Separated for more than a millennium, the Catholic Church and the Russian Orthodox Church began an unprecedented “path of brotherhood” three years ago.
On February 12, 2016, the Cuban capital of Havana hosted the historic beginning of the rapprochement between the Russian Orthodox and Roman Catholic Churches, when Patriarch Kirill and Pope Francisco resumed a dialogue that has been suspended since the year 1054.
The bishop of the Orthodox Church in South America, Ignaty Pologrudov, said that the historic meeting between the two leaders had a “colossal importance” and surpassed all expectations on the outcome of the meeting, reflecting concrete measures actively implemented these days.
“First of all, what happened from the historical point of view? For the first time in a thousand years, the leaders of the two major Christian churches that were once joined together gathered together for the first time in a thousand years. So the meaning is that a huge psychological barrier has been overcome between Catholics and Orthodox,” Pologrudov said.
“This last millennium in our relations was filled with mistrust, mutual hostility, even open conflicts, and so much prejudice was accumulated that no one could suppose that this could be overcome. No one thought that such a meeting was possible. The second meaning [of the importance of the meeting] is that two churches overcame a huge barrier of indifference and hostility. It is a giant step. I do not say in the sense of a union – you cannot speak in union today, since there are many differences – but a fraternal contact I think is possible,” he added.
According to him, when it was announced that such a meeting was being planned, no one from the Council of Bishops of the Orthodox Church believed that if such an event happened, something serious could come out of the meeting, resulting in a protocol meeting.
“No one could have imagined that as a result of the meeting a very strong statement would have been signed. [The statement] is composed of 30 points, half of which carry an absolutely real character. A decree was made by Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill to make a path concrete co-operation. So from this statement we can concretely prepare events together, that’s what we’re doing,” the bishop explained.
Ignaty Pologrudov, who has been living in Buenos Aires since 2016, said that after meeting with Pope Francis, Patriarch Kirill commissioned him to serve in South America, entrusting him with two main tasks.
“The first is to strengthen the life of our parishes here in South America. The second is to develop and strengthen the relationship with the Catholic Church, and this result can not die, it has to be developed,” he said.
The bishop affirmed during his visit to Brazil, met on Wednesday with Cardinal Orani João Tempesta, the Archbishop of the Archdiocese of São Sebastião do Rio de Janeiro, and during the meeting a person was appointed to establish direct contact with the Orthodox Church and to seek the fulfillment of the points of the joint declaration signed by Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill.
“In my view, Brazil is more prepared, judging by what I see, for this cooperation and development of relations between the Russian Orthodox Church and the Catholic Church,” he said.
According to him, because the country has a population formed by several nationalities, Brazil is more formed as a nation.
“Here there is a perception of greater unity among the people, although there are problems, they exist everywhere, but Brazilians feel more Brazilian,” he said.
“And the Brazilians are more open to Orthodoxy, they understand better, because they were educated in the Catholic Church, which of all Christian churches, is the closest to us,” he said.
“If we talk about some concrete facts, this is the only organization in our diocese that has a mission to spread the Orthodox faith … and during my conversation with Cardinal Orani João Tempesta, I asked him how he sees the fact that there is “We do the same thing, spread Christianity.” Yes, we have different traditions, but this should not be an obstacle for us to do our main mission, which Christ spoke of,” he added.