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Mons. Paolo Pezzi: the Pope’s visit to Moscow? “We don’t know when it will take place, but it’s no longer a problem”

After the historical meeting in Cuba, when will it be possible for the Pope to visit Moscow and for the Patriarch to visit Rome? “I can’t tell how much time it will take. But it’s no longer viewed as a problematic issue”, said Monsignor Paolo Pezzi, Archbishop of Moscow, President of the Bishops’ Conference of the Russian Federation, commenting on the present state of relations between the two Churches, which he described as “good, constructive and friendly.”

“Not being afraid of a meeting”: it’s the most “important step” that the Churches in Russia are called to take, but many things have changed and developments are in the making. Monsignor Paolo Pezzi, Archbishop of Moscow, President of the Bishops’ Conference of the Russian Federation, provided an overview of the state of ecumenism in Russia, after the meeting in Cuba between Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill. Speaking on the sidelines of the V Catholic-Orthodox Forum in Paris, Mons. Pezzi said he hopes that one day Pope Francis may visit Moscow.

“I think that after Cuba, namely on its aftermath, that had a complex impact on the Orthodox Church in Russia, today it could be said that the Pope’s visit to Russia is no longer a problem.”

When? “I don’t know how much time we’ll have to wait. But it can be said that it’s not viewed as a problem.” Moreover, “the impact” of the meeting in Cuba on some Orthodox environments “has been well assimilated.” “The impact wasn’t strong  – the archbishop said – but it made a lot of noise. It’s all over now. And it enabled the Patriarch and other dignitaries to explain the reasons for that meeting; and they were very convincing. We could continue discussing whether it was a political, cultural, or religious encounter, but what’s most important is that its challenging repercussions have waned, and they have left in their wake a greater feeling of reassurance regarding the possibility of Francis’ visit to Russia. We are rooting for it.” In this respect the Pope “has been discreet”, Msgr. Pezzi pointed out. I’ve never heard him say ‘I wish, I would like to make this make the visit.’ He certainly intends to meet Patriarch Kirill, but whether the meeting takes place in Moscow or Rome makes no difference. Any place will do. But he is very discreet, he doesn’t want to force things.”

Commenting on the state of ecumenical relations in Russia, Msgr. Pezzi said they are “good, constructive and friendly.” He added: “Especially after Francis’ meeting with Patriarch Kirill we registered a stronger yearning for mutual understanding. Thus there have been increasing opportunities for encounter, dialogue and cooperation.” Among such initiatives figures the cultural Centre in Moscow, promoted by Catholic and Orthodox faithful. “It’s a place for encounter, dialogue and debate, notably on current events. Another important sphere is charity work, involving young people in particular, with initiatives in support of the most needy. These initiatives are a source of hope.”

At institutional level “the situation is not always the same.” In fact, certain environments are more reluctant, “in some cities the local Orthodox bishops don’t view the cooperation under a positive light. At centralised level, I must say that my personal relations with the Patriarch and Metropolitan bishop Hilarion are good, friendly, and constructive.”

Hence today the preliminary condition in the cause for the full unity between the Churches entails “no longer being afraid to meet.” “From a theological angle – Pezzi pointed out – several commissions are engaged in the promotion of theological dialogue.

But I think that such commitment requires time, and that an agreement on theological grounds will be the last step. Indeed, the differences in this regard are few and normally, when there are few differences, the risk is that they could be magnified for idle talk.”

From a pastoral angle, “some progress has been made, and we hope to make further progress still, while some steps are yet to be taken.” The progress made so far – the archbishop said – involves joint cultural initiatives and charity work in particular.” “In the near future we hope to focus on themes involving the protection of the family and the defence of human life.” For the future, the goal is to “carry out a joint pastoral care of the family, especially in the light of a large number of mixed marriages”, and “to hold a youth day as an occasion for a joint declaration.” In his final remarks Mons. Pezzi mentioned another theme: “There is a more delicate aspect that involves the sacramental sphere”, he said.

There have been certain moments in history, when in extraordinary circumstances the faithful of a given Church could receive specific sacraments from another Church. In my opinion this is not impossible today. It’s hard, but not impossible.

I’m not referring to inter-communion, that is, a joint Eucharistic co-celebration, for it would require a veritable communion between the Churches. I refer to the possibility that in given situations of necessity the faithful may be imparted the sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation and Confession from the other Church.”

In his closing remarks Msgr. Pezzi mentioned Russia’s role on the geopolitical scene involving Syria, Turkey and Ukraine, and the relations with the US led by Donald Trump.

“We pray. I always bear in mind the words of Pope John Paul II: when the powerful of this world meet or argue, the Pope prays. This is what we do. We are aware that Syria, Ukraine and Turkey are in need of peace”, concluded Msgr. Pezzi

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