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RUSSIAN PATRIARCH (UPDATED) Jan-28-2009 (1,380 words) With photos posted Jan. 27 and graphic Jan. 28. xxxi

Pope, Catholic leaders welcome election of new Russian patriarch

By Cindy Wooden
Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Benedict XVI said he learned "with joy" of the election of Metropolitan Kirill of Smolensk and Kaliningrad -- a prelate he has met three times -- as the new patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church.

Patriarch-elect Kirill, 62, who had been in charge of ecumenical relations for the Russian Orthodox Church for the past 20 years, was elected patriarch of Moscow Jan. 27 on the first ballot cast by members of the church's local council.

He will be enthroned Feb. 1 in Moscow as the successor of Patriarch Alexy II, who died in December after more than 18 years as head of the church.

At the end of his Jan. 28 general audience, Pope Benedict prayed that the new patriarch would be filled with "the light of the Holy Spirit for a generous service to the Russian Orthodox Church" and he entrusted the patriarch to "the special protection of the Mother of God."

Pope Benedict also sent a congratulatory telegram Jan. 28 saying, "I ask the Lord to grant you an abundance of wisdom to discern his will, to persevere in loving service of the people entrusted to your patriarchal ministry and to sustain them in fidelity to the Gospel and the great traditions of Russian Orthodoxy.

"May the Almighty also bless your efforts to maintain communion among the Orthodox churches and to seek that fullness of communion which is the goal of Catholic-Orthodox collaboration and dialogue," the pope wrote.

Cardinal Walter Kasper, who as president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity met Metropolitan Kirill dozens of times, said: "We are happy to have a patriarch with whom we have enjoyed fraternal relations for many years.

"We trust that we will be able to continue the common journey of reconciliation that we have begun," said the cardinal, who was planning to fly to Moscow for Patriarch-elect Kirill's enthronement liturgy.

Cardinal Kasper said he did not want to ignore difficulties remaining between the Catholic Church and the Russian Orthodox Church, but it was important to underline how committed the two churches are to cooperating "on a social and cultural level to witness to Christian values."

Still, the cardinal said in a Jan. 28 statement that "the ultimate aim of dialogue is the fulfillment of the will of Jesus Christ, our lord, which is the full communion of all his disciples."

Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, Vatican spokesman, told reporters Jan. 27 that the Vatican rejoiced with the Russian Orthodox over the election of their new leader.

Patriarch-elect Kirill "is a person who is well-known and esteemed" at the Vatican, he said, adding that "we hope his service will be fruitful and that he will continue to deepen the process of mutual knowledge and collaboration for the good of humanity."

Catholic Archbishop Paolo Pezzi, head of Moscow's Archdiocese of the Mother of God, told Vatican Radio Jan. 28 that Russian Catholics felt very positive about the new patriarch.

"A church with this patriarch is good for others as well," he said. "The relationship we have with Metropolitan Kirill, now patriarch, gives us hope for the continuation of dialogue, of common activities and of the intensification of our prayers for full unity."

Archbishop Pezzi, who was at the Vatican for his "ad limina" visit to report on the status of his diocese, told Vatican Radio he "would not exclude" the possibility that under the new patriarch finally there could be a personal meeting between the pope and the head of the Russian Orthodox Church.

Despite the strong desire, first of Pope John Paul II and then of Pope Benedict, Patriarch Alexy repeatedly said that too many problems existed between the churches to make a meeting possible.

A personal encounter between the pope and the patriarch "is highly desirable," Archbishop Pezzi said, and it would mark a step forward in the process toward full communion between the two churches.

In fact, the new leader of the Russian Orthodox Church, which claims more than 150 million members, met Pope Benedict immediately after the pope's election in 2005, during a visit to Rome to consecrate a Russian Orthodox church in 2006, and for formal talks in December 2007.

The council which elected the new patriarch is made up of more than 700 bishops, priests, monks and laypeople representing each diocese and foreign mission of the Russian Orthodox Church. The delegates came from more than 60 countries.

Patriarch-elect Kirill was seen as the candidate most open to improving ecumenical relations, especially with the Catholic Church, although he often criticized papal actions taken to re-establish the work of the Roman Catholic Church in Russia.

He had served as the Moscow Patriarchate's director of external affairs -- its chief ecumenist -- since 1989. In that position, he held dozens of meetings with Cardinal Kasper and his predecessors at the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity as well as with the cardinals and Catholic bishops from around the world.

After the death of Patriarch Alexy, the patriarch-elect was chosen by the Russian Orthodox bishops to be the interim head of the church.

Patriarch Alexy's tenure coincided with the breakup of the Soviet Union, the establishment of democracy, and the long and difficult process of re-establishing the Russian Orthodox Church and religious practice after decades of communist repression.

But newfound freedom for the Russian Orthodox also brought the possibility for the Catholic Church to re-establish its structures in Russia and for the Ukrainian Catholic Church to worship freely in Ukraine, a process that led to Orthodox claims that the Catholic Church was trying to expand in traditionally Orthodox territory.

As late as December 2007 Patriarch-elect Kirill publicly called on the Vatican to downgrade the status of the four Catholic dioceses in Russia and reclassify them as "apostolic administrations," which they were prior to 2002.

He told Russia's Interfax news agency, "We shall never recognize them and will always dispute the presence of ordinary Catholic dioceses in the territory of Russia and consider it a challenge" to the tradition of church organization that Catholics and Orthodox share.

When the Orthodox or Catholics have communities outside their traditional homelands, he said, a bishop should be in charge of their pastoral care, but that bishop should be an administrator, not the head of a diocese erected in territory already under the care of another bishop.

Visiting Pope Benedict just a few days after he gave the interview, Patriarch-elect Kirill said that despite differences with the Vatican the two churches have permanent, "always-open channels of communication."

Even while tensions continued over matters of church jurisdiction, Patriarch-elect Kirill and other Orthodox leaders affirmed the need for Catholics and Orthodox to work together to strengthen and defend traditional religious and moral values in Europe and around the world.

In an address to the local council shortly before being elected patriarch, he said Christianity faced challenges from an "aggressive and ungodly secularism" dominant in Western society, which was being assisted by "attempts by Protestant communities radically to review Christianity and Gospel morality." Interfax published his remarks.

He also told reporters during a May 2006 visit to Rome, "The Catholic Church and the Russian Orthodox Church must work together to bring to light again the Christian roots of Europe."

Patriarch-elect Kirill was born Vladimir Gundyaev Nov. 20, 1946, in what was then Leningrad and now is known as St. Petersburg. Ordained in 1969, he began teaching at the Leningrad Theological Academy and served as personal secretary to Metropolitan Nikodim of Leningrad and Minsk, a bishop known for his studies of the Second Vatican Council.

The future patriarch began representing the Russian Orthodox Church at meetings of the World Council of Churches in 1971 and participated in official dialogues with the Roman Catholic Church in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

Appointed rector of the Leningrad Theological Academy in 1975, he was named bishop of Vyborg and assistant bishop of Leningrad in 1976. He was named an archbishop in 1977 and was transferred to Smolensk in 1984.

The Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church named him chairman of the Department for External Church Relations in November 1989 and two years later he was elevated to the rank of metropolitan.


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