Return of Image of Kazan Marked Progress in Relations with Orthodox Church
- From: JHForest
Return of Image of Kazan Marked Progress in Relations with Orthodox Church
Interview with Cardinal Walter Kasper
Moscow, Sept. 1, 2004 (Zenit.org).- Here is the interview of Cardinal
Walter Kasper, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting
Christian Unity, given to Dr. Victor Khroul, editor-in-chief of the
Russian Catholic weekly "Svet Evangelia," before his departure for
Rome on August 30.
Q: Your Eminence, you were in Russia six months ago, in February
2004. Do you perceive a difference in the atmosphere between the
previous visit and the current one? Is there any progress in the
relations between the Russian Orthodox and Catholic Churches?
Cardinal Kasper: My visit in February was a breakthrough: there was
some hesitation on both sides, doubts regarding honesty, which were
difficult to overcome. Since February, I think, we have taken a big
step forward. The atmosphere now is much warmer and more cordial.
The main reason for this is also that the Holy Father himself
supports the visit; he wanted it, and all the time he is spiritually
So, we do have a progress. The climate is more open for further steps
to be taken; it is very important for the future of our Churches, the
future of Europe and for the world.
Q: Are there any evident signs of such a progress? What are your
Cardinal Kasper: The meeting with His Holiness Patriarch Alexy II was
quite different from the very cold one I had with him in February.
Now we agreed. His Holiness himself proposed that our two delegations
have more meetings. He said: "When there are problems, we must
resolve them immediately, otherwise they grow."
Q: Did he say this?
Cardinal Kasper: Yes, he did. This time he was very interested in
having greater efforts made in solving problems. In February we
decided to have a commission at the local level in order to solve
concrete problems, and in May this commission had its first session
Q: Does this mean that the commission will work more intensively
after your second meeting with the Patriarch?
Cardinal Kasper: Yes, the next meeting of the commission will be in
September. And, within this commission, the Patriarch suggested that
discussions be held on the possibility of having regular meetings at
the higher level.
Q: At the level of the Patriarch and Pope, or at the level of bishops?
Cardinal Kasper: At the level of cardinals, metropolitan bishops (of
the Orthodox Church) and bishops.
Q: Will local Catholic bishops in Russia be included as well in the
Cardinal Kasper: Of course, the local bishops and the archbishop of
Moscow will be included.
I also suggested that if they were in agreement we could invite the
delegation of the Moscow patriarchate to come to Rome and be in
contact with us and our dicasteries.
So, we discussed a number of things, but did not take any decisions
this time, as this was not included on our agenda.
Q: Has the date of the meeting of the joint commission been established?
Cardinal Kasper: Yes, it is scheduled for the end of September and
will be announced later.
Q: What are the prospects for future relations between the Churches?
Cardinal Kasper: We will go ahead, and my hope is that Our Lady will
help us. She is the main person in this meeting, not us. She knows
how to make things work. She will help us attain the best future of
However, it is also important to come together at our level. And I
think this is the main difference between the meeting in February and
the one in August. The Icon of Our Lady of Kazan touches people's
hearts, that of normal people. So, this meeting was not just
diplomatic. I hope it will greatly change the situation.
Q: Thank you, your eminence, for the Mass you celebrated in the
Moscow cathedral. However, some of local Catholics told me after the
Mass that they were somewhat disappointed that the icon had not been
brought to the Cathedral for prayer on Friday night. They wanted very
much to see the icon and pray to Our Lady of Kazan.
Cardinal Kasper: Yes, of course, I understand these reservations and
regrets. But the icon was given to me to bring directly to the
patriarch; we could not do otherwise. We could have done so, but
decided not to, as a sign of respect for the Russian Orthodox Church.
I understand the regrets of our Catholic faithful, I would have been
happy to comply, but the schedule was fixed by the Holy Father, the
patriarch and the nuncio in Moscow.
