The common objective: the "new
evangelization" of Europe. A delegation of the Russian Orthodox
Church visits the Vatican, which publishes an anthology of the
patriarch's writings. A meeting between Kirill and Benedict XVI
keeps getting closer
ROME, May 24, 2010 – Benedict XVI will soon create a new "pontifical
council" expressly dedicated to the "new evangelization." Not for
mission countries where the congregation "de propaganda fide" is
already at work. But for the countries of ancient Christian
tradition that are today in danger of losing the faith.
Pope Joseph Ratzinger wants to link his pontificate to this
initiative. And this was the main topic that he discussed one
morning in the spring of 2009, at Castel Gandolfo, with four
prominent cardinals he had called for consultation: Camillo Ruini,
Angelo Bagnasco, Christoph Schönborn, and Angelo Scola, the last
being the most resolute in promoting the institution of the new
Meanwhile, one great ally has already united with the pope from
outside of the Catholic Church, in this enterprise of a new
This great ally is the Russian Orthodox Church.
On the afternoon of Thursday, May
20, immediately before the concert given for Benedict
XVI by the patriarchate of Moscow began in the audience
hall, the president of the department of external
relations for the patriarchate, Metropolitan Hilarion of
Volokolamsk (in the photo), said exactly this to the
pope: that the Catholic Church will not be alone in the
new evangelization of dechristianized Europe, because it
will have at its side the Russian Orthodox Church, "no
longer a competitor, but an ally."
The positive relationship that has been
established between the Russian Orthodox Church and the Church of
Rome is one of the most stunning achievements of Benedict XVI's
pontificate. It is also stunning for its rapidity. In fact, it's
enough to look back just one decade to note the chill that dominated
between the two Churches.
To a question from www.chiesa on the factors that led to this
extraordinary change, Metropolitan Hilarion responded by indicating
three of these.
The first factor, he said, is the person of the new pope. A pope who
receives "the positive regard of the whole of the Russian Orthodox
world," even though this is pervaded by age-old anti-Roman
The second factor is the common view of the challenge posed to both
Churches by the dechristianization of countries that in the past
were the heart of Christendom.
And the third reason is their mutual embrace of the grand Christian
tradition, as the great highway of the new evangelization.
To the question about a meeting – the first in history – between the
heads of the two Churches of Rome and Moscow, Hilarion replied that
"this is a desire, a hope, and we must work to make it happen.
" He added that a few
obstacles will have to be smoothed over first, above all the
disagreements between the two Churches in Ukraine, but he said that
he is confident that the meeting will take place soon: "not between
just any patriarch and pope, but between Patriarch Kirill and Pope
One proof of how much closer the positions of the heads of the two
Churches have become is given by two books published just a few
months apart, and without precedent in history.
The first was published last December by the patriarchate of Moscow,
and presents in Russian and Italian the main writings by Ratzinger
on Europe, before and after his election as pope, with an extensive
introduction written by Metropolitan Hilarion.
The second, released a few days ago, is published by the Libreria
Editrice Vaticana and collects writings by Kirill before and after
his nomination as patriarch, on the dignity of man and the rights of
the person, with an introduction by Archbishop Gianfranco Ravasi,
president of the pontifical council for culture.
A selection from Hilarion's introduction to the first volume was
presented by www.chiesa back when it was published. And an extract
of a text by Kirill from the second volume is reproduced below.
Both the publications were promoted by an international association
based in Rome: "Sofia: Idea Russa, Idea d'Europa." The association
has produced an Italian-Russian academy, "Sapientia et Scientia,"
inaugurated last May 20 in the context of the "Days of Russian
culture and spirituality" held in Rome by a delegation of the
patriarchate of Moscow guided by Metropolitan Hilarion.
The Days had two culminating moments. The first on May 19, on the
premises of the new Russian Orthodox church of Saint Catherine of
Alexandria, built a few years ago in Rome, a short distance from the
There Metropolitan Hilarion, Archbishop Ravasi,
and Cardinal Walter Kasper, president of the pontifical council for
Christian unity, discussed the issue "Orthodox
and Catholics in Europe today. The Christian roots and common
cultural patrimony of East and West."
The second important moment was the concert given for the pope on
May 20 by Patriarch Kirill I. Compositions by great Russian
musicians of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, like
Mussorgskij and Rimski-Korsakov, Tchajkovskij andRachmaninov, were
performed. Commenting on them at the end of the concert, Benedict
XVI emphasized "the close, original connection
between Russian music and liturgical singing." A connection
that is also fully visible in the evocative "Canto dell'Ascensione,"
a symphony for choir and orchestra in five parts composed by
Metropolitan Hilarion, performed at the same concert and highly
appreciated by the public and the pope.
In his message, Patriarch Kirill recalled that in Russia,
"during the years of persecution, when the
majority of the population had no access to sacred music, these
works, together with the masterpieces of Russian literature and the
figurative arts, contributed to bringing the proclamation of the
Gospel, proposing to the secular world ideals of the highest moral
and spiritual caliber."
And Benedict XVI, in his final speech, remarked on how in the
musical compositions performed, "there is
already realized the encounter, the dialogue, the synergy between
East and West, as also between tradition and modernity." A
dialogue that is all the more urgent in order to let Europe breathe
again with "two lungs" and restore to
it the awareness of its Christian roots.
Both Benedict XVI and Metropolitan Hilarion are utterly convinced
that Christian art is also a vehicle of evangelization and a leaven
of unity between the Churches.
Before arriving in Rome to meet with the pope, Hilarion stopped in
Ravenna, Milan, Turin, and Bologna. The first of these cities was
the capital of the Western and Eastern Christian empire, and its
basilicas are a marvelous testimony to this. In his conference on
May 19, Hilarion said that he had admired in the mosaics of Ravenna
"the splendor of a Church in harmony, not yet
wounded by the division between East and West." And he added: "If
this harmony was real for our ancestors, it can be real for us as
well. If we are not able to recreate the harmony evoked by the
mosaics of Ravenna, the blame will be ours alone."