Pope Francis received today at the Vatican Metropolitan Antonij of Volokolamsk, number two and representative of the Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church, Kirill

ROME.- The Pope Francisco received today at the Vatican the Metropolitan Antonij of Volokolamsk, number two and representative of the Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church, Kirill, in a private audience marked by great secrecy, but which reflected that something is moving at the diplomatic level.

The visit of this envoy of the highest religious leader in Moscow, a staunch ally of Vladimir Putin -the first of its kind since the start of the war in ukraine-, would never have taken place without the approval of the “tsar” of the Kremlin.

Pope Francis received today at the Vatican Metropolitan Antonij of Volokolamsk, number two and representative of the Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church, KirillHANDOUT – VATICAN MEDIA

While the Vatican only recorded in its bulletin newspaper that the hearing took place, without further information, the Department of Foreign Affairs of the Moscow Patriarchateheaded by Volokolamsk, gave some details in a terse statement.

He indicated that the meeting, which took place in the Apostolic Palace of the Vatican, took place after an invitation from the Pope Francisco and that “during the conversation various issues on the agenda of Orthodox-Catholic relations were discussed, also in the context of the ongoing political processes in the world”. “At the end of the long meeting, the interlocutors exchanged gifts,” he specified.

It is discounted that the Pope and the Metropolitan also spoke of the meeting that Patriarch Kirill and the highest leader of Catholicism will surely have in the middle of next September, when they will coincide in a congress of religious leaders that will take place in Kazakhstan. The Vatican confirmed last Monday that the Pope will make this trip from September 13 to 15 and although such a meeting is not on the program, on September 14 at noon in Nur-Sultan, the capital of this former Soviet republic with a Muslim majority, Francis will have “private meetings with some religious leaders.” It is then that he could see Kirill.

Pope Francis with Metropolitan Antonij of Volokolamsk, in the Vatican
Pope Francis with Metropolitan Antonij of Volokolamsk, in the VaticanHANDOUT – VATICAN MEDIA

It would be a more than important meeting not only because it could be the second after the historic face-to-face meeting in Havana in 2016, the first between two leaders since the schism between the Catholic and Orthodox Churches of 1054, but also because of the context of the war in Ukraine, which will then have been almost seven months old.

Volokolams, who yesterday also met with the Pope’s “chancellor”, the British Archbishop Paul Gallagher, is the successor of the Metropolitan Hilarion, that no one quite knows why, after years of being Kirill’s number two, he was dismissed on June 7 last. In what seemed like a setback, Hilarion was sent to Budapest, Hungary. And it is suspected that his unexpected departure may have had to do with his disagreement with the invasion of Ukraine that his boss, the Patriarch of Moscow, always blessed and justified.

Although a meeting between the Pope and Kirill was planned in Jerusalem in June, it was finally suspended by the Vatican after the outbreak of Putin’s so-called “special operation”. This was criticized by the Orthodox Patriarch of Constantinople, Bartholomew, and caused many Ukrainian Orthodox Christians to revolt and leave the Moscow Church.

The Pope, who had a zoom meeting with Kirill on March 14, in an interview with the Corriere della Sera At the beginning of May, he said that then he was reminded that the two of them were spiritual leaders and not “state clerics.” Furthermore, he said that the Patriarch could not “become Putin’s altar boy”, in a statement that did not sit well with Moscow.

The Pope and Putin met three times
The Pope and Putin met three timesAFP

Francisco, 85 years old and who received Vladimir Putin three times in the Vatican (in 2013, 2015 and 2019), since the war broke out in Ukraine he never mentioned him with all the letters as an aggressor to leave open a mediation channel. But he condemned on dozens of occasions the “foolish war” that he unleashed, the barbarities committed, the “armed conquests, expansions and imperialisms” of his country and manifested himself close to the “martyred” Ukraine. He further said that is willing to travel to Moscow and kyiv and to do everything possible to stop the war. Although no invitation ever came from Putin, he was invited to Ukraine by the president Volodymyr Zelensky and a trip could be possible in the coming weeks, as the Pope himself recently said in interviews.

In this framework, the meeting that he will have tomorrow with the Ukrainian ambassador to the Holy See, Andrii Yurash, in which a date could be established, appears key.

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