By Cindy Wooden
Catholic News Service
VATICAN CITY (CNS) — While a meeting between Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and Pope Benedict XVI has not been scheduled, the head of ecumenical relations for the Russian church hinted that the possibility of such a meeting is greater than ever.
Metropolitian Hilarion of Volokolamsk, president of the Moscow Patriarchate’s office for external relations, told reporters at the Vatican May 19 that a meeting “is a desire, it is a hope and we must work for it.”
He repeated the long-standing position of Russian Orthodox leaders that a pope-patriarch meeting could not be held as long as Catholic-Orthodox tensions remain in Western Ukraine and that the meeting should cap a process of preparing an agreement on common point of faith and on concrete collaboration.
“I think the atmosphere of dialogue has improved and without a doubt relations improve along with the theological dialogue. But I think the theological dialogue still has a long way to go,” he said.
“What is important is not the speed of dialogue, but the quality of the results we achieve,” said the metropolitan. He was in Rome for a series of events on Russian culture and spirituality sponsored by the Vatican and the Moscow Patriarchate.
“An encounter between a pope and a patriarch should be a historic event, not just because it is the first meeting between the head of the Roman Catholic Church and the Russian Orthodox Church but especially because such a meeting must be sign of the intention to move our relations forward, which is why is must be prepared for well,” he said.
“I hope there could be an encounter not between just any pope of Rome and patriarch of Moscow, but between Patriarch Kirill and Pope Benedict XVI,” Metropolitan Hilarion said.
Pressed on the question, he said, “By mentioning these two concrete people, I tried to indicate somewhat a desired deadline.”
He told reporters that most of the Russian Orthodox clergy and faithful have a very favorable opinion of Pope Benedict and particularly appreciate his efforts to promote traditional moral values and to strengthen the Christian culture of Europe.
Cardinal Walter Kasper, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, told reporters later that the Vatican’s position was that a meeting between the pope and patriarch could be the best way to begin to settle the tensions and questions that the Russian Orthodox want resolved before a meeting.
In addition, he said, it would be an opportunity “to give witness to an increasingly secularized world that our churches have the same positions on moral questions.”
“We hope that this meeting will not be something eschatological” — dealing with the end of time — “but that it would take place in our age,” the cardinal said.
However, the cardinal, who is 77 and expected to retire in the next few months, said he did not think he would still be working at the Vatican when the meeting finally happens.