May 22, 2014
The visit coincides with the fiftieth anniversary of the meeting in Jerusalem between the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, Athenagoras, and Pope Paul VI in January 1964. Cardinal Kurt Koch, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, in an interview for the Swiss online paper katholisch-informiert.ch, said that too much should not be made of the encounter in terms of prospects for greater unity. While he thought the present good Catholic-Orthodox relations would be deepened on the Pope’s journey to the Holy Land, Cardinal Koch said he did not expect the problems that still existed in the theological dialogues with the individual Orthodox patriarchates to be solved. “I am more inclined to think that greater unity between the Orthodox and Catholic Churches will be reached at the Panorthodox Synod in 2016,” Cardinal Koch said.
However, he insisted that “the four meetings with Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I are clearly at the heart of the whole journey.” Vatican spokesman Fr Federico Lombardi made the same point last week. The rite “in which they will venerate the Holy Sepulchre is … the great ecumenical novelty of the trip,” he said. “In other words, it will be an historic and extraordinary event”.
Meanwhile, in an interview in Moscow, the Russian Orthodox Church offered its own perspective on the meeting between Francis and Bartholomew. The meeting is one between the Bishops of Rome and Constantinople, with no special validity for other Orthodox Churches, said Metropolitan Hilarion, the Moscow patriarchate’s director of foreign church affairs.
Metropolitan Hilarion said the current crisis in Ukraine, which has heightened tensions between the Churches there, has also set back Moscow-Vatican relations that had started to improve under Pope Francis. Speaking in his office at Moscow’s Danilov Monastery, Metropolitan Hilarion said: “All these events and the activity of the Uniates take us back to the situation when Catholics and Orthodox didn’t consider themselves allies, but enemies.”