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Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill

I hope that an in-depth Pope-Patriarch meeting does eventually take place, not only as a step forward in religious understanding but also as a contribution to world peace.

Pope Francis prepares to embrace Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill of Moscow after the leaders signed a joint declaration during a meeting at Jose Marti International Airport in Havana Feb. 12, 2016. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

So there will be no meeting, at least for now, between Pope Francis and Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia. Kirill’s support for President Vladimir Putin’s brutal war in Ukraine has put it out of reach.

The Pope badly wanted this meeting with Kirill, seeing it as a positive next step after his 2016 session with the Patriarch in Havana–an event believed to have had Putin’s blessing. The two men did manage to talk via a video call March 16, but except for saying the subject was Ukraine, information about their conversation was sketchy.

You get the flavor of the Patriarch’s bellicose nationalism in his response to the acting general secretary of the World Council of Churches, an Orthodox priest named Ioan Sauca, who wrote Kirill asking him to mediate an end to the war.

Citing injustices allegedly suffered by Russian-speakers in the breakaway eastern region of Ukraine, Kirill made this Putinesque analysis:

This tragic conflict has become a part of the largescale geopolitical strategy aimed…at weakening Russia. And now the Western leaders are imposing economic sanctions on Russia that will be harmful to everyone. They make their intentions blatantly obvious–to bring sufferings not only to the Russian political or military leaders but specifically to the Russian people.

And as Russian bombs fell on Ukraine, the Patriarch complained that “Russophobia is spreading across the Western world at an unprecedented pace.”

The religious situation in Ukraine as in world Orthodoxy generally is undoubtedly complex, while Russia plainly has legitimate security interests there. Putin’s personal aspirations and ambitions to be a czar-like champion of Russian Orthodoxy in Russia, Belarus, and Ukraine must also be taken into account in trying to understand the present crisis. Yet Kirill’s words, reflecting his well known personal history of backing Putin, do nothing to lessen the tensions and may in fact make them worse.

Granted all that, however, one can still only hope that an in-depth Pope-Patriarch meeting does eventually take place, not only as a step forward in religious understanding but also as a contribution to world peace.

In the long run, after all, no good purpose will be served by permanently isolating Russia. The sanctions imposed by America and its allies are necessary as a short-term response to the invasion of Ukraine, but they shouldn’t become permanent. Rather, the long-term policy goal should be the return of Russia to the community of nations as a peaceful partner.

Putin is another story of course. But trying to break him by breaking Russia is a bad idea. U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Victoria Nuland was surely correct when she told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that the war in Ukraine will end “when Putin realizes that this adventure has put his own leadership standing at risk, with his own military, with his own people.” The Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia could help the cause along by making the point to his friend the president.

Looking past this ghastly conflict, the short-term emphasis in the U.S. and other Western countries will most likely be on beefing up military strength, including nuclear weaponry. But beyond that, what the world most needs–and what the U.S. should take the lead in seeking– are serious talks, including Russia and China, on mutual security, disarmament (especially in the nuclear sector), and the creation and strengthening of institutions and processes for maintaining peace.

A new Francis-Kirill meeting, when and if one takes place, could be a small but significant step in the right direction.

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About Russell Shaw 295 Articles
Russell Shaw was secretary for public affairs of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops/United States Catholic Conference from 1969 to 1987. He is the author of 20 books, including Nothing to Hide, American Church: The Remarkable Rise, Meteoric Fall, and Uncertain Future of Catholicism in America, Eight Popes and the Crisis of Modernity, and, most recently, The Life of Jesus Christ (Our Sunday Visitor, 2021).


  1. If people of good will hope that “religious leaders” will meet to advance “world peace,” the podcast discussion btw Damian Thompson and Father Benedict Kiely of UK suggests that Pontiff Francis and his like-minded colleague Kirill are not two of the characters that people of good will can rely on.

    Let the staff pass to good shepherds, not these two operators.

  2. Putin chose to unilaterally attack a nation smaller than his which posed no threat. Ukraine is by no means a US satellite nation.In addition this is not simply a military incursion but he has been attacking civilians at will, even preventing them from fleeing. How Kirill can twist this into an attack on Russia is a mystery. One would like to hope that Popes and Patriarchs are above politics but it seems not. One day they will need to account to God for themselves and their failures. In addition, nations like our own are lead by the weak and fearful, who watch and do almost nothing of substance to help. Meanwhile, innocent people die.

