THIS MONTH (Jan. 18-25, 2018), Christian Churches around the world are observing the “Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.” Our organization is using the occasion to put the spotlight on its work promoting the dialogue between the Catholic Church and the Russian Orthodox for the past 25 years. In this we are responding to the request made by St. Pope John Paul II and his successors.
In this report, the director of our British national office, Mr. Neville Kyrke-Smith, describes a new joint initiative in Stavropol that assists women coping with crisis pregnancies, a project that we are helping to fund. The Center for Women and Families is currently housing 42 destitute women and their families.
Russian Orthodox Metropolitan Kirill of Stavropol and Nevinnomysk joined Mr. Smith for the opening of the Center. Said Mr. Smith: “This project is absolutely vital, as it supports pregnant women who are often left without any assistance from their families. The center was founded by the Orthodox Church and we are delighted to be able to support this important ecumenical project, which is helping women in a very difficult situation.”
We have contributed about $25,000 to the center, which offers women an alternative to abortion, also via telephone counselling, advice and information.
Last fall, members of both the Catholic and Russian Orthodox Churches attended the international protection of life seminar held by the Moscow Patriarchate in. The seminar developed the call to “respect the inalienable right to life” as issued by Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill in their joint declaration made in Havana, Cuba, in February 2016.
Our Russia expert Peter Humeniuk described the conference as taking “concrete steps in the spirit of ecumenism. The seminar focused on analyzing the situation, but also – and particularly – on finding solutions.” Delegates met with a Catholic group from Milan that offers pregnancy counselling and has already saved the lives of almost 20,000 children.
Speaking of the impact of abortion on Russia’s population as well as its global effect, Mr. Humeniuk said: “Unfortunately, abortion is very prevalent in Russia. This can be traced back to Soviet times. [However,] the Russian people are beginning to become aware of this problem, because, if nothing else, the demographic development in Russia and that of the Western world have now become a wake-up call for many people.”
We are also supporting an intensive year-long drug addiction rehabilitation course, with success rates as high as 80 percent. We also helped built a new chapel in Stavropol; the Catholic community previously gathered in a farmer’s workshop. Father Mitrzak is the first Catholic priest residing permanently in the city since the Russian Revolution; there since the Revolution; Metropolitan Kyrill is helping the chapel with registration requirements.
Speaking of our work helping vulnerable people Mr Kyrke-Smith said: “We are greatly encouraged by the Russian Orthodox and Catholic Churches working together, particularly on social projects and protecting the right to family and life. ACN is inspired by our Savior’s own words ‘as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me’ [Matt 25:40], in developing initiatives between Churches helping Christ’s body – our brothers and sisters in need.
At their historic meeting, Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill of Moscow identified important areas requiring even more intense cooperation between the two Churches. In response to their appeal, cooperation between Catholic and Orthodox Christians has grown. An ecumenical working group has been founded in which we are significantly involved. This working group coordinates and organizes initiatives, events and conferences focused on the protection of human life and the family, as well as to support persecuted Christians in the Middle East.
—Murcadha O’Flaherty & John Pontifex