Plight of Middle East Christians is focus of patriarch-pope dialogue


RIA Novosti, 9 February 2016


The holding of the meeting of the primate of the Russian Orthodox Church and the Roman pope in an airport does not signify that it will be "on the run." The conversation will last as long as is necessary for agreement on a declaration, and the place itself is convenient and neutral, Vladimir Legoida, the chairman of the synod's Department for Relations of Church with Society and News Media, said in an interview with RIA Novosti.


The first meeting in history of a primate of the Russian Orthodox Church and a Roman pope will occur in Cuba on 12 February during the patriarch's visit to countries of Latin America and a joint declaration will be adopted on the basis of its results. The meeting will occur in the Jose Marti International Airport in the Cuban capital, Havana.


Previously Legoida reported that the meeting of Patriarch of Moscow and all-Rus Kirill and the head of the Roman Catholic Church, Francis, was the result of the necessity of joint actions in matters of help for Christian communities of countries of the Near East, inasmuch as their exodus from the region "is a catastrophe for the whole world."


"We are proceeding on the basis that the protocol part (of the meeting) will be 15 minutes and after that . . . the time was said to be two hours, but I do not think that somebody can enter and say 'finish up.' That depends on what they decide," Legoida said.


He emphasized that "after the protocol part, the meeting will last as long as is necessary in order to agree on the text of a declaration." "This is very important. We are very much awaiting this joint text. After it, obviously, there should follow changes in the situation (involving Christians in the world)," he said.


"Many have asked whether, since this is an airport, this meeting will be 'on the run.' It will not be," Legoida assured.


To the question of why it was an airport that was selected for the meeting, the church's representative said that "the airport here is inevitable as a territory where the itineraries intersect: the pope is flying to Mexico and we will be on a route from Cuba to Brazil to Paraguay." "And this is the most convenient place; it is neutral territory; there is no liturgical component, which is unnecessary in this case," he explained.


"The meeting of the patriarch and pope has a definite agenda. Its basic contents are connected with the situation of Christians in the contemporary world, in the Near East and in northern and central Africa," Legoida explained.


"This does not mean that those problems that we always have pointed to as obstacles to a meeting, and that are connected with the activity of Uniates in Ukraine, have been resolved. Unfortunately we consider that these problems have not been resolved, but the present situation involving Christians makes this meeting necessary," he emphasized.


"As regards theological dialogue, working groups are acting and these meetings are being conducted regularly, and in this case this is absolutely not the object of the meeting (of the patriarch and pope)," the RPTs representative added.


He did not answer a question about the possibility of subsequent meetings and establishing a regular dialogue. "I would wait for the results of the first meeting before talking about the future," he said.


A meeting of a patriarch and a pope was planned back in the 1990s, but it did not happen since questions that are important for the position of the RPTs could not be agreed. However the sides continued to prepare a meeting, pointing out that it is important and possible.


In November 2014, while talking with journalists on board an airplane on which he flew to Turkey, Pope Francis declared that he was ready to meet with Patriarch of Moscow and all-Rus Kirill "at any time." In an interview with RIA Novosti on 30 December 2014, the chairman of the synod's Information Department of the Moscow patriarchate, Vladimir Legoida, declared that a meeting of Patriarch Kirill and Pope Francis could be held specifically after there was a resolution of issues connected with actions of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church (UGKTs). The UGKTs (Uniates), whose adherents live primarily in the west of Ukraine, maintain the Orthodox rite but recognize the Roman pope as their head. (tr. by PDS, posted 10 February 2016)

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