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Wednesday, 3 March 2010

Orthodox-Catholic Accord in Poland, Ukraine, Belarus and Russia

Jonathan Luxmoore, for Ecumenical News International, reports:

Poland’s Roman Catholic Church has launched its first dialogue with Russian Orthodox leaders, in a bid to rebuild relations between the two countries.

“Although these were introductory talks, key problems of mutual interest were discussed, and it was agreed to start work on a joint document about our churches’ contribution to the labor of reconciliation,” church representatives said in a joint statement. “Both sides stressed the historic significance of this initiative and the conversations now begun, which are an important first step towards bringing our local churches closer and reconciling our nations.”

The statement was issued after the Feb. 26 meeting in Warsaw between Poland’s Roman Catholic primate, Archbishop Henryk Muszynski, and a delegation headed by Filip Riabych, deputy chairperson of the Moscow Patriarchate’s external relations department.

It said themes had also been agreed for future dialogue, which would be handled by a bilateral commission of both churches, including representatives of Russia’s small Catholic Church and the Orthodox church in Poland.

The statement noted that the head of the the Russian Orthodox church’s external relations section, Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk, had been unable to attend the talks for “reasons beyond his control,” although Poland’s Catholic information agency KAI reported that the 43-year-old official had missed his flight from Moscow.

Polish politicians and historians have frequently criticized Russia’s lack of public regret for mass deportations and executions which followed the occupation of their country by the Soviet Army during the Second World War, and for later decades of communist oppression.

However, Polish church leaders welcomed a conciliatory “Letter to Poles” from Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin in September and predicted closer ties could be achieved between the two countries’ predominant churches.

Archbishop Muszynski, who succeeded Cardinal Jozef Glemp as Polish primate in December, told the KAI agency on March 2 that the Warsaw talks had been arranged at the “personal initiative” of Moscow Patriarch Kirill I, and had focused on the “special duties of both churches towards their societies” as majority denominations in their countries.

“The problems lie at another level — including an uneasy mutual history which has many times divided us,” the archbishop said. “Both churches must recognize that the Polish and Russian nations are divided by very difficult, unresolved issues from the past, as well as by great misunderstandings ... I am sure we will nevertheless be able to prepare a joint historic document together which will serve as a common testimony of our churches.”

In a separate interview with KAI on March 1, Riabych said both churches shared the experience of communist-era sufferings and held a “common position” on social and moral issues.

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