Nuncio in Russia Analyzes Recent Orthodox Council

Archbishop Mennini Sees «Greater Cordiality»

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MOSCOW, NOV. 4, 2004 ( The Council of Bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church, held here last month, shows promise for ecumenical relations, says a Vatican representative.

The results of the Oct. 8 council, as well as relations between the Catholic and Russian Orthodox Churches, were analyzed by Archbishop Antonio Mennini, representative of the Holy See to the Russian Federation, in an interview with the newspaper NG Religii.

The Orthodox council studied issues such as the introduction of religion as a subject of education, and relations with Catholicism.

The apostolic nuncio revealed that «many observers have noted greater cordiality, in respect of the Catholic Church, in the texts of the main addresses of the council.»

«In my opinion,» he continued, «there is no doubt that the hierarchy of the Russian Church, both the Most Holy Patriarch as well as the members of the Holy Synod, have shown a sadness similar to that of His Holiness the Pope and the faithful of the Catholic Church over the deterioration in the relations between our Churches, which sadly has happened in the last decade.»

«Both in the council as well as previously, there was allusion several times to the need to continue the effort to improve relations between the two Churches, to develop dialogue and to increase collaboration,» the Vatican representative said. «The council ratified with its authority the tendencies toward reciprocal understanding arising lately and I hope that this will be fruitful.»

Asked if the struggle against terrorism might bring the two Churches closer, Archbishop Mennini replied: «The position of the Catholic Church is certainly known on the rejection of all forms of violence and discrimination, especially of a terrorist nature.»

«In all cases of crimes committed, without exception, the Holy Father has maintained a position that is very close to that manifested in this respect by the council,» he explained.

The nuncio referred to John Paul II’s restitution of the icon of the Mother of God of Kazan to the Russian patriarch.

«In this case, it is not just an act of justice, according to the interpretation of some observers, but of sincere and profound affection,» the archbishop said.

He mentioned «the affection of very many Catholics who, in the ’60s, had collected with great sacrifice, a huge sum to rescue this icon, so that it wouldn’t fall into the hands of a collector but might return to its country — when this was God’s will.»

«It is also a sign of affection of the Pope who loves this icon very much,» Archbishop Mennini said. «For many years, he kept it in his private chapel and prayed every day before it. It should be noted that His Holiness was very interested in the restitution of the icon during his pontificate.»

Archbishop Mennini mentioned that, to promote relations between Catholics and Russian Orthodox, a mixed working commission has been set up, with the participation of representatives of the local Churches — Orthodox and Catholic — and an observer of the Apostolic See, as «a sensible outcome of the common work to improve relations between the two Churches.»

The archbishop observed that «the commission has started to act very recently» and that «for the time being, it is premature to evaluate the results,» although «progress to date in this direction allows us to look at the future with hope.»

«Patient, reciprocal work of clarification must be done to overcome differences of mentality that often lead to mistakes and lack of understanding,» added the Vatican representative.

He said: «To the existing objective difficulties are added, lamentably, interpretations of the media that not always show sufficient professionalism when dealing with interconfessional relations and, in this way, do not contribute to the creation of an atmosphere of reciprocal confidence and appreciation.»

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