Swiss Cardinal Kurt Koch, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, in November 2011. (CNS photo/Nancy Wiechec)
Radio) The Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill is enthusiastic about the
pontificate of Pope Francis. So the
Patriarch of Moscow told Cardinal Kurt Koch, president of the Pontifical
Council for Promoting Christian Unity, last week in the capital of the Russian
Federation. The Swiss cardinal and Curia
official met for the second time with the Russian Orthodox Primate on Wednesday
and Thursday, December 18 and 19, 2013.
In a German-language interview with Mario Galgano, Cardinal Koch
considers the topics that he discussed with Patriarch Kirill. [Translated for CWR by Michael J. Miller]
Koch: Of course it was mainly about the general
relationship between the Russian Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic
Church. But we also conferred about the
theological discussions and how it [i.e. the ecumenical dialogue] can
continue. Another topic was the
challenge of today’s society for Christians.
The patriarch and I also spoke about the political situation worldwide,
however. In this connection we were very
concerned about the situation in Syria and generally in the Near East.
Mario Galgano: Many people expect that in an official conversation
between a representative of the Catholic Church and the Patriarch of the
Russian Orthodox Church there will be discussion of a possible meeting with the
Pope. Were there concrete plans for it
Koch: Again and again there is talk about
that. The one in charge of ecumenical
relations for the Russian Orthodox Church, Metropolitan Hilarion, has
repeatedly emphasized that there is something more important than the date of
the meeting, namely the preparation for it.
And I support that attitude. It
takes time for that, too.
Galgano: What did Patriarch Kiril
say specifically about Pope Francis?
Koch: He is very pleased with this pontificate and
even said so in his first speech. He
especially admires how Pope Francis is leading the Church and his way of
dealing with people. Kirill also
mentioned the special emphasis that Pope Francis places on the encounter with
the poor. Another area of discussion is
the Pope’s stance toward the family.
Galgano: In Eastern Europe at the
moment the situation is very tense, especially in Ukraine. There both the Catholic Church and also the
Russian Orthodox Church have made statements about the political
conflicts. Was that another topic that
you discussed with the patriarch?
Koch: Ukraine is a topic that is again and again a
cause of concern for the Russian Orthodox Church. Above all they are worried about the
Greek-Catholic Church* in Ukraine, which is united with Rome. This was addressed repeatedly. But political developments in Ukraine were
another topic, because the country is leaning precariously toward a
division. That is a very urgent
*Note: At a press conference in Moscow, Cardinal
Koch said that both Orthodox and Catholic believers in Ukraine have suffered
because of the conflict there between the two faiths. “Only by recognizing [the grievances on both
sides] can we move together into the future.”
Cardinal Koch recalled that the Ukrainian Catholic Church was forcibly
dissolved by the Communists and its church buildings were given to Orthodox congregations. He
also noted that present-day grass-roots ecumenism is complicated for Greek
Catholics in Ukraine by the fact that there are three competing Orthodox groups
there. “If Orthodoxy in Ukraine were
united in one Church, that would be a major step toward solving the problem.”