    • The conflict in Ukraine is a border dispute between Russia and Ukraine. Observers who care about the tragic loss of life the war is producing should be encouraging dialogue between the warring parties. To provide additional arms and other military aid to Ukraine can only serve to prolong the conflict, resulting in more casualties. Furthermore, for the United States to provide material aid to the Ukrainian forces is in fact an act of war against Russia on our part. The warmongering psychopaths who play a large role in our government are pushing and pushing for the US to play an ever larger role in fighting Russia in this conflict. They are putting the security of the entire world at risk as they are openly flirting with the possibility of starting WWIII. World War III will have no winners, only losers. The Ukrainian government has killed between 13 and 14 thousand ethnic Russians in Eastern Ukraine since the Minsk agreements of 2015. Where are your tears for these people? The United States is using Ukraine as a proxy in their war against Russia. That is the goal of our government, to destroy Russia and install a puppet leader. The coup of 2014, which removed a pro-Russian, democratically elected leader, was instigated by our own government. This coup is what has led to the present crisis. Instead of encouraging our government to get more involved in this conflict, we should be telling them just the opposite. They should be trying to help put out the fire, not pour gasoline on it.

  3. “Rather, the long-term policy goal should be the return of Russia to the community of nations”

    “community of nations” = unipolar Anglo-American Empire


  4. – good to read about the efforts and focus made by Patriarch Kirill , in desiring to make Russia more prolife, ‘we are a large land and need more people ‘ .

    Holy Father caring much that life be protected for its sacredness ..

    The Lord desiring unity in The Churches – as in the well narrated prayer on the fifth day of D.M. Novena ; ‘the domestic churches’ too , not to be tearing at His Body in rebellion ..

    The mystery of the fear in The R.O . Church keeping same from acknowledging the sacredness and grace in The Catholic Church , effects of that fear impeding the desires to see own lands flourishing , also leading to the wars against the little and those who are seen as little ..

    May the call of Heaven be heeded , to shed the fears , to be open to Life as The Spirit of trust and its fruit of unity ,the walls of the hardness of hearts broken for the fruitfulness in families near and far as holiness , peace and new saintly lives all around ..

  5. I did believe that reaching out to Kirill was the way to go. Right now, I do not. I have a strong feeling that Kirill is a Taliban type of Christian leader. He is a religious nationalist who wants all Russians to be under his control. It is possible that Putin was prompted and blessed by Kirill, and so we had this Taliban type of attack.
    Perhaps, we should call this Kirill’s invasion of Ukraine.

  6. All war is brutal, it goes with the act. The US has fought wars for «security concerns» in various regions far beyond its continent since the 1950s. The current conflict in which
    Putin is engaged, whether Washington likes it or not, is rather similar
    I suspect that his Holiness the Patriarch of Moscow and all Rus’ has in mind the reclaiming of Kiev for Russian Orthodoxy. A «holy war» indeed, at one time Supreme Pontiffs unashamedly engaged in such.
    The devil is in the historic detail.

  7. “And now the Western leaders are imposing economic sanctions on Russia that will be harmful to everyone. They make their intentions blatantly obvious–to bring sufferings not only to the Russian political or military leaders but specifically to the Russian people.”

    Kirill is not wrong here. The West needs to stop meddling in other nations’ business. Sure Russia began the physical leg of this conflict, but we’ve been poking the bear for so long now. And these stupid sanctions will only hurt the citizens of Russia, America, and any other country involved.

    • “The West needs to stop meddling in other nations’ business.” Yes, we should leave that to Russia and China….for a better world.

  8. Russophobia has reached astronomical levels. Why? It cannot be the war, because it started shortly after the Soviet Union fell apart. I look to Hollywood films to tell us what is going on. Yes, Hollywood functions as the arm of the Globalism and the demoralization of the West. In “Air Force One,” (1997) the villain was a Russian “ultranationalist” played by Gary Oldman. The hero, played by Harrison Ford, is a Globalist, a man who would send Americans to anyplace on earth to die for “democracy,” meaning in real terms, abortion, sodomy and transgenderism. Of course, none of this is mentioned in the film, but that is what it means in Globalese. Another film of interest is “The Equalizer,” (2014) with Denzel Washington playing the lead, a former special forces assassin who now works in a big box hardware store. Washington is Black, yet he takes pity on a young White woman whom Russian mobsters force into prostitution. Of course, the Russians are loathsome and sadistic criminals with bizarre tattoos, some even suggesting Christian themes. Yes, the subtext is definitely anti-Christian in this film, even though in real life, the criminal mobsters that came to the US from Russia were mostly Jews. Many other films have the same anti-Russian themes. This is how it all works. Hollywood prepares the US public way in advance for Globalist moves to gain power. So, today, Putin is the bad guy–not because he invaded Ukraine–but, because he resists, successfully, the Globalist agenda of sodomy, abortion, transgenderism and Christophobia, the same agenda which Catholics should be resisting with all their might in the US.

  9. Helping other countries is a Christian or, shall I say, a Godly thing to do. However, exploiting other countries needs to be condemned – regardless of which country does the exploiting.

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  1. V Ríme sa začína hovoriť o stretnutí pápeža Františka s patriarchom Kirillom. Malo by to zmysel? | Začas

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