ROME—Italian Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican’s top diplomat, is currently in Russia, where he’s scheduled to meet with both President Vladimir Putin and Patriarch Kirill of Mosow, head of the Russian Orthodox Church.
The August 21-24 visit is the first from a papal Secretary of State to Moscow in 18 years.
Speaking with journalists on Monday after his two-hour meeting with Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk, chairman of the Department of External Church Relations, effectively the number two official in the Russian Orthodox Church, Parolin said that the two had spoken about many issues, including some “thorny ones, but always with the will of building [together] and overcoming the existing difficulties.”
Among the topics of the conversation, he said, was Ukraine, currently facing Russian incursion on its eastern border, and which Parolin visited last year.
“Many are the topics to be discussed, but I would say that the climate was very constructive,” Parolin reportedly told journalists on Monday.
According to Italian daily La Stampa, the cardinal also said that there was “no discussion” over a potential second meeting between Francis and Kirill, after their historic encounter in Cuba in February 2016, which was a first since the division between the two churches.
“Let’s give it some time, and let things develop without rushing,” the cardinal said. “As they say in Latin America, God’s times are always perfect.”
In a statement released on its website, the Russian Orthodox Church gave further details on the conversation, which included “key issues of bilateral relations” between the Moscow Patriarchate and the Catholic Church, with special focus on the “tragic situation of Christians in the Middle East.”
Discussing the prospects for solving the Syrian crisis, they agreed that first and foremost, terrorism has to be tackled, and only after achieving peace should the political future of the country be addressed.
Parolin, together with the papal representative in Moscow, Archbishop Celestino Migliore, and Monsignor Visvaldas Kulbokas, Counselor of Nunciature, were received Monday morning in the ‘Malij zal,’ the ceremony hall, of the Danilovsy monastery, patriarchal seat of the Russian Orthodox Church.
Later in the day, Parolin met with the Catholic bishops of Russia, and said Mass in the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Moscow. He is scheduled to meet Putin in Sochi on Wednesday.
Speaking with two Russian news agencies, TASS and Ria Novosti, in interviews published on the eve of his departure for his August 21-24 historic visit to Russia, Francis’s right-hand man also spoke about relations between the Holy See and Moscow, ecumenism, and Venezuela, a permanent topic as of late for the former papal representative in the country.
“I’m visiting Russia in order to talk not only about issues of bilateral interest and those related to the life of the Catholic Church, but also about issues related to the conflicts that afflict many, too many regions of the world,” Parolin told Ria Novosti. “So that every effort is made to restore justice and peace, respecting the dignity and inviolability of every human person.”
Both interviews were translated into Italian by Vatican Radio.
Among other things, TASS asked Parolin about the “danger” both the Catholics and Orthodox face: losing traditional Christian values, and what can be done to preserve them. The prelate acknowledged that there’s no “shortage of challenges” produced by the modern world, but said the challenge is not only preserving said values but the “very concept of human personality and human dignity.”
“Showing respect to a human being and his work, social justice, interpersonal relations and interaction between different states – these are all challenges of a peaceful existence,” he said.
“Greater mutual understanding between the Churches, exchange of experience in different regions, may become an important contribution to understanding of these problems,” he said. “It is always useful to learn a different vision, so to speak, a look from beyond, in order to have the most complete picture of reality, less prone to the trends that gradually become very common.”
Talking about inter-Christian dialogue, Parolin said that it requires a “search of the truth, love, patience, tenacity and determination,” but is also deeply rooted in the people. He exemplified this point with the recent pilgrimage of the relics of St. Nicholas, venerated both by Catholics and Orthodox, that were recently on loan to Russia, where millions visited them in Moscow and St. Petersburg.
“It’s the ecumenism of saints [that already] unites Christians,” he said.
TASS asked Parolin not only about his upcoming visit to Russia, but also about President Donald Trump and Venezuela, the latter an almost constant issue for the former papal representative in the South American country.
During the interview, the cardinal urged Trump to listen to Pope Francis on issues such as the environment and immigration. He said that he hopes that on climate, “pragmatic approaches will prevail,” with the United States’ administration deciding to keep the conversation on climate change going.
Parolin described the May 24 meeting Trump had with Francis in the Vatican as one held in an atmosphere of “mutual respect” and “mutual sincerity,” with both leaders being able to share their visions on multiple issues.
However, he was more critical of Trump’s decision to pull out of the Paris agreement, described at the time by a Vatican official as a “slap in the face.”
Parolin said that the Church “can only wish that President Trump, just like other members of the international community, does not neglect the extremely difficult task of tackling global warming and its negative consequences that affect the global population, in particular spurring the growth of inequality and poverty.”
The cardinal also said that he believes modern international relations are being increasingly dominated by open clashes and confrontations, in a “dialogue of the deaf, or worse, [with policies] that fuel fears and are based on intimidation with nuclear or chemical weapons.”
Building peace, Parolin said quoting Francis, is a path “a lot thornier” than war and conflict, because it requires patient and constructive dialogue among leaders, instead of focusing all the attention on serving national interests.
Questioned about the “serious threat of Islamic terrorism,” Parolin said that the Church has no doubt about the need to tackle terrorism. However, he warned, “all actions must be weighed in order to prevent a situation in which the use of force would trigger spiraling violence or lead to violations of human rights, including the freedom of religion.”
On the other hand, he added, the Church is always guided by the long-term perspective: encouraging personal development, especially among the young generations, as well as solid dialogue between religions.
“I’m absolutely convinced that life under the guidance of the Gospel would in itself make an important contribution into forming the society and culture, which simultaneously assists personal development and encourages an intense and constructive dialogue with other authentic cultures and religions,” he said.
Speaking about Venezuela, Parolin said that he’s “seriously concerned” about the situation, repeating that the Holy See has made numerous attempts aimed at searching for a peaceful and democratic solution to the crisis.
“The country is hit by a serious humanitarian crisis, and people are dying due to lack of food and medicine, and this should not be forgotten or treated as a secondary problem,” Parolin said. “I would also like to add that the international community, including nations that have friendly ties with Venezuela, have great responsibilities and should offer selfless assistance aimed at facilitating a positive solution for the current situation.”
Among those with “friendly ties” is Putin, who, on July 10, spoke with Venezuelan dictator Nicolas Maduro. The Kremlin released a short statement, saying that the leaders had exchanged views about by-lateral cooperation and that Maduro spoke about his government’s efforts to normalize the political situation in the country.
According to Venezuela’s Communications Ministry, Putin expressed “satisfaction with the progress in bilateral cooperation” including a joint venture for a “bus assembly company” in the South American nation.