreso dal fatto che Francesco non abbia mai definito Putin un aggressore per il conflitto in Ucraina?
Hilarion: Preferisco non parlare di politica. E’ un’altra cosa rispetto alla Chiesa ortodossa.

Lei saprà che siete considerati molto vicini al Cremlino e alla sua politica.
Hilarion: E’ una considerazione sbagliata. Siamo un corpo internazionale, presente in molte nazioni, e non prendiamo posizione nei conflitti tra Paesi. Associarci al Cremlino è sbagliato. Abbiamo un’agenda comune su alcune questioni, magari ci consultiamo. Ma decidiamo autonomamente. Siamo separati dallo Stato non solo sulla carta. Il modello anglicano, per il quale sono il re o la regina a “benedire” il primate della Chiesa nazionale, come in Gran Bretagna, l’abbiamo avuto dai tempi di Pietro il Grande fino alla Rivoluzione del 1917. Poi non più.

Può dire almeno se vede dei rischi geo-religiosi, di scontro tra ortodossi, e tra cattolici e ortodossi, come conseguenza del conflitto che sta lacerando l’Ucraina?
Hilarion: Ne vedo, e molto alti. I rapporti tra la Russia e l’Ovest stanno puntando in una direzione che può portare non ad una nuova Guerra fredda ma alla Terza guerra mondiale. La spirale minacce-sanzioni-ritorsioni non porta da nessuna parte. E le conseguenze per le popolazioni che vivono lì sono di grande sofferenza. La catastrofe umanitaria e le divisioni provocano inevitabilmente danni sul piano religioso. Tanto più in una nazione divisa, occorre una Chiesa unita.

Corriere della Sera, 28 giugno 2015

Note: For those who would like to travel with us on pilgrimage:

(1) In mid-July 2015, we will travel with a small group of Inside the Vatican readers on our annual “Urbi et Orbi” pilgrimage to Russia, Turkey and the Vatican;

(2) On December 8, 2015, and again on November 20, 2016, we will be gathering in Rome to be present when Pope Francis opens the Holy Door to begin his Special Jubilee of Mercy, and when he closes the door to end the Jubilee Year. If you would like to join us on one or more of these pilgrimages, email now for more information…

We also often travel to Norcia, in central Italy, where there is a flourishing Benedictine monastery we visit.

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What is the glory of God?

“The glory of God is man alive; but the life of man is the vision of God.” —St. Irenaeus of Lyons, in the territory of France, in his great work Against All Heresies, written c. 180 A.D.

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