Return of Image of Kazan Marked Progress in Relations With Orthodox Church

Interview with Cardinal Walter Kasper

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Share this Entry

MOSCOW, SEPT. 1, 2004 ( Here is the interview of Cardinal Walter Kasper, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, given to Dr. Victor Khroul, editor-in-chief of the Russian Catholic weekly «Svet Evangelia,» before his departure for Rome on August 30.

Q: Your Eminence, you were in Russia six months ago, in February 2004. Do you perceive a difference in the atmosphere between the previous visit and the current one? Is there any progress in the relations between the Russian Orthodox and Catholic Churches?

Cardinal Kasper: My visit in February was a breakthrough: there was some hesitation on both sides, doubts regarding honesty, which were difficult to overcome. Since February, I think, we have taken a big step forward. The atmosphere now is much warmer and more cordial.

The main reason for this is also that the Holy Father himself supports the visit; he wanted it, and all the time he is spiritually with us.
So, we do have a progress. The climate is more open for further steps to be taken; it is very important for the future of our Churches, the future of Europe and for the world.

Q: Are there any evident signs of such a progress? What are your personal feelings?

Cardinal Kasper: The meeting with His Holiness Patriarch Alexy II was quite different from the very cold one I had with him in February. Now we agreed. His Holiness himself proposed that our two delegations have more meetings. He said: «When there are problems, we must resolve them immediately, otherwise they grow.»

Q: Did he say this?

Cardinal Kasper: Yes, he did. This time he was very interested in having greater efforts made in solving problems. In February we decided to have a commission at the local level in order to solve concrete problems, and in May this commission had its first session in Moscow.

Q: Does this mean that the commission will work more intensively after your second meeting with the Patriarch?

Cardinal Kasper: Yes, the next meeting of the commission will be in September. And, within this commission, the Patriarch suggested that discussions be held on the possibility of having regular meetings at the higher level.

Q: At the level of the Patriarch and Pope, or at the level of bishops?

Cardinal Kasper: At the level of cardinals, metropolitan bishops (of the Orthodox Church) and bishops.

Q: Will local Catholic bishops in Russia be included as well in the negotiation process?

Cardinal Kasper: Of course, the local bishops and the archbishop of Moscow will be included.

I also suggested that if they were in agreement we could invite the delegation of the Moscow patriarchate to come to Rome and be in contact with us and our dicasteries.

So, we discussed a number of things, but did not take any decisions this time, as this was not included on our agenda.

Q: Has the date of the meeting of the joint commission been established?

Cardinal Kasper: Yes, it is scheduled for the end of September and will be announced later.

Q: What are the prospects for future relations between the Churches?

Cardinal Kasper: We will go ahead, and my hope is that Our Lady will help us. She is the main person in this meeting, not us. She knows how to make things work. She will help us attain the best future of our Churches.

However, it is also important to come together at our level. And I think this is the main difference between the meeting in February and the one in August. The Icon of Our Lady of Kazan touches people’s hearts, that of normal people. So, this meeting was not just diplomatic. I hope it will greatly change the situation.

Q: Thank you, your eminence, for the Mass you celebrated in the Moscow cathedral. However, some of local Catholics told me after the Mass that they were somewhat disappointed that the icon had not been brought to the Cathedral for prayer on Friday night. They wanted very much to see the icon and pray to Our Lady of Kazan.

Cardinal Kasper: Yes, of course, I understand these reservations and regrets. But the icon was given to me to bring directly to the patriarch; we could not do otherwise. We could have done so, but decided not to, as a sign of respect for the Russian Orthodox Church.

I understand the regrets of our Catholic faithful, I would have been happy to comply, but the schedule was fixed by the Holy Father, the patriarch and the nuncio in Moscow.

Q: Local Catholics also complained that Catholics in Rome had an opportunity to see the icon of Our Lady of Kazan and pray for a whole day in St. Peters Basilica, but Moscow Catholics were not given such an opportunity; some had hard feelings.

Cardinal Kasper: I understand this, of course, but you must also understand that we have to respect the sensitivity of the other side. It also means sacrifice from Russian Catholics, it is true. I ask Catholic believers in Russia to sacrifice, to understand, that there is no forgiveness, no reconciliation without sacrifice. This is the life of the Church.

Q: During your February visit, the Moscow Orthodox seminary and academy asked you for support in the renovation of the library and implementation of some other projects. Has this support been given to our Orthodox brothers?

Cardinal Kasper: This aid has been promised by «Renovabis,» and a delegation from this German organization will come to Russia next week. I also promised to send books from Rome. They have already arrived to Moscow. We will also help the seminary and academy with electronic equipment.

I hope that the exchange of professors and students will also be fruitful for both sides. Salesians and Augustinians in Rome are ready to come here to teach; it is only a question of dates and terms. After my February visit four Orthodox students came to Rome to study.

So, we are already seeing the first fruits of our talks. And we must not underestimate the climate, the atmosphere of our relations: there was distrust from the beginning, now it is much better. Our patience is needed to make it warmer and more cordial.

Q: Some time ago it was announced in the Vatican, that Archbishop Giovanni Lajolo, official of the Vatican State Secretariate, has been named the Secretary of the Permanent Interdicasterial Commission for the Church in East Europe. Does it mean that this commission will work more intensively, especially in collaboration with the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity?

Cardinal Kasper: We are friends with Archbishop Lajolo. Formerly, he was nuncio in Germany. He is a very intelligent, open person, and I hope we will collaborate very well.

Q: Have you already discussed some problems with him?

Cardinal Kasper: We already had a very good meeting. After our visit, I hope we will meet once more to see what materialized and what can be done.

Q: Are attempts being made by your Pontifical council and the commission to update the 12-year old document on ecumenism, issued by the commission now headed by Archbishop Lajolo?

Cardinal Kasper: To date, there has been no plan for this. Such an attempt would create suspicions, so care must be taken. We will try to find other solutions.

Q: Your Eminence, did you understand the words of the patriarch and Father Vsevolod Chaplin about concrete and significant steps that the Moscow patriarchate expects from the Vatican? These steps should convince the Orthodox side of our immediate intentions to improve relations. I have already spoken to Father Chaplin about this, but his answer was very general, with no specific details. Do you understand their requests?

Cardinal Kasper: I understand that the commission we established must discuss their complaints about our so-called «proselytism.» We asked for concrete facts, and will investigate their veracity, and will change if it is true. These are the only concrete steps possible.

The oth
er question was so-called «Uniatism.» It is a very difficult question, because we also have to recognize the legitimate decisions of the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church. But, in the meantime, the Holy Father made a very clear statement regarding this case, and for the Holy Father it was not easy.

Q: Sometimes we hear demands to withdraw missionary religious orders and congregations from Russia, to close children’s centers run by Catholics. Are these demands acceptable for the Holy See?

Cardinal Kasper: Up to now we have not received such demands officially. If we are taking care of the children of the streets we can not put them back on the streets; it is impossible. The only thing we can do is to confirm once more to the Orthodox Church that we do not want to make people Catholics by force. In every case a solution can be found, which is acceptable to both sides. Take fore for example in Moscow where Catholic sisters take children to Orthodox churches every Sunday and holiday, and invite Orthodox priests to prepare children for the sacraments.

Q: Your Eminence, have you already fixed the date of your next visit to Russia?

Cardinal Kasper: No, we have not. It will depend a lot on the work of the joint Catholic-Orthodox commission in Moscow.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Share this Entry


Support ZENIT

If you liked this article, support ZENIT now with a donation