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Pope Francis greets Russian Orthodox metropolitan after audience

May 3, 2023 Catholic News Agency 2
Metropolitan Anthony, chairman for external church relations of the Russian Orthodox Church, greets Pope Francis after his weekly general audience in St. Peter’s Square on May 3, 2023 / Daniel Ibañez/CNA

Rome Newsroom, May 3, 2023 / 06:15 am (CNA).

Pope Francis greeted the chairman for external church relations of the Russian Orthodox Church after his weekly public audience on Wednesday.

The brief encounter in St. Peter’s Square with Metropolitan Anthony comes amid heightened scrutiny of diplomatic signals involving the Holy See’s desire to broker a peaceful settlement to the ongoing fighting in Ukraine.

In his press conference Sunday on his flight back to Rome from Budapest, Pope Francis told reporters that the Holy See is involved in a secret peace mission to end the conflict. Both Ukrainian and Russian officials were quick to deny that negotiations were taking place, but a close papal aide confirmed the pope’s statement in an interview with an Italian news outlet published Wednesday.

In the livestream video of the May 3 general audience, Metropolitan Anthony, 38, could be seen approaching the pope and shaking his hand. Francis kissed the bishop’s pectoral cross. The two spoke for just under one minute and exchanged small gifts.

Pope Francis has wanted to meet with the leader of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Kirill, since the start of the full-scale war in Ukraine. A planned meeting between the two leaders in Jerusalem last summer, which would have taken place during a trip to Lebanon, was canceled.

On the second day of his trip to Budapest, Hungary, April 28-30, the pope had a private meeting with Russian Orthodox Metropolitan Archbishop Hilarion. During his in-flight press conference April 30, the pope commented on meeting Hilarion, saying he is someone “for whom I have much respect, and we have always had a good relationship.”

“Hilarion is an intelligent person with whom one can talk, and such relationships must be maintained, because if we talk about ecumenism, we can then say ‘I like this, but I don’t like that …’ We must extend our hand towards everyone, and also accept the extended hand of others,” he said, according to a Vatican transcript of the press conference. The metropolitan was also present at Francis’ Sunday Mass in Budapest.

Metropolitan Anthony, chairman for external church relations of the Russian Orthodox Church, walks with Monsignor Leonardo Sapienza, regent of the Pontifical House, in St. Peter's Square on May 3, 2023. The metropolitan had a brief exchange with Pope Francis after the pope's general audience on May 3, amid heightened scrutiny of diplomatic relations between the Holy See and Russia. Daniel Ibañez/CNA
Metropolitan Anthony, chairman for external church relations of the Russian Orthodox Church, walks with Monsignor Leonardo Sapienza, regent of the Pontifical House, in St. Peter’s Square on May 3, 2023. The metropolitan had a brief exchange with Pope Francis after the pope’s general audience on May 3, amid heightened scrutiny of diplomatic relations between the Holy See and Russia. Daniel Ibañez/CNA

Pope Francis also said during the in-flight press conference that he has only spoken once with Kirill since Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022. The two spoke, he said, for 40 minutes over a Zoom video call.

He also said that Metropolitan Anthony, who replaced Hilarion as chairman for external church relations, “comes to see me.”

“He is a bishop who was a pastor in Rome and knows the situation well, and through him I am in contact with Kirill,” he added.

Anthony was a clergyman in Rome from 2011-2019.

Responding to the pope’s comments about secret talks, an official in the Ukrainian presidential office told CNN on May 1 that he was “not aware” of a peace mission. “If there are talks, they are taking place without our knowledge,” he said, according to CNN.

According to TASS news agency, a spokesman for the Kremlin, Dmitry Peskov, said Tuesday that Russia also “has no knowledge” of this mission.

However, economist Stefano Zamagni, until recently the president of the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences, has reportedly confirmed the veracity of Pope Francis’ comments about a peace mission.

Zamagni, thought to be a close advisor to Pope Francis, was quoted in the Italian newspaper Il Fatto Quotidiano on May 3 saying, “the pope has been working continuously for peace for more than eight months. But it’s no surprise: It is obvious that both the Kremlin and Kyiv deny it because there is still no official document.”

