Who could organize his 2nd summit? | National Catholic Registry
The long-awaited second meeting between Pope Francis and the head of the Russian Orthodox Church will not take place for the time being. The pope himself announced the news in an interview with the Argentine newspaper the Nation published on April 22.
We will therefore have to wait longer for the next meeting between the Pope and Patriarch Cyril of Moscow and all of Russia. This allows more time to think about where the two Church leaders might possibly meet.
One place being talked about behind the scenes is Bratislava, the capital of the central European country of Slovakia, which the pope visited last September.
Pope Francis told reporters on his return from Malta earlier this month that the Middle East was being considered as a possible location for the meeting, confirming rumors that had been circulating since the start of 2022.
When Lebanese President Michel Aoun announced that Pope Francis would visit Lebanon on June 12-13, some concluded that the summit would take place in the land of cedars. But the organizers had from the start planned for the meeting to take place in Jerusalem, perhaps just after the trip to Lebanon.
Jerusalem was considered an ideal place for various reasons. On the one hand, the Moscow Patriarchate does not consider it a place where the Orthodox are discriminated against. It is above all a neutral territory outside Europe, where Catholic-Orthodox tensions persist.
The historic first meeting between Pope Francis and Cyril took place at Havana airport in Cuba, another country outside of Europe where the Orthodox do not consider themselves persecuted.
There was another idea: to echo in Jerusalem the landmark embraces of Athenagoras I and Paul VI in 1967 and Bartholomew I and Pope Francis in 2014. This act would have made it clear that the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople and the Patriarchate of Moscow have strong friendships with Rome.
For Moscow, this would have been a highly symbolic gesture, given the climate of hostility that has reigned with Constantinople since it recognized the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, an autocephalous Church that no longer depended on the Moscow Patriarchate as the Ukrainian Orthodox Church had been since the 17th century.
But, ironically, the factors that made a meeting in Jerusalem an attractive option prompted the pope to cancel the meeting — at least for now.
The Holy See did not want the potential reunion to be exploited amid the Russian-incited war in Ukraine, and it did not want to be drawn into intra-Orthodox debates.
While the meeting has been postponed, could it finally take place in Kazakhstan – another location that has been talked about for some time?
The government of Kazakhstan has announced that Pope Francis will visit the country on September 14-15 to participate in the Congress of Leaders of World and Traditional Religions. According to a project defined even before the pandemic, Patriarch Kirill was also invited to the gathering.
But the possibility of a meeting in Kazakhstan also had a downside: the Central Asian country’s link with its neighbor Russia. Kazakhstan is the canonical territory of the Patriarchate of Moscow.
Another possible location mentioned was Hungary. This assumption was based on the desire that Pope Francis expressed his hope to return to the country he visited for a single day last September.
The suggested location was Pannonhalma Archabbey, one of the oldest historical monuments in Hungary. This was considered in 1996 as a possible meeting place between Pope John Paul II and Alexis II, then head of the Russian Orthodox Church. Of course, the meeting did not take place.
The idea would have been for Pope Francis’ trip to coincide with a visit to Hungary by Patriarch Cyril, marking the restoration of the Budapest Orthodox Cathedral or the inauguration of the new Russian Orthodox Church in Hévíz, western Hungary. .
But that assumption has faded, to be replaced by the idea of a meeting in Slovakia, a country the pope called “a message of peace in the heart of Europe” during his September trip.
The proposal for a meeting between Francis and Kirill in the capital Bratislava was put forward by Ján Figeľ, the European Union’s special envoy for religious freedom from 2016 to 2019.
Why Bratislava? Partly because it is the capital of a country bordering Ukraine and hosting refugees from the war-torn Eastern European country. And also because it is a nation at the center of Europe, the continent which experienced Soviet oppression and which knows the need for reconciliation.
“People and the Church,” Ján Figeľ told CNA, “must share important messages and commitments of loving faith and truth, courage, peace, reconciliation and brotherhood, now primarily in Europe and for Europe”.
He added that, “aware of the historical spiritual and political divisions in Europe, and in the face of the reality of the bloody conflict in Eastern Europe, we must urgently converge our efforts towards true Christian brotherhood and unity on this continent, where Christianity has given roots and orientation to its cultures and identities.
Slovakia is a bridge between East and West. The first lines of its constitution refer to the “spiritual legacy of Cyril and Methodius”, the “apostles of the Slavs” who are venerated by both Catholics and Orthodox Christians.
John Paul II spoke of a Europe that had to breathe with two lungs – eastern and western – and for Figeľ, “this great vision is always possible and achievable”.
“But the war must end”, he said, “and its consequences cannot represent an imperial expansion of Russia, a religious or mental triumphalism, but a real conversion of the nations of Eastern Europe to the truth, respect for the dignity of all, appropriate reconciliation and shared responsibility”.
Therefore, Bratislava is a strong candidate to be a meeting place for the Pope and the Patriarch of Moscow, the first of its kind in Europe.
Figeľ added that the potential meeting could also “bring together other goodwill groups, organized secular Christians”, faith-based organizations and civil society organizations.
“For example, the ICLN [International Catholic Legislators Network] and the CAI [Interparliamentary Assembly on Orthodoxy] could start their regular bi-annual joint meetings in the center of Europe,” he suggested.
In this way, Figeľ said, the meeting “could inspire and encourage the missing process of post-war reconciliation and integration in Eastern Europe, as we have seen in Western Europe, in start with France and Germany under Robert Schuman’s plan”.
“Important too, the name of the city [Bratislava] resonates exceptionally with the repeated appeals of the Holy Father to human fraternity. In effect, brati and slave in Slovak mean “Glory to the brothers”, “Glory to the fraternity”, as kid means brother, and slave is the glory. This meaning is the same in other Slavic languages. Thus, the pope and the patriarch can express, confirm and visualize their fraternity in Bratislava at the center of the two Christian and European lungs.
Figeľ noted that the Holy See, led by Pope Pius XII, had been a “very active support” of the reconciliation process in Western Europe.
“A lot of people are hoping to end this war soon,” he said. “After transitional justice and the repression of crimes, an updated Marshall plan for the reconstruction of Ukraine must follow and an offer of a new supranational cooperation based on values and rules, oriented towards peace, justice and common good, with the vision of the integration of the countries of the East into a single community, representing Europe as a whole and free, in a common European house.
This proposal is now before Pope Francis and Patriarch Cyril, along with their respective advisers, the Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, and Metropolitan Hilarion in Moscow. Naturally, the timing must be careful and each meeting must be considered carefully. But all possibilities should also be explored.