Kirill's Election Hailed as New Phase

Cardinal Kasper Calls Him Man of Dialogue

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VATICAN CITY, JAN. 29, 2009 ( The president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity expressed contentment and congratulations at the election of Metropolitan Kirill as the patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church.

The 62-year-old metropolitan of Smolensk and Kaliningrad had since 1989 been the president of the Department of External Affairs of the Moscow Patriarchate. He had been the acting patriarch since Alexy II died on Dec. 5. He was elected Alexy’s successor on Tuesday and his enthroning will be Sunday.

«We have known Kirill for many years now,» Cardinal Walter Kasper explained to Vatican Radio. «He has a firm stance, but with him, one can dialogue.»

The cardinal said his election «represents a new phase for the Russian Orthodox Church,» whose rebirth after Communism is largely due to the work of Alexy II.

The pontifical council president assured that the representatives of the Catholic Church are «ready, willing, […] desirous of continuing dialogue.»

«We can dialogue and collaborate in the cultural and social realm,» he said, «but this is not enough because the goal of the ecumenical movement is full communion. We should continue as well the theological dialogue that we carry out within the mixed international commission with all the Orthodox Churches.»

The Russian Orthodox Church has not been participating in that dialogue. Due to problems within the Orthodox groups, the Russian delegation left, for example, the Ravenna talks that led to a breakthrough regarding the primacy of Peter.

Cardinal Kasper assured that the Catholic Church wants to continue the theological dialogue with Patriarch-elect Kirill. «We are content with his election and we wish him all the gifts of the Holy Spirit that are necessary to guide such an important and also such a big Church, in particular the gifts of wisdom and strength.»

Meeting the Pope?

Regarding the possibility of a long-hoped-for meeting between the Pope and the patriarch, Cardinal Kasper advised taking things slowly.

He said that he himself will attend the enthroning ceremony in Moscow on Sunday but is expecting only «a brief encounter [with the patriarch], because there will be many guests.»

Afterward, the cardinal explained, Patriarch Kirill will need to first visit the other Orthodox patriarchs. «He needs time and we don’t want to rush things.»

For his part, Catholic Archbishop Paolo Pezzi of the Mother of God Archdiocese in Moscow added: «Before all, we are not excluding [a visit]; secondly, it is extremely desirable; thirdly, we hope that it can happen according to the timing that the grace of God and the glory of Christ will permit; and fourthly may this be a joint step toward the wished-for path of full communion among all of us.»

Still, the archbishop added, given the past meetings between the new patriarch and the Catholic Church, even with the Pope himself, «certainly there can be hypotheses about a future meeting.»

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