Q: Local Catholics also complained that Catholics in Rome had an
opportunity to see the icon of Our Lady of Kazan and pray for a whole
day in St. Peters Basilica, but Moscow Catholics were not given such
an opportunity; some had hard feelings.
Cardinal Kasper: I understand this, of course, but you must also
understand that we have to respect the sensitivity of the other side.
It also means sacrifice from Russian Catholics, it is true. I ask
Catholic believers in Russia to sacrifice, to understand, that there
is no forgiveness, no reconciliation without sacrifice. This is the
life of the Church.
Q: During your February visit, the Moscow Orthodox seminary and
academy asked you for support in the renovation of the library and
implementation of some other projects. Has this support been given to
our Orthodox brothers?
Cardinal Kasper: This aid has been promised by "Renovabis," and a
delegation from this German organization will come to Russia next
week. I also promised to send books from Rome. They have already
arrived to Moscow. We will also help the seminary and academy with
I hope that the exchange of professors and students will also be
fruitful for both sides. Salesians and Augustinians in Rome are ready
to come here to teach; it is only a question of dates and terms.
After my February visit four Orthodox students came to Rome to study.
So, we are already seeing the first fruits of our talks. And we must
not underestimate the climate, the atmosphere of our relations: there
was distrust from the beginning, now it is much better. Our patience
is needed to make it warmer and more cordial.
Q: Some time ago it was announced in the Vatican, that Archbishop
Giovanni Lajolo, official of the Vatican State Secretariate, has been
named the Secretary of the Permanent Interdicasterial Commission for
the Church in East Europe. Does it mean that this commission will
work more intensively, especially in collaboration with the
Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity?
Cardinal Kasper: We are friends with Archbishop Lajolo. Formerly, he
was nuncio in Germany. He is a very intelligent, open person, and I
hope we will collaborate very well.
Q: Have you already discussed some problems with him?
Cardinal Kasper: We already had a very good meeting. After our visit,
I hope we will meet once more to see what materialized and what can
Q: Are attempts being made by your Pontifical council and the
commission to update the 12-year old document on ecumenism, issued by
the commission now headed by Archbishop Lajolo?
Cardinal Kasper: To date, there has been no plan for this. Such an
attempt would create suspicions, so care must be taken. We will try
to find other solutions.
Q: Your Eminence, did you understand the words of the patriarch and
Father Vsevolod Chaplin about concrete and significant steps that the
Moscow patriarchate expects from the Vatican? These steps should
convince the Orthodox side of our immediate intentions to improve
relations. I have already spoken to Father Chaplin about this, but
his answer was very general, with no specific details. Do you
understand their requests?
Cardinal Kasper: I understand that the commission we established must
discuss their complaints about our so-called "proselytism." We asked
for concrete facts, and will investigate their veracity, and will
change if it is true. These are the only concrete steps possible.
The other question was so-called "Uniatism." It is a very difficult
question, because we also have to recognize the legitimate decisions
of the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church. But, in the meantime, the
Holy Father made a very clear statement regarding this case, and for
the Holy Father it was not easy.
Q: Sometimes we hear demands to withdraw missionary religious orders
and congregations from Russia, to close children's centers run by
Catholics. Are these demands acceptable for the Holy See?
Cardinal Kasper: Up to now we have not received such demands
officially. If we are taking care of the children of the streets we
can not put them back on the streets; it is impossible. The only
thing we can do is to confirm once more to the Orthodox Church that
we do not want to make people Catholics by force. In every case a
solution can be found, which is acceptable to both sides. Take fore
for example in Moscow where Catholic sisters take children to
Orthodox churches every Sunday and holiday, and invite Orthodox
priests to prepare children for the sacraments.
Q: Your Eminence, have you already fixed the date of your next visit to
Cardinal Kasper: No, we have not. It will depend a lot on the work of
the joint Catholic-Orthodox commission in Moscow.