Russia “has a particular responsibility in matters of peace”, explains cardinal Parolin, the day after his return from Russia (August 21-24, 2017): “Be it the country, be it its leader, it has a great responsibility in matters of the building of peace and must truly make an effort to put the superior interest of peace above all other interests.”
It was a trip “in the spirit of the building of bridges in an atmosphere of listening and dialogue”: Cardinal Pietro Parolin gave an exclusive interview to the media of the Secretariat of Communication, in the Vatican, on August 25, 2017. Alessandro Gisotti conducted the interview with the Vatican Secretary of State.
–Q: Eminence, there was understandably great expectation for your trip to Russia. With what sentiments have you returned to the Vatican?
–Cardinal Parolin: I believe the assessment of this trip is an essentially positive assessment and, therefore, my sentiments are obviously sentiments of gratitude to the Lord for having accompanied me during these days. We were able to fulfil the program established, have the planned meetings, and I must say that these meetings – be it at the level of the Civil Authorities be it with President Putin then with Foreign Minister Lavrov and then with the top <leaders> of the hierarchy of the Russian Orthodox Church, namely Patriarch Kirill and Metropolitan Hilarion, were in fact characterized by an atmosphere of cordiality, an atmosphere of listening <and> an atmosphere of respect. I would describe them as having been significant meetings; they were also constructive meetings. It seems to me the accent should be somewhat on this word: “constructive meetings.” Then, obviously also, was the meeting with the Catholic community. Above all, thanks to the conversation and dialogue we had with the Bishops in the Nunciature, it was possible to know somewhat closer the reality, the life of the Catholic community in Russia, its joys, its hopes, but also the challenges and the difficulties that it must face. In part, it was also possible to represent the latter, to expose them to the Authorities. To mention one of all: the subject of the restitution of some churches, which were confiscated at the time of the Communist regime and for which no provision has yet been made for the restitution, given the needs of the Catholic community to have adequate places of worship. Hence, I would say that in the end – to say one word – it was a useful trip, it was an interesting trip <and> it was a constructive trip.
–Q: Have you been able to speak with the Holy Father about the trip? What can you share of what you said?
–Cardinal Parolin: Yes, naturally, no sooner I returned I heard from the Holy Father and give him a very brief, synthetic report be it of the contents as well as the results of the trip and, of course, I also transmitted to him the greetings that were entrusted to me by all the parties I met, the affection and closeness of the Catholic community, the different greetings of the Authorities. I remember that President Putin – I believe it was also recorded in the public part of the meeting –stressed in fact the vivid memory he has of his meetings with Pope Francis, in 2013 and in 2015, and also the fraternal greeting of Patriarch Kirill. The Pope was obviously pleased with these impressions, with these positive results that I transmitted to him; the Pope, as we know – he repeated it also in this circumstance – is very, very careful about all the occasions of dialogue that can be exercised, he is very careful about valuing all the occasions of dialogue that exist and he is very happy when steps forward are taken in this direction.
–Q: What were the main topics addressed in the meeting with Patriarch Kirill?
–Cardinal Parolin: I would say that essentially we reflected somewhat on this new climate, this new atmosphere that reigns in relations between the Russian Orthodox Church and the Catholic Church, this new climate, this new atmosphere that has been established in the last years and which, of course, had a particularly significant moment of intense acceleration thanks also to the meeting in Havana between the Patriarch and the Pope, which was then followed by this event. Truly, I noticed on the part of the Orthodox interlocutors how they were affected by the experience of the visit of the relics of Saint Nicholas of Bari to Moscow and St. Petersburg, but in the sense that they were in fact impressed by the faith and the religiosity of the people. Also stressed was how many Russians that belong to the Orthodox tradition but that don’t frequent <the Church>, the non-practicing, approached the Church on this occasion. It was truly a grandiose event be it in regard to the dimensions – there is talk of 2.5 million faithful that visited the relics – be it in regard to the impact of faith and spirituality that this event produced. We then reviewed somewhat the steps taken and those that will be taken, which must be taken in the future. It seems to me that from their part – as of course also from our part – there is <the> wish to exhaust the potentialities that this new phase has opened, and of course collaboration can happen in several realms, at various levels: from cultural collaboration – the academic – to the humanitarian . . . There was much insistence on this point, that, in face of the many situations of conflict that exist in the world, the two Churches can truly exercise an incisive and effective humanitarian endeavour. Also touched upon – with respect and at the same time with frankness – were somewhat thorny topics in the relations between the two Churches; however, there was an effort to give – at least it seems to me, from what I gathered – a rather positive sense, that is, to explore shared ways to address and to try to get underway solutions to these problems. And, naturally, these shared ways, these concrete proposals that emerged must also be verified and possibly implemented after an appropriate discernment and further reflection.
