Ukrainian Catholic leaders have given a very cautious welcome to news that Pope Francis would meet in Cuba with Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill of Moscow, reports the Catholic News Service.
“I do not expect that the meeting of Pope Francis with Patriarch Kirill, planned for February 12, will bring any particular changes. Although it is good that the meeting will take place,” said Ukrainian Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk of Kiev-Halych, the major archbishop of the church.
“I am pleased,” the Archbishop said, that “we are no longer considered an obstacle and aren’t being used to justify one’s unwillingness to engage in such dialogue.”
Although both St John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI expressed hopes for a meeting with the Moscow Patriarch, the Russian Orthodox Church insisted the activity of the Ukrainian Catholics and of Latin-rite Catholics in Russia amounted to “proselytism” and was an obstacle to such a meeting.
Russian Orthodox Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk, director of foreign relations for the Moscow Patriarchate, told reporters on Friday that the presence and activity of the Ukrainian Catholics were still an obstacle to fully normal Church relations.
He insisted that Patriarch Kirill agreed to meet the Pope because finding a common way to help persecuted Christians in the Middle-East is a more pressing matter.
When asked about the meeting, Pope Francis, in an interview published in an Italian paper on Monday, said: “Bridges. They must be constructed step by step until you are able to shake the hand of the person on the other side.”
The Pope insisted he did little to make the meeting happen. “I just said that I wanted to meet and embrace my Orthodox brothers. Just that. Then there were two years of secret negotiations, conducted well by great bishops,” he said.