Concrete rapprochements between Benedict XVI and Alexis II

Source: FSSPX News

Benedict XVI and Alexis II wish that Catholics and Orthodox be united for the defense of Christian values. This is the message to be gathered from the letters they exchanged at the end of February. 

On his side, the patriarch of Moscow and all Russia expressed the desire to see a "quick solution to all the problems between the two Churches". The letters between the pope and the patriarch were published by the Holy See press bureau on March 17. They were exchanged through Cardinal Roger Etchegaray who was visiting Moscow on the occasion of the birthday and feast day of the patriarch of Moscow and all Russia.

"The gestures and words of brotherhood expressed anew between the pastors of the fold of the Lord are showing how an increasingly more intense collaboration  in truth and in charity contributes to the growth of the spirit of communion which must direct the steps of all the baptized" wrote in French Benedict XVI in his letter which Cardinal Etchegaray handed to Alexis II on the occasion of a private meeting in Moscow on February 20. The emeritus president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace also gave the Orthodox patriarch the gold medal of the pontificate.

"The contemporary world needs to hear voices which point out the way of peace, of respect for all, of condemnation of any violence, of the superior dignity of any person and the innate rights due to him", insisted the pope in his letter, dated February 17. He also confided to Alexis II that he desired to join "in spirit" the ceremony in honor of his feast and birthday to be celebrated in the Holy Savior Cathedral of Moscow on February 24. He then expressed "his wishes for a good health" to the patriarch, trusting that he would "continue to accomplish" his mission "bearing fruit" after the example of Saint Alexis".

"In our days, while secularism is rapidly developing, Christianity is confronted to serious challenges which require a common testimony", answered Alexis II in Russian in a letter dated February 22. "I am convinced that today one of the first duties for our Churches, which share a common viewpoint on many present-day problems in the contemporary world, must be the defense and the affirmation of the Christian values, on which mankind has been living for over a thousand years, within society", he explained. And he hoped that "the quick settlement of the problems between the two Churches will also contribute to this."

In his answer, the patriarch of Moscow also thanked the pope for his good wishes, wishing him the same in return and assuring him of his prayer for the "primate of the Roman Catholic Church". Alexis II handed his letter together with a pectoral cross, "a token of gratitude and esteem" for Benedict XVI, to Cardinal Etchegaray  at the end of the ceremony on February 24.

The relationship between the Orthodox patriarchate of Moscow and the Holy See has been improving ever since the election of Benedict XVI, who from the very start showed himself in favor of the dialogue with the Orthodox. The theological dialogue between the Orthodox and the Catholic Church will thus be resumed in 2006 after a 6-year interruption. And the pope will go to Turkey and visit the patriarchate of Constantinople next November.

However, there remain some difficulties between the two Churches, as the Russian Orthodox reproach the Catholics with their proselytism in Eastern Europe, among other things. In November 2005, Cardinal Martino, president of the Council for Justice and Peace had hoped, but without success, to meet with Alexis II, just as Cardinal Kasper, president of the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of Unity among Christians, had hoped to, a few months earlier, when visiting Russia in June 2005.

Cardinal Etchegaray was for a long time the special envoy of John Paul II for delicate diplomatic missions to countries where there were persistent tensions with the Catholic Church. A meeting between Alexis II and John Paul II had never been possible. A meeting between the patriarch of Moscow and Benedict XVI in some neutral country would seem to be more in the realm of things possible, even if it is not yet on the agenda.