The economist said the Vatican is carrying forward a seven-point plan for the peace process he outlined last September.


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To counter ‘third world war,’ Pope Francis proposes ‘truth, justice, solidarity, and freedom’

January 9, 2023 Catholic News Agency 2
Pope Francis addresses international diplomats to the Holy See on Jan. 9, 2023, in the Vatican’s Blessing Hall. / Vatican Media

Rome Newsroom, Jan 9, 2023 / 06:28 am (CNA).

The global community is engaged in a “third world war” marked by heightened fear, conflict, and risk of nuclear violence, but a recommitment to “truth, justice, solidarity and freedom” can provide a pathway to peace, Pope Francis told international diplomats Monday.

Citing the ongoing war in Ukraine, but also drawing on conflicts in places such as Syria, West Africa, Ethiopia, Israel, Myanmar, and the Korean Peninsula, the Holy Father said this global struggle is being “fought piecemeal,” but is nonetheless interconnected.

“Today the third world war is taking place in a globalized world where conflicts involve only certain areas of the planet direct, but in fact involve them all,” said Pope Francis, speaking in the Vatican’s apostolic palace.

The pope made these remarks as part of his annual address to the diplomatic corps accredited to the Holy See. Pope Francis characterized this speech as “a call for peace in a world that is witnessing heightened divisions and war.”

Pope Francis addresses diplomats to the Holy See in the Blessing Hall at the Vatican on Jan. 9, 2023. Vatican Media
Pope Francis addresses diplomats to the Holy See in the Blessing Hall at the Vatican on Jan. 9, 2023. Vatican Media

As part of this heightening of tensions, the Pope warned about the increased threat of nuclear warfare, drawing particular concern to the stall in negotiations for the Iran nuclear deal. He told the gathered diplomats that the possession of nuclear weapons is “immoral” and called for an end to a mentality that pursues conflict deterrence through the development of ever-more lethal means of warfare.

“There is a need to change this way of thinking and move toward an integral disarmament, since no peace is possible when instruments of death are proliferating,” the pope said.

In proposing a path towards global peace, the Holy Father drew heavily from Pacem in Terris (“Peace on Earth”), the papal encyclical promulgated by St. John XXIII in 1962. Pope Francis said the conditions which prompted the “good Pope” to issue Pacem in Terris 60 years ago bear a striking similarity to the state of the world today.

In particular, the Holy Father drew from what John XXIII described as the “four fundamental goods” necessary for peace: truth, justice, solidarity, and freedom, values that “serve as the pillars that regulate relationships between individuals and political communities alike.”

Regarding “peace in truth,” the Holy Father underscored the “primary duty” of governments to protect the right to life at every stage of human life.

“Peace requires before all else the defense of life, a good that today is jeopardized not only by conflicts, hunger, and diseases, but all too often in the mother’s womb, through promotion of an alleged ‘right to abortion,’” said Pope Francis, also calling for an end to the death penalty and violence against women.

Speaking of the necessity of religious freedom for peace, the Holy Father noted widespread religious persecution against Christian minorities, but also discrimination in countries where Christianity is a majority religion.

“Religious freedom is also endangered wherever believers see their ability to express their convictions in the life of society restricted in the name of a misguided understanding of inclusiveness,” he said.

Regarding justice, the Holy Father called for a “profound rethinking” of multilateral systems such as the United Nations to make them more effective at responding to conflicts like the war in Ukraine. But he also criticized international bodies for “imposing forms of ideological colonization, especially on poorer countries” and warned of the growing risk of “ideological totalitarianism” that promotes intolerance towards those who dissent from certain positions claimed to represent ‘progress.’”

Pope Francis visits with international diplomats accredited to the Holy See on Jan. 9, 2023, at the Vatican. Vatican Media
Pope Francis visits with international diplomats accredited to the Holy See on Jan. 9, 2023, at the Vatican. Vatican Media

The Holy Father also spoke of the need to deepen a sense of global solidarity, citing four areas of interconnectedness: immigration, the economy and work, and care for creation,

“The paths of peace are paths of solidarity, for no one can be saved alone. We live in a world interconnected that, in the end, the actions of each have consequences for all.”

