ROME – Vatican Secretary of State, Italian Cardinal Pietro Parolin met Tuesday with the Russian Patriarch Kirill in Moscow, where, among other things, they discussed the difficult situations in the Middle East and Ukraine.

Referring to the struggle in Ukraine, which pits Ukrainian forces against Russian-based separatists, Patriarch Kirill stated that the “Church cannot play any other role if not one of peacemaking when people are in conflict among each other.

“Conflicts do not last forever, and sooner or later they end,” the patriarch added, and asked, “If all social forces are involved in the conflict, the who will pick up the stones?”

The two representatives from the Catholic and Russian Orthodox Churches met at Danilovsky monastary, the seat of the Patriarchate of Moscow, on August 22.

Kirill stated that the Vatican is “close” to the patriarchate’s position concerning Ukraine, and expressed his satisfaction with the fact that during the course of the meeting the parties confirmed their agreement on how their churches should behave in the divided country.

“We greatly appreciate the fact that even this time, we found a mutual understanding on the role that our churches must play concerning the reconciliation of the population in Ukraine,” Kirill said.

The Vatican planted the seed of this spirit of camaraderie  not only during an historic meeting between Pope Francis and Kirill in Havana, Cuba in 2016, but also this summer, when the relics of St. Nicholas were transported from their resting place in the Italian city of Bari to Moscow, and then St. Petersburg.

The patriarch confirmed that nearly 2.3 million people visited the relics, in what was “an exceptional event in the history of our two churches.”

“The ecumenism of holiness is real, it exists,” Parolin said.

“The saints unite us because they are closer to God and therefore they are the ones who more than anyone help us in overcoming the difficulty of past relations given by previous situations and to walk ever more speedily toward the fraternal embrace and Eucharistic communion,” the Vatican’s number two official said.

The Vatican’s top diplomat also presented the patriarch with the pope’s personal greeting to “his brother, Kirill,” to which the Russian leader responded with a smile and, in Italian, grazie (“thank you”).

Parolin had told reporters before leaving for his August 21-24 trip to Russia that a possible visit by Francis to the country – which would be another historic first – would not be on the table, but he did express hope that his outing would move the ball closer in that direction.

Concerning the Middle East, which Parolin discussed at length during a previous meeting with the Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Sergey Levrov, the patriarch expressed hope for further future cooperation.

“The collaboration between the Orthodox Church and the Catholic one in humanitarian aid to the populations who suffer due to conflicts in the Middle East can be an important unifying factor,” Kirill said.