February has two key anniversaries for the possibility of the Church leaders meeting again.
Just one verse each day.
Could there be another meeting between Pope Francis and the Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill? “I am very optimistic,” Archbishop Paolo Pezzi of the Catholic Moscow Diocese told I.Media, on the sidelines of the synodal assembly of the European continent in Prague.
The anniversary of the first and only in-person meeting between Kirill and Francis is this February 12. The two Church leaders met in Cuba for an historic summit at Havana airport on February 12, 2016.
Meanwhile, the one-year anniversary of Putin’s invasion of Ukraine is in 12 days.
Archbishop Pezzi says he’s confident that a meeting between the head of the Catholic Church and the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, which has been postponed several times, will take place despite the tense context of the war in Ukraine.
For the Italian prelate, who was appointed to the archdiocese of Moscow in 2007, what’s needed is “to find the way and the moment,” but this possibility is still on the table.
“Everything was ready for Jerusalem,” said the archbishop, referring to the aborted project of a summit in Jerusalem in June 2022. That failure could be attributed to the anger of Moscow after the words of the Argentine Pope as reported by Corriere della Sera, in May. As the newspaper rendered it, the Bishop of Rome expressed his concern that Patriarch Kirill could become “an altar boy for Putin.”
Relations haven’t diminished
While Archbishop Pezzi doesn’t know exactly how a possible meeting between the two Church heads would happen, he says that he “took the liberty of suggesting to the Patriarch and indirectly to the Pope that Jerusalem remains perhaps the most appropriate place, both for the situation and for security.”
Indeed, he added, “Israel remains a place that can guarantee good security, even in the face of some hothead.”
The Archbishop of Moscow also believes that relations between the Russian Patriarchate and the Holy See continue to be active. Certainly, he acknowledges, “there is a certain bitterness for certain statements that have been made. This bitterness can be shared or not, agreed upon or not, but it exists, as do these statements by people of the Church this year.”
And to clarify: “I’m not referring primarily to the pope.”
Despite this, says the archbishop, relations have not “diminished.”
“On the contrary, I would say that [relations] between Moscow and Rome have grown in intensity and quality. Metropolitan Anthony (of Volokolamsk, president of the Department of External Church Relations of the Moscow Patriarchate, Ed.) has never visited Rome as often as he has this past year. This means that dialogue continues, the doors are open, the bridges have not been destroyed.”
Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the Pope has attempted to maintain “ecumenical diplomacy” with the Moscow Patriarchate.
Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill had a conversation via video conference on March 16, 2022. The idea of a double papal trip to Kiev and Moscow, which would be difficult to carry out, has been mentioned several times by the Pontiff in the course of his various interviews and travels.
On June 7, the unexpected dismissal of Metropolitan Hilarion, who was considered the main architect of the rapprochement of Russian Orthodoxy with the Catholic Church, seemed to weaken the dialogue with Rome. However, the new head of external relations of the Moscow Patriarchate, Metropolitan Anthony, has met the Pope on several occasions: First received at the Vatican on August 5, he met him again on the sidelines of the interreligious summit in Kazakhstan on September 14 – a summit in which Kirill was supposed to participate, but he declined at the last moment.
Anthony of Volokolamsk also came to the funeral of Benedict XVI on January 5.