On Nov. 23, 2016, Peter Humeniuk, who oversees projects in Russia for international Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), spoke at Orthodox University in Moscow about the organization and the pioneering achievements of its founder, Father Werenfried van Straten. He recently discussed his experiences at the interfaith conference.
What can you tell us about the theme of the conference?
Peter Humeniuk: The title of the conference was: “The Unexpected Gift of Mercy.” Orthodox University is not far from the spot in Red Square, where, almost 25 years ago, on Oct. 13 1992—in commemoration of the “Miracle of the Sun” at Fatima—Father Werenfried prayed the rosary. It was wonderful to be able to hold the lecture there. The Orthodox Church’s invitation shows that our efforts to establish a dialogue with the Orthodox church in Russia, which we began in 1992 in response to a request from Pope John Paul II, is bearing fruit. The Orthodox University in Moscow is a very important institution; it is very significant that they invited a Catholic organization to participate.
What does this mean for ACN?
For us, it is a confirmation that our efforts and work are appreciated and by both the Catholic and the Orthodox Churches in Russia.
It is gratifying that, following the historic meeting of Pope Francis and Moscow Patriarch Kirill in Havana last February of this year, we were among the first to take action in response to their joint message. The two leaders specifically spoke out about the need for Catholics and Orthodox to work together to help Christians in the Middle East. Last April, ACN invited a Catholic-Orthodox delegation from Russia to meet with representatives of Churches in Syria and Lebanon to plan and initiate joint campaigns.
Are there other examples of joint steps that are currently being taken?
A Catholic-Orthodox working group was formed in Russia, which I have been asked to join as a representative of ACN. Beyond possible joint campaigns in Syria and the Middle East, our focus will take up the concerns for human life and the well-being of the family touched upon by Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill. In Russia, we may embark on a joint campaign to oppose abortion.
Clearly, a collaboration between Catholics and Orthodox is necessary given today’s most urgent challenges: the genocide of Christians in the Middle East, threats to the dignity of life, challenges regarding the future of the Christian family. The dialogue must not remain in the abstract, it needs to be reinforced by joint action and initiatives. The two Churches increasingly come together for specific projects and speak in a united voice. Most powerfully, the meeting between Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill in Havana set the wheels in motion.