By Robin Gomes
Archbishop Paolo Pezzi of the Archdiocese of the Mother of God in Moscow, Russia, is enthusiastic about the next meeting between Pope Francis and Russian President Vladimir Putin, scheduled for Thursday in the Vatican.
Dialogue, peace, common home
“Even though we are not aware of the programme of the meeting, I can imagine that themes dear to the Holy Father, such as peace and safeguarding our common home, are likely to be on the agenda of discussion,” the Italian-born archbishop told FM radio Radio Vaticana Italia.
The July 4 meeting will be the third between Pope Francis and Putin in the Vatican. They first met on November 25, 2013, and in less than two years they met again on June 10, 2015.
The Holy See and the Russian Federation re-established bilateral relations in 1990 and re-established full diplomatic relations in 2009.
While underscoring Russia's importance in the quest for world peace, Arch. Pezzi noted the pope’s deep commitment to peace among peoples. What the Church expects from this third meeting between Pope Francis and Russian President Vladimir Putin, he said, is to be able to continue to dialogue.
Even though the agenda of the upcoming meeting is unknown, the 58-year-old archbishop hopes that issues very dear to Pope Francis, such as peace in the world and the defence of our common home, the creation, will be on the table.
Commenting on the style of dialogue of the Holy Father, he said the Argentine pope wants to know about and listen a lot to the other while at the same time allowing himself to be questioned and be challenged by what he hears. At the same time, without being verbose, he prefers to go to the heart of the matter with gestures and few words.
Possible papal visit?
Even though everyone would greatly wish that Putin’s visit would result in a possible invitation for the Pope to visit Moscow, Arch Pezzi believes it is not likely. Even though it is the political power that formally invites the pope, most importantly it is the religious authority of the place that seeks to have the Pope as a guest.
“As it appears up till now,” Arch. Pezzi said, “there hasn’t been any official invitation from the part of the Russian Orthodox Church, the most important religious element of the country, and it is not likely the Russian president will invite the pope on his own without the backing of the Orthodox Church.
Pope Francis and Putin are meeting this week amid improving relations between the Catholic and Orthodox Churches. The two leaders will be meeting for the first time since the historic meeting between Pope Francis and Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill on February 12, 2016 in Havana, Cuba, regarded as a major step in healing the bitterness of the Great Schism of 1054 that split the followers of Christ into Eastern Orthodoxy and Western Catholicism.
With 165 million faithful out of some 250 million Orthodox Christians worldwide, the Russian Orthodox Church is the largest in the Orthodox world.
Mikhail Gorbachev, the last leader of the Soviet Union, and Boris Yeltsin, the first president of post-Soviet Russia, had invited the late Pope St. John Paul II to visit Russia.
Pope Francis has made several trips to countries with predominantly Orthodox populations.