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Pope Francis and Kirill: Mons. Jurkovič, “the value of this encounter extends far beyond its content”

Interview with the Apostolic Nuncio to Russia Monsignor Ivan Jurkovič, a few hours after the historic meeting between Francis and Kirill: “It’s an image we were missing. And images carry a symbolic power. They are consoling, they instil courage. The meeting is bound to have practical impacts we are still unaware of, but they will be announced officially. The very meeting extends beyond any content. It carries a huge symbolic value. It will bring people consolation and renewed serenity"

A prayer vigil in Moscow last evening at 20.45, in the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception. This is how Russian Catholics have decided to support, with prayer, the historic meeting taking place in Cuba between Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill. “It’s an epoch-making event – said the Apostolic nuncio of the Russian Federation in Moscow Monsignor Ivan Jurkovič – looked up to not only by Christians but by the whole world. It shows that reconciliation, although the process may be long, is possible in spite of difficulties.”

Many people see the meeting between the Pope of Rome and the Patriarch of Moscow as a dream come true. How do you view it?

Indeed, as you say, I see it similarly.

The bearing of this event will be better understood from a historical perspective. We are experiencing a long awaited moment, whose grounds were prepared the 1930s with a lot of good will. It’s a process that went through difficult stages, and it has finally reached this happy conclusion.

How is the meeting in Cuba being experienced in Moscow?

I see that the Russian society is looking forward to this event with a beautiful feeling of serenity. On the one side, it’s as if something that had seemed terribly difficult is finally taking place. On the other, we are experiencing a greatly anticipated event. As often happens in history, I have the feeling that also the timeframe of this historical meeting is a propitious moment in time.

What has been the role of the Russian Catholic Church in this process, and in which way did she contribute to furthering this development?

I think that the most positive aspect is a new understanding of our presence in Russia. At the beginning, when we first experienced the miracle of freedom, everything seemed new. Nobody expected that there could be freedom – not to mention religious freedom – of such proportions, and that freedom could be understood in new, modern terms as an essential part of human dignity. With the passing of time, and with the maturation of consciences, also on the part of the Churches, it emerged that for the Catholic Community it was – and it still is – essential to have good relations with the Orthodox world. The present cultural environment in which we live is characterised by Orthodoxy. Therefore, it became clear that that not only it was necessary to find the right place in this environment. We have also understood that it is also the beauty of our Church.

Now we know that the self-understanding of the Russian Catholic Church requires authentic understanding with Orthodoxy.

What has happened is largely a result of the efforts of Monsignor Paolo Pezzi (archbishop of Moscow, ed.’s note), of all Catholic bishops and faithful: there are many mixed families where living among people with different religious traditions is a normal part of everyday life.

Is it possible that also President Putin may be behind the scenes backing the “green light” of the Patriarch?

I can’t comment on this. Unquestionably, this is a favourable time that has contributed to the advancement of this meeting.

The relations between Rome and Moscow have also been marked by consequential issues that include accusations of proselytism against the Catholic Church. What do you expect from this meeting? Could these issues be resolved in a couple of hours?

It’s too early to envisage what could happen next. But we have all reasons to underline the symbolic value of this meeting. We need this image. Without this image the Church cannot be considered healed. Just think of the healing impact of the historic embrace between Patriarch Athenagoras and Pope Paul VI in the 1960s. That image decorated the walls of our Churches for decades. It’s an image that conveys also a religious form of maturity.

The meeting between Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill is an image we were missing. Images carry a symbolic meaning. It instils courage and consolation. It is a sign of hope.

The meeting in itself is of great worth, and it carries practical fruits that we are still unaware of, and that will be announced officially. The significance of the meeting in itself extends beyond any content. It carries a huge symbolic value. It will be bring people consolation and renewed serenity.”

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