Finally, regarding “peace in freedom,” Pope Francis warned of the “weakening of democracy” in many parts of the world, and an increase in political polarization. He said peace is only possible if “in every single community, there does not prevail that culture of oppression and aggression in which our neighbor is regarded as an enemy to attack, rather than a brother or sister to welcome and embrace.”

The Holy Father’s address to the diplomatic corps, which includes representatives of the 91 countries and entities with an embassy chancellery accredited to the Holy See, also served as an opportunity to review diplomatic highlights of the past year and expectations for the year to come.

Milestones included the signing of new bilateral accords with both the Democratic Republic of São Tomé and Príncipe and with the Republic of Kazakhstan. The Holy Father also briefly mentioned the provisional agreement between the Holy See and the People’s Republic of China, first agreed to in 2018 and renewed in 2022 for an additional two years.

“It is my hope that this collaborative relationship can increase, for the benefit of the life of the Catholic Church and that of the Chinese people.”

The next significant marker on the pope’s diplomatic docket: His trip to the Democratic Republic of Congo at the end of the month as a “pilgrim of peace,” followed by a joint visit to South Sudan with the Archbishop of Canterbury and the head of the Presbyterian Church of Scotland.


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Pope Francis in Canada: A papal pilgrimage for healing and reconciliation

July 23, 2022 Catholic News Agency 5
Pope Francis meets with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau at the Vatican on May 29, 2017. / © L’Osservatore Romano.

Rome Newsroom, Jul 23, 2022 / 08:15 am (CNA).

The 37th Apostolic Journey of Pope Francis, which will take him to Canada from July 24-30, is a “penitential pilgrimage”: The Holy Father will “meet and embrace the indigenous peoples”, and he will apologize for the role of the Church in a system guilty of deadly neglect, suffering and abuse.  

In doing so, the pope may also set in motion another process of healing and reconciliation: a normalization of the Holy See’s relationship with the government of Canada.

A key moment, preparing the portentous papal pilgrimage to Canada, took place in the Vatican on May 29, 2017. 

On that day, Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau extended an invitation to Pope Francis to visit the country, during which time he could bring the Church’s apology for harm done to indigenous people in the mid-19th through 20th centuries. 

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which ran from 2008-2015, concluded that thousands of children died whilst attending “Indian Residential Schools”, and called for action on 94 points

Of these, four were directed at the Church. The were published in the section “Church apologies and reconciliation”. 

In it, the commission called on Pope Francis “to issue an apology to Survivors, their families, and communities for the Roman Catholic Church’s role in the spiritual, cultural, emotional, physical, and sexual abuse of First Nations, Inuit, and Métis children in Catholic-run residential schools.”

The commission worked out its suggestions for healing and reconciliation by drawing on voluminous reports about the legacy of the residential schools system. Assessing these, including the question of responsibilities in what was perpetrated in those schools, turned out to be far more complex than many expected.

A government program run by Christian churches

The “Indian residential schools” system was a network of boarding schools created by the Canadian federal government in the 19th century. It was mainly supported by government funds and supervised by government officials

The system existed from 1833 to 1996, when the last of these schools was closed. The schools were run by several Christian denominations, including some Catholic dioceses and religious communities.

These schools did not simply provide education to children of First Nations, Inuit, and Métis peoples. In reality, they served to provide a program of assimilation, carried out against a population often mistakenly perceived as an “obstacle” to the nation’s “progress”.

The Canadian Bishops’ Conference explained on its website that this system had a burdensome human cost: “While many alumni and school staff have spoken positively about their experiences in some schools, many others today say of much more painful memories and legacies, such as the prohibition of Aboriginal languages ​​and cultural practices, as well as cases of emotional abuse, physical and even sexual. “

The involvement of the Catholic Church

About 16 out of 70 Canadian dioceses have been associated with residential schools, in addition to about forty of a hundred or so religious communities in Canada.

The Canadian Bishops’ Conference acknowledged in a November 1993 brief for the Royal Commission on Aboriginal People that “the various types of abuse experienced in some residential schools have led us to a profound examination of conscience in the Church.”

