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Francis won’t see Kirill in Kazakhstan

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Patriarch Kirill meets Pope Francis

© SERGEY PYATAKOV / AFP

2790098 02/12/2016 Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia, left, and Pope Francis meet at Havana's Jose Marti international airport. Sergey Pyatakov/Sputnik

Kathleen N. Hattrup - published on 08/24/22

The patriarch will be represented by a delegation at the September meeting of world religious leaders.

Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill will not travel to Kazakhstan for the meeting of world religious leaders that Pope Francis is going to participate in; thus the pope and the patriarch will avoid a possible meeting and any implications it would have had in the current political context.

The 7th Congress of Leaders of World and Traditional Religions on September 14-15 is drawing Pope Francis to Kazakhstan for a brief September 13-15 visit to the country, which shares a long border with Russia.

Putting an end to ongoing questions, the new head of the Foreign Affairs Department of the Moscow Patriarchate, Metropolitan Anthony of Volokolamsk, told the Russian news agency RIA Novosti on August 24, 2022, that Kirill would not be attending.

“This year, with the blessing of His Holiness Patriarch Kirill, the Russian Orthodox Church will be represented by an official delegation. His Holiness the Patriarch himself will not participate in the conference. Therefore, a meeting with Pope Francis in Kazakhstan is not planned,” said the “foreign minister” of Russian Orthodoxy.

From prior to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, this event was seen as a possible chance for a pope-patriarch meeting — only the second since their meeting in Cuba in 2016.

Hoping but waiting

Pope Francis had in April spoken about a possible visit with the patriarch in the midst of a trip to Lebanon — a trip that had to be postponed. There was later talk about meeting at an Orthodox monastery in Jerusalem. On his return from Malta in early April, he noted, “For a long time, we have been thinking about a meeting with Patriarch Kirill, we are working on it.”

Then in April, in the midst of talk of a papal visit to Ukraine, the Pope confirmed any June meeting was off the table, as he said such a meeting could “lead to a lot of confusion.”

But in June, Francis indicated he hadn’t given up hope. He told editors of a Jesuit journal that he hoped to be able to see Kirill in Kazakhstan, “I hope to be able to greet him and speak a little with him as a pastor,” he said.

However, when the Vatican officially announced the Kazakhstan trip at the beginning of this month, nothing was confirmed regarding Kirill.

Patriarchate claims surprise

To the agency RIA Novosti, Metropolitan Anthony of Volokolamsk confirmed that a meeting was envisaged but that, “this spring, to our great surprise, the Vatican announced publicly that preparations for the meeting were suspended.”

“Since then, no proposal from the Vatican concerning the possible organization of a meeting at another time or place has been officially sent to us,” he said.

He considers that such a meeting “must be prepared with the greatest care, its agenda must be agreed upon, the resulting document must be thought out in advance. This is not the case today,” according to him.

New in his role

Metropolitan Anthony of Volokolamsk made no mention of his meeting with Pope Francis on August 8 in the Vatican. Only a very brief statement from the Moscow Patriarchate explained that the two men had discussed “Orthodox-Catholic relations, including in the context of the political processes taking place in the world.”

Anthony has only recently replaced the man who was the patriarch’s foreign minister since 2009, Hilarion.

He was dismissed by the Russian Synod, confirmed the Orthodox Times, on June 7, 2022. While it can’t be known for certain what led to the move, it was generally recognized that the right-hand man of Patriarch Kirill on external affairs had in recent weeks differed from the positions taken by the Patriarchate following the invasion of Ukraine by Russia.

Further cooling of relations

Although a meeting between Francis and Kirill in Kazakhstan had never been formalized, the announcement of Metropolitan Anthony of Volokolamsk is a further blow to relations between the Bishop of Rome and the Patriarch of Moscow.

In May, an account of a conversation with the pope published by Corriere della Sera (which also published an English-language translation) attributed to Francis some harsh statements about Kirill.

As the newspaper rendered it, the pope said:

“I spoke with Kirill for 40 minutes on Zoom. For the first 20 minutes, he read from a piece of paper he was holding in his hand all the reasons that justify the Russian invasion. I listened to him and then replied: I don’t understand any of this. Brother, we are not state clerics, we shouldn’t speak the language of politics, but rather the language of Jesus. We are shepherds of the same holy flock of God. For this reason we must look for a path to peace, we must stop the fighting. A Patriarch can’t lower himself to become Putin’s altar boy. I had a meeting with him, scheduled for June 14, in Jerusalem. It would have been our second face-to-face, nothing to do with the war. But we called it off, we agreed that it could send the wrong message.”

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