Monday, April 27, 2009

Proposal for Pope and Patriarch to Meet in Belarus

Belarusian President Aleksandr Lukashenko met with Pope Benedict today and foreign reports indicate the president proposed a meeting between Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill and the pope could take place in his country. From Russia Today:
Before the meeting, the Belarusian president said he was going to present the Pope with a number of questions from the Patriarch of Moscow and all Russia, Kirill. Talking to the Pope, he also expressed hope that Benedict XVI would come to Belarus. The visit of the Pope to Belarus, which is a canonical territory of the Russian Orthodox Church, would itself be a notable event. But the fact is that the Belarusian leader wants to play a role in organizing a historical meeting of the Pope and the Patriarch on Belarusian territory. That was what he proposed to Patriarch Kirill while in Moscow this spring.

The idea to bring leaders of the two branches of Christianity together in Belarus is not a new one. Aleksandr Lukashenko proposed it as early as in 2002. However, today it has taken on an interesting twist: Kirill already met Benedict XVI several times as a head of the Department for External Church Relations of the Russian Orthodox Church. He was also often criticized for his ecumenical policies, as he advocates for deeper cooperation with the Catholic Church. All this makes the possibility of a meeting between the leaders of the Orthodox and Catholic Churches greater than ever. And if Lukashenko’s proposal is accepted, Belarus will play an important role as a conciliator and a peacemaker. In this sense, Lukashenko is doing a great job, improving Belarus’ image on an international level and doing a favor for Kirill who, according to all indications, would like to meet the Pope.

I'm not familiar with the paper, so I'm not sure of its reliability, but AP concurs on one point:
During the Vatican audience, which lasted 25 minutes, Lukashenko invited the pope to visit Belarus "God willing," witnesses said. The president's 5-year-old son, Nikola, gave the pontiff his ABCs book from school.

The Vatican said the two discussed the role of the Catholic Church in Belarus and relations with the Russian Orthodox Church.

Lukashenko is hoping to play the role of intermediary in relations between the Vatican and the Russian Orthodox Church and help bring about the first meeting between the pope and Patriarch Kirill in Belarus.

The Vatican communication on the meeting, still just in Italian, does not mention the proposal but, among other things, mentions talk of good relations between the Orthodox and Catholic Churches in Belarus:
Durante le conversazioni, svoltesi in un clima positivo, sono state affrontate questioni attinenti al rapporto tra fede e ragione e al dialogo interconfessionale e interculturale. Inoltre sono stati trattati temi di carattere internazionale legati alla promozione della pace e dell’autentico progresso dell’umanità, come pure alcune problematiche interne del Paese, argomenti concernenti la Chiesa cattolica in Bielorussia e le prospettive di approfondimento della collaborazione tra le due Parti. Si è infine rilevata la pacifica convivenza che caratterizza le relazioni tra le comunità cattolica e ortodossa, nonché con le altre confessioni religiose.