Since the 1990s, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Canada and orders such as the Jesuits offered apology statements such as this one on the bishops’ official website

The response also included the establishment of a $30 million national pledge made by Canadian Bishops in September 2021.

Similarly, the Holy See has increasingly come to terms with this chapter of the Church’s history in Canada. 

Pope John Paul II visited in 1984 and 1987. On both occasions, he met indigenous people, exalting their culture and the renewal brought to them by Christianity.

Benedict XVI met with Phil Fontaine, Great Chief of the Assembly of the First Nations of Canada, at the end of the general audience on Apr. 29, 2009.

He “recalled that since the earliest days of her presence in Canada, the Church, particularly through her missionary personnel, has closely accompanied the indigenous peoples.” Referring to residential schools, Benedict XVI expressed “his sorrow at the anguish caused by the deplorable conduct of some members of the Church, and he offered his sympathy and prayerful solidarity.”

An early whistleblower and a recent warning

At the turn of the 20th century, Peter Henderson Bryce, a public health official and physician, was the first to report about unsanitary conditions in residential schools in Canada. He gathered all the information he could and then, in 1907, published his findings — according to which about a quarter of the indigenous children in residential schools had died of tuberculosis.

Bryce also pointed to the wider question of discrimination, noting that health funds for average citizens of Ottawa were about three times higher than those for First Nations peoples.

Government policies, in other words, had caused the deaths of many indigenous children. 

Following attempts by government officials to silence him, Bryce published, at his expense, a small booklet on the issue, titled The Story of a National Crime.

Writing about “myth versus evidence”, Mark DeWolf noted in a 2018 essay — published by public policy think tank FCPP — that “cultural repression, abuse of all kinds, forceful incarceration and even avoidable deaths did happen, and a system that should have done much more to avoid these things should be justly condemned.”

He concluded that the residential schools system was bad and “a deeply flawed attempt to accomplish two main objectives: to give native children education and training that would help them survive economically and socially in a white man’s world, and to eradicate those aspects of native culture that would hold them back from achieving those goals.”

At the same time, pointing to low attendance numbers and other aspects of the system, DeWolf warned of making the residential schools “a scapegoat for 200 years of land appropriation, cultural invasion, deprivation, marginalization, and demoralization.”

Otherwise, little would be done to stop and reverse bad policies and practices today.

This point is pertinent, irrespective of whether one agrees with DeWolf otherwise: A 2019 Canadian Human Rights Court ruling established that between 2006 and 2017, the government had removed between 40,000 to 80,000 indigenous children from their families and deprived them of social services. In addition, the ruling sentenced Canada to pay $40,000 to each victim for discriminatory conduct. The government appealed the ruling, without success.

To further add to the complexity, critics have raised questions about irresponsible media reporting when the discovery of what was first described as unmarked graves on the grounds of the former Kamloops Indian Residential made international news. 

On June 24, 2021, it was first announced that 751 unmarked graves had been discovered at the site of a former school. Leaders emphasized that the discovery was of unmarked graves, and not a “mass grave site.”

Nonetheless, following the news, some Catholic churches in Canada were vandalized or found ablaze.

A gesture with consequences – and an open question 

Pope Francis decided to apologize for the Catholic Church’s role and assume responsibility, neither commenting on the issue of sometimes questionable media coverage, nor pursuing the question of just how responsible the Church was within the wider historical context.

In short, this visit is a great act of goodwill by the pope, and one that intends to heal and reconcile.

This may also apply to relations between Canada and the Holy See, as these have been strained for a while. The issue of the “Indian residential schools” system was likely one of the reasons.

 Currently, Canada has not formally appointed an ambassador to the Holy See. There is a chargée d’Affaires, Paul Gibbard. He took the position in the year 2021, after three years of vacancy. The last Canadian ambassador to the Holy See was Dennis Savoie, who was in office from 2014 to 2018.

This Papal trip might help to somewhat normalize relations, and the position of Gibbard might be upgraded to that of an ambassador. However, after the visit, the full reality and extent of the residential schools system still needs to be fully brought to light — and not just with a view to the role of the Church.