On August 5, in the Vatican, Pope Francis met with Volokolamsk Metropolitan Antony, Chairman of the Department of Foreign Affairs of the Moscow Patriarchate. This is the first personal meeting with a representative of Patriarch Kirill since the political problems between Russia and Ukraine became complicated.
Following the March 16 online meeting between Pope Francis (of the Vatican) and Patriarch Kirill (of Moscow), during which the Pope called for peace and the search for all possible means of diplomacy to end the conflict between Russia and Ukraine, and after the change of the head of international relations of the Russian Orthodox Church, this is a new step at such a level for both Orthodox-Catholic dialogue and world church politics.
Russian Metropolitan Antony replaced Metropolitan Hilarion Alfeev in his affairs Russian Orthodox Church. It was Metropolitan Antony’s first visit to the Vatican since he was appointed head of the Department of External Relations of the Moscow Patriarchate on June 7 last year, following the surprise appointment of his predecessor, Metropolitan Hilarion, as Metropolitan of Budapest for the Russian Orthodox Church.
Antony Volokolamsky is a long-time representative of the Russian Orthodox Church and former president of the Russian Church “St. Catherine” in Rome, and responsible for the Russian Orthodox Mission in Italy, on August 4 he first met with the head of international relations of the Holy See, Archbishop Richard Gallagher, and then with the Pope. The topic of conversation is the relations between the Russian Federation and the Holy See since the beginning of the war against Ukraine and the bilateral Orthodox-Catholic dialogue.
The announcement of the Foreign Department of the Moscow Patriarchate regarding the meeting with Archbishop Gallagher is too laconic and it states that the Russian Metropolitan is in Rome “on an archpastoral visit on behalf of the Administration of the Parishes of the Russian Orthodox Church in Italy”. “During a long conversation, topical issues affecting relations between the Russian Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic Church were discussed. During the meeting, Pope Francis and Volokolamsk Metropolitan Anthony discussed “many topics on the agenda of Orthodox-Catholic relations, also in the context of the political processes taking place in the world”, as noted by the Moscow Patriarchate, and that after the meeting they exchanged gifts . Due to pressing commitments, Cardinal Kurt Koch, Prefect of the Dicastery for Promoting Christian Unity, did not attend the meeting with Pope Francis.
Eager to go to Moscow and meet for the second time in person with Patriarch Kirill of Moscow, as well as in Ukraine to support those suffering from the war, Pope Francis first met with Volokolamsk Metropolitan Anthony in the Vatican. The meeting has more diplomatic than religious weight, experts say.
All the Ukrainian authorities, and in particular the very active ambassador of Kyiv to the Holy See, Andrii Yuras, have long expressed a desire for the Pope’s visit to Ukraine. Catholic newspaper Achi Stampa notes that, amid the war in Ukraine, Francis and Gallagher’s meetings with Antony are likely to be more about church politics than ecumenism, and that a new meeting between Pope Francis and Moscow Patriarch Kirill may be in the works to take place in Nur-Sultan, Kazakhstan, after the original plan for the June meeting in Jerusalem fell through.
We remind you that the first real historical meeting took place in 2016 at the Havana airport, while another was planned in Jerusalem in June of this year, but was postponed due to the different positions on the war in Ukraine. If in fact the trip does not take place in August, the pope may go in September, but not before his trip to Kazakhstan, already scheduled for September 13-15, where he will participate in the world meeting of religious leaders. The Russian Patriarch Kirill has already also confirmed his presence at this meeting. Ambassador of Ukraine to the Holy See Andrii Yuras was in audience with Pope Francis on the morning of August 6. The meeting was requested by the ambassador himself, immediately after Archbishop Gallagher said that he did not rule out a trip of the Pope to Kyiv. The audience lasted about an hour. Pope Francis, according to embassy and church media sources, has ascertained the willingness of Ukraine’s ambassador to the Holy See and has repeatedly expressed his sympathy for the suffering Ukrainian people.
But realistically, as far as a possible trip to Ukraine is concerned, Pope Francis has assured that it can take place, following the advice of doctors regarding his travels. We remind you that, although in a difficult state of health, the Pope made a long pilgrimage to Canada from July 24 to 30, called a “penitential pilgrimage”, during which the pontiff met both with the Catholic communities in Canada and with the local population, which according to he was “subjected to genocide”. Francis showed his outrage and shame at the participation of many Christians in the residential school system, a tool of cultural assimilation that has had devastating consequences for indigenous peoples, and he described his pilgrimage to Canada as a sign of reconciliation and healing. During the return flight from Canada, the press office of the Vatican officially announced that Pope Francis will visit Kazakhstan from September 13 to 15. An apostolic trip that takes on even more significance not only for the summit, in which Bergoglio will participate in an ecumenical summit with the world’s major religious leaders, but also because it is the first trip to the border with Russia (and China) since the outbreak the war in Ukraine last February. In May of this year In an interview with the Argentinian newspaper La Nacion, Pope Francis mentioned: “I regret that the Vatican had to cancel the second meeting with Patriarch Cyril that we had planned for June in Jerusalem. But our diplomacy understood that our meeting at this time could create a lot of confusion.”
On the same day, August 5 of this year, the Pope received in audience Cardinal Marcello Semeraro, giving his approval for the recognition of martyrdom, which opens the door to the beatification of a priest of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, killed in 1953 by the regime of the Soviet Union. The Pope has in fact authorized the Congregation for the Causes of Saints to issue a decree on the martyrdom of the Servant of God Pietro Paolo Oros, a priest from the Diocese of Mukachevo, Ukraine, who was killed in defense of his faith on August 28, 1953 in Siltse, USSR.