–Q: Eminence, in regard to the most sensitive topics: the Ukrainian question is one of the most delicate topics in the relations between the Holy See and Russia. You yourself visited Ukraine a year ago. Is there some news after your trip?
–Cardinal Parolin: News, at least up to now there is none . . . perhaps it’s premature to think of some news. The Lord — we hope – will make the seeds of goodness that we tried to sow, sprout and fructify. However, as noted, the Ukrainian question is one of great concern for the Holy See: the Pope has spoken several times on the subject . . . It’s obvious that this subject couldn’t fail to be addressed; it couldn’t be forgotten in that circumstance. I would say especially in the sense of trying to see, to assess if there are some concrete steps that could be taken for a lasting an just solution of the conflict, within the instruments available at present, which are practically the Agreements reached between the two sides. Also noted is that the Holy See has insisted especially on the humanitarian aspects, beginning with the Pope’s great initiative for Ukraine. In this connection, for instance, one of the topics is that of the release of prisoners: this is one of the “humanitarian” subjects that could be truly important to give back some impulse to the whole process, also political, to come out of this situation of stasis and begin to advance – for instance – also on the subject of a truce, the subject of a cease-fire, the subject of the conditions of security in the territory, also the subject of the political conditions to be able to make progress in the global solution. We hope, in fact, that something can help to walk in the right direction, taking into account – when we speak of situations, of humanitarian questions — we are talking about people and we are talking about suffering. And I believe that it’s this that all must have in mind to try to make a supplementary effort to go in the right direction.
–Q: The press gave much attention, naturally, to your meeting at Sochi with Vladimir Putin. How was the conversation with the Russian President?
–Cardinal Parolin: I would say that the conversation with President Putin also comes in somewhat in the assessment I made at the begining: it was a cordial meeting, it was a respectful meeting in which we were able to address all the topics, which at least we had at heart to address, such as that, for example, of the Middle East, of the situation in Syria in particular, and in this context also the subject of the presence of Christians: we know that one of the coincidences that exists between Russia and the Holy See is, in fact, this attention to the situation of Christians, the subject of the persecutions of Christians, which we tend to extend to all the religious groups, of course, and to all the minorities, seeking to involve the Muslims also, as was done, for instance, in that seminar that was held in Geneva last year. Then the topic of Ukraine, we had already talked a bit about it; the topic of Venezuela: I saw that the press also reported some statements that were made in this connection. Then, in addition to bilateral topics, which I referred to at the begining, we presented some situations of some difficulty in the Catholic community. I tried above all to say this, this was the message I wished to transmit: namely, that Russia, because of its geographic position, because of its history, because of its culture, because of its past, because of its present, has a great role to play in the International Community, in the world – a great role to play. Hence, it has a particular responsibility in matters of peace: be it the country, be it its leader, it has a great responsibility in matters of the building of peace and must truly make an effort to put the superior interest of peace above all other interests.
–Q: Finally, Eminence: in addition to the most significant meetings, is there any other particular moment or aspect that you wish to stress?
–Cardinal Parolin: Yes, there was the beautiful moment of the Mass together with the Catholic community. The Cathedral was full of people and it was something of a surprise, because it was a weekday and therefore we didn’t expect that there would be so many people; then, of course, I am always struck by the faith and the devotion of these people: how they take part in the Mass, with such attention, with such reverence, with such silence they are present there. And I believe they came above all to express their attachment to the Pope and the fact of being members of the universal Church. So, that was a beautiful moment. Another beautiful moment was the brief visit to Mother Teresa’s Sisters wo work in Moscow. We were able to meet and greet all the people they assist, manifested there also was great affection for the Pope. And then, the last thing that I’d like to recall: I was very impressed by the visit we made one evening to the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour, Moscow’s Orthodox Cathedral; Cathedral that was blown up during the Communist regime. And, therefore, it was also a moment to remember this most painful history of the time, in which they wished to eradicate the faith completely from the heart of believers and do away with every sign of the presence of God and of the Church in that Land. Something which didn’t succeed, as God is greater than men’s projects.
© ZENIT’s translation
Virginia M. Forrester