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The Pope and the Patriarch Set to Meet?

Developments suggest there is a Vatican-Moscow thaw in the making

This article originally appeared at Inside the Vatican


Are Rome and Moscow growing closer, despite US-led Western efforts to isolate Russia with recently renewed economic sanctions?

A new interview published this morning in Italy suggests strongly that the answer is “Yes.”

Following a lightning visit three weeks ago (June 10) of Russian president Vladimir Putin to Rome to huddle with Pope Francis for nearly an hour, it seems clear that Rome and Moscow are engaged in a delicate diplomatic ballet.

Rome and Russia seem to be increasingly reaching out toward one another as the Western world turns ever-more “post-Christian” and so also “anti-Catholic.”

As the West attempts to sanction and isolate a post-Soviet Russia due to Russia’s alleged military aggression in Ukraine, inside Russia, by all accounts, there has been occurring for some 25 years a remarkable revival of the formerly persecuted Christian faith (though many Western — and even skeptical Russian — observers “pooh-pooh” this alleged revival, saying it is all “smoke and mirrors” and that there has been no real turn toward faith at all).

Rome has taken note of this.

And during this month alone, Metropolitan Hilarion, the Oxford-educated “foreign minister” of the Russian Orthodox Church, has been in Rome twice to meet with Pope Francis and other top Vatican officials.

So we have Putin once, and Hilarion twice, in Rome during the month of June.

There is clearly something up.

But what?

We know some of the talk is about Ukraine, and the Pope’s desire to help bring about a just solution to the violence in that country.

We know some of it is about the Middle East, the rise of the militant “Islamic Caliphate” called ISIS, and the crisis of the Christians of that region, who have been killed by the thousands and become refugees by the millions.

Official communiques have told us that Pope Francis talked with Putin about these things.

But there may be something more.

There may be a “thaw” occurring in the often frigid, untrusting relations between the two great traditions of Christianity, western and eastern, divided for 1,000 years.

St. Pope John Paul II called for this “thaw” and worked throughout his life for better relations between Catholics and Orthodox, saying that the Church needed to “breathe with two lungs.” Pope Benedict XVI labored for this goal. And now we have Pope Francis…

Metropolitan Hilarion, the Oxford-educated “foreign minister” of the Russian Orthodox Church, has this morning given an interview to the Italian daily Corriere della Sera of Milan in which he says that a meeting between Pope Francis and the Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church, Kirill, is “on the agenda.”

Hilarion says the meeting is not expected to involved a trip of Pope Francis to Russia, but is expected to occur in a “neutral” country, perhaps Austria or Hungary.

Hilarion said it is not certain to occur (as rumored) already during this year, 2015 — but he says that he hopes the meeting will be between “this Pope” and “Kirill” — in other words, not very far into the future, and during this pontificate.

All of this, in light of the economic problems of the European Union and today’s banking crisis in Greece — an Orthodox country which has also looked to Russia for possible financial help — suggests that we may soon need to reflect again on the meaning of the message of Fatima: of what Our Lady told the three shepherd children, about Russia’s future role, and about the needed consecration of Russia, a message that has been approved by the Church as “trustworthy,” though obviously not de fide.

And for this reason, I will be traveling with a small number of members of our Foundation to Moscow, Istanbul and Rome in less than two weeks time. I intend to send reports during the trip.