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Patriarch Alexy II of Moscow and all Russia -- Orthodox and Catholic Relations

Corriere Della Sera

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Patriarch Alexy II of Moscow and all Russia: "I sincerely hope that the next Primate of the Roman Catholic Church will enable relations with the Russian Orthodox Church to develop in a positive direction."

Interview to the Italian newspaper "Corriere Della Sera."

Your Holiness, how do you evaluate the results of John Paul II's pastoral ministry?

I believe that only history can give a complete and objective evaluation of the church ministry of His Holiness John Paul II. His Holiness's sermons, teachings and moral instructions have not only strengthened in faith Catholics throughout various corners of the globe, but also bore witness to Christianity in the complex world of today, which is subject to the imposition of the ideology of secularism as though there is no alternative to it. During the last days and hours of His Holiness's earthly life we were witnesses of how many people gathered in St. Peter's Square in order to pray for their pastor and teacher. This prayer and love is the best evaluation of John Paul II's pastoral ministry.

Do you think that John Paul helped the two Churches to come together or by being a Pole by nationality only made deeper those divisions which have yet to be overcome?

Unfortunately there have been complications in relations between our two Churches which arose when John Paul II led the Roman Catholic Church. However, it would be a mistake to reduce the differences between Orthodox and Catholics to the person or nationality of the Primate of the Roman Catholic Church. The problems and conflicts which have caused our flock so much pain and which complicate Orthodox-Catholic dialogue today have deep roots. Therefore I am suggesting that on the Catholic side there ought to be the will to engage in difficult and assiduous work in changing at root their policies in Russia and the other countries of the Commonwealth of Independent States.

Many years have passed since the collapse of communism. However, John Paul II's dream of visiting Russia and meeting with Your Holiness was never realized. Do you feel any regret?

Regret has been caused by the fact that in relations between our Churches serious problems continue to exist which would not allow John Paul II to visit Russia. I would like to emphasize again that such visits and meetings between the primates of Churches are not an end in itself or something done for protocol's sake. On the contrary, they ought to have great import, be a symbol of certain positive results achieved in relations between our Churches. In the case of our dialogue with the Roman Catholic Church the onset of a positive dynamic has yet to be seen.

Are you personally dissatisfied that the meeting that had been agreed to take place in neutral territory in Austria didn't happen?

Of course, I regret that our meeting with Pope John Paul in 1997 in the Austrian city of Graz did not take place. I would like to remind you that this happened because of the unexpectedly declared refusal of the Catholic side to keep in the agreed draft of the final document of the forthcoming meeting the condemnation of Uniatism as a means of attaining Christian unity, as well as proselytism. This deprived our meeting of meaning as it is proselytism among the Orthodox population that is one of the most acute and painful problems in our mutual relations and requires urgent resolution.

What is your opinion of the Pope as a person?

I have respect for the person of the late Pope John Paul II. His ministry as the Primate of one of the most ancient and largest Churches came at a time of serious trials for the whole Christian world. The processes taking place in Europe and in the world have a tendency to cast doubt over the Christian values by which many nations have lived for more than two thousand years. The late Pope John Paul II spent much effort on reminding contemporary European civilization of its Christian origins. It is also important that in spite of his serious illness he did not leave his flock without pastoral care until the very last days of his earthly life. Such devotion to the Church, strong faith in God and care for his flock deserve the most sincere respect.

It would seem that recently there has been a mutual coming together of the two Churches. Do you view with optimism the overcoming of age old disputes? What do you think could be corrected?

I would say there has been a coming together and even coincidence of positions of our Churches on many questions confronting the modern world: artificially imposed secularism, global social injustice, the erosion of respect for life and many others. I am sure that mutual coordination in this field ought to get stronger and develop. However, in order for this to be maximally effective, it is essential to overcome the differences and misunderstandings which complicate our dialogue.

First of all there has to be the renunciation of proselytism, i.e. the conscious conversion to one's confession of people who by baptism and tradition belong to a different Church. Also, our Church is also greatly concerned by those persistent attempts by Ukrainian Greek Catholics to impose Uniatism in those areas where it had never previously existed, to carry out mission work among the Orthodox population of the Ukraine, to establish a patriarchate and transfer its see from Lvov to Kiev, where the Orthodox make up the majority of the believing population.

What do you think the new Pope should do?

I sincerely hope that the next Primate of the Roman Catholic Church will enable relations with the Russian Orthodox Church to develop in a positive direction, will show the necessary wisdom and tact, as well as a striving towards the resolution of those difficulties which hinder the improvement of our mutual relations. It is this which can open before our Churches a new era of relations in which joint witness before the world of Christian faith and values will occupy an important place.

In which direction is Russia heading? Sometimes the opinion is heard that Russia is returning to the politics of authoritarianism. What is the opinion of the Orthodox Church on such matters?

The last two decades have been a complex period for the people of Russia. The militantly atheist totalitarian structure has receded into the past, and the country has chosen the way of political structuring on the principles of democracy. Yet we still have to overcome not only the consequences of that godless time but also of the ensuing period of intoxication with freedom, often understood as an 'all is permitted' attitude, as though there are no obligations before society and our neighbours. Geographically, Russia is located on vast territories at great distances from each other, the management of which is a far more complex process than in a small European country. In Russia there live side by side representatives of many nationalities, which requires from politicians wisdom and great tact. In my view, those changes in the political structure are aimed at establishing precisely those institutions of secular rule which will enable in Russia the emergence of the best forms of existence a a state for her. Let us not forget too the problem of security, linked to the threat of terrorism, crime and corruption. All of this requires consolidation of the powers that be and the people, the support of the army and law enforcement agencies. The time of political changes has brought into our lives many economic and social upheavals which often don't give people a chance to reflect upon what is happening to them and to acquire firm moral orientation. In this situation it is obvious that people would like to have a certain stability which can and ought to be guaranteed by the state. However, the Orthodox Church considers the moral process of the rebirth of the Fatherland as more important. We cannot in a single moment transform the world around us, yet we can use all of our strength to plant Christian morality among people, to illumine them with faith in God and to make them a part of the life of Church.

DECR Communication Service (http://www.mospat.ru)

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Posted: 22-Apr-05

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