Road to peace: Shadow of war hangs over Pope’s visit to Kazakhstan

VATICAN CITY — While the purpose of Pope Francis’ visit to Kazakhstan will be to attend the Congress of World and Traditional Religions, the interfaith encounter will also serve as the backdrop for his long-awaited meeting with Russian Orthodox Patriarch Cyril.

Pope Francis has wanted to meet the Patriarch for months, telling Univision, the Spanish-language network, in an interview broadcast in the United States on July 11 that he plans to meet the Patriarch during his visit from September 13-15. in Kazakhstan.

The pope told Univision he had “good relations” with Patriarch Kirill, who strongly supported Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Despite their opposing views on the war, the pope said, “It is obvious that his position is conditioned by his homeland in some way; which does not mean that it is indecent. Nope; God knows everyone’s moral responsibilities deep in their hearts.

Held every three years, the Congress of World and Traditional Religions is an initiative of Kazakhstan’s first president, Nursultan Nazarbayev, with the aim of promoting dialogue among religions, the congress website says.

He added that another objective of the congress is to prevent “the use of people’s religious feelings for the escalation of conflicts and hostilities”.

While the outcome of a meeting between Pope Francis and Patriarch Cyril is not yet known, the significance of such a meeting taking place in Kazakhstan during the Congress of World and Traditional Religions is significant, the President said. Adelio Dell’Oro of Karaganda, Kazakhstan.

“It would be beautiful if this meeting took place here and it would be understood that religion is not at the service of the state, as Pope Francis told the Patriarch during his online meeting with him,” Bishop Dell’Oro told SIR, the news agency of the Italian episcopal conference, in an interview published July 1.

“It is important that spiritual leaders affirm that religion is a factor of unity and reconciliation, and it is therefore a responsibility for those who are believers, especially if they are Christians, to recognize – beyond all differences and divisions – that Jesus is the one who unites us at the root,” he said.

Patriarch Kirill’s outspoken support for Russian President Vladimir Putin’s war on Ukraine, particularly his justification of war as a defense against Western immorality, has caused rifts within the Russian Orthodox Church and strained relations with the Catholic Church.

Pope Francis was particularly blunt in reminding Patriarch Cyril of the proper role of a shepherd of the people.

In an interview with the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera, published May 3, Pope Francis said that during a Zoom meeting in mid-March he told the Patriarch: “Brother, we are not clerics of the ‘state, we cannot use the language of politics, but of Jesus.

“The patriarch cannot turn into Putin’s altar boy,” the pope told the Italian newspaper. This reminder, however, was not well received and drew a critical response from the Moscow Patriarchate.

“Pope Francis chose an incorrect tone to convey the content of this conversation,” the Patriarchate said May 4. “Such statements are unlikely to contribute to the establishment of a constructive dialogue between the Roman Catholic and Russian Orthodox churches, which is particularly the present time.

Some Vatican officials — including Cardinal Kurt Koch, president of the Dicastery for Promoting Christian Unity — have been more openly critical of the Russian patriarch.

In an interview published in late June with the German newspaper Die Tagespost, Cardinal Koch said Patriarch Kirill’s support for the invasion for “pseudo-religious reasons” amounted to “heresy”.

He also said he was grateful that Pope Francis had canceled a proposal to meet with Patriarch Kirill in Jerusalem, adding that a meeting between the two while “acts of war are still ongoing” would be “exposed to serious misunderstandings”.

“That’s because it could be misunderstood as the pope’s support of the patriarch’s position, which would seriously damage the pope’s moral authority,” Koch said.

Andrii Yurash, Ukraine’s ambassador to the Holy See, told Catholic News Service on July 18 that although the Catholic Church has been trying to establish closer ties with the Russian Orthodox Church “for over half a century”, the war in Ukraine showed that the Moscow Patriarchate true colors.

“All this time, the Russian Church tried to use the Holy See, not from a Christian point of view, but from a political point of view; as an instrument to be used in favor of the Soviet state before and after, in the interests of the Russian state,” Yurash said.

Nevertheless, while relations between the two churches may be strained, an inter-religious meeting aimed at promoting peace and unity could prove opportune.

Moreover, the presence of Pope Francis at the meeting is the “greatest achievement” of the congress because he “is the most important and recognized international personality in the field of promoting dialogue between different nations, cultures and religions. “. said Bishop José Luis Mumbiela Sierra of the Holy Trinity in Almaty, president of the Catholic Episcopal Conference of Central Asia, in an interview with Vatican News published on August 4.

“To evangelize is also to strengthen social coexistence through dialogue and cordiality between those who profess different beliefs, or none at all,” Mumbiela said.

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