TO MARK the second anniversary the historic meeting between Pope Francis and Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill of Moscow, the president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, Cardinal Kurt Koch, and Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk, chairman of the Moscow Patriarchate department for external Church relations, met in Vienna Feb. 12, 2018. Catholic-Russian Orthodox relations are growing steadily.
The main focus, of the gathering—which was hosted by Cardinal Christoph Schönborn, OP, the archbishop of Vienna—was the situation of Christians in the Middle East and a joint response of the Catholic and Orthodox Churches to the persecution of Christians in this region and in other parts of the world.
A delegation from our organization—which has been promoting the dialogue between the Catholic and Russian Orthodox Churches for 25 years—also attended the meeting and presented a documentation on the suffering of Christians in Syria, a joint Catholic-Orthodox production.
Cardinal Koch emphasized that the unity of the Church has already been realized in the saints. The cardinal talked about the “alarming phenomenon” of Christians leaving the Middle East, which has made it necessary to help Christians remain in their homeland.
Metropolitan Hilarion emphasized that the Russian Orthodox Church had also fallen victim to persecution during the last century and would now like to help persecuted Christians in cooperation with the Catholic Church. The metropolitan considers the persecution of Christians to be today’s “most important challenge” for the Churches.
Metropolitan Hilarion praised the effectiveness of the cooperation of the two Churches in this area, which, he suggested, has helped move today’s persecution of Christians into the media spotlight. He also emphasized that the designation “genocide” was first applied to the suffering of the Christians in the Middle East during the meeting between Pope and patriarch.
The meeting in Vienna set the stage for the first official appearance of an ecumenical working group that is being sponsored by our organization. “On the one hand, the cooperation is about providing aid to Christians in the Middle East and, on the other hand, it serves to promote joint Christian values, especially for the protection of human life and the traditional Christian family – both urgent issues of our times,” Peter Humeniuk, head of our Russian section, said.
Our documentation on the situation of Christians in Syria is part of a large-scale investigation that has begun assessing damages sustained by the church buildings of all local denominations during the civil war in Syria. The initiative aims to lay the groundwork for eventual reconstruction efforts.