2006-07-03 13:47:00

World religious leaders will for the first time ever propose a serious dialogue with political power

In anticipation of the World Summit of Religious Leaders, Metropolitan Kirill of Smolensk and Kaliningrad, head of the Moscow Patriarchate Department for External Church Relations, in his interview to Interfax-Religion has pointed to the importance of religions’ participation in global decision-making and to an improvement in relations between the Russian Orthodox Church and the Vatican.

- Your Eminence, why is the Roman Catholic Church sending so large and representative a delegation to the Summit? Does it suggest a thaw in Orthodox-Catholic relations?

- The coming of so representative a Roman Catholic delegation can be accounted for by the attractiveness of the very idea of a Summit to take place in Moscow. Preparations for it have shown that it has met with a lively response among various religions, and the Catholic Church is no exception. The idea of interreligious dialogue on burning issues of the global development today has proved to be very much called for. Annually a great deal of meetings on this subject takes place in various countries and on various levels. The novelty is that the initiator is the Interreligious Council in Russia and that many religious communities have taken an interest in it. This initiative will give to representatives of religious communities an opportunity not only to discuss important problems of the global development but also to inform the political leaders of the world leading countries about the results of this discussion. In other words, leaders of religious communities in the world, who are to assemble in Moscow for the Summit, will actually propose to begin a serious dialogue between political power and religious communities on a global scale. There has been nothing like this so far.

- Recently there has been much talk about Orthodox-Catholic dialogue coming out of a standstill. What changes have been most evident to you?

- This dialogue has never been at a standstill. Moscow and the Vatican have always kept contact and discussed existing problems. But you are right in pointing out some positive changes which have taken place recently in our bilateral relations. They have been brought about not only by negotiation efforts, but also the internal work carried out by each Church to understand the developments in the modern world. In the countries of Catholic and Orthodox tradition, various negative tendencies have grown. There is also growing aggression and intolerance, the continued low birth rate, growing drug addiction and alcoholism, serious epidemics, the increasingly polluted environment and emaciating natural resources. At the same time, society has overlooked the fact that all this happens because of the lack of a system of people’s moral education. Religion has been confined to the private sphere, while the social one often supports norms contradicting traditional morality. In the process of our contacts and monitoring the developments, we have discovered that the Orthodox and Catholic Churches have the same vision of problems facing world today. Moreover, our two Churches advocate the same ethical norms. Therefore, we cannot but unite our efforts.
All these ideas have been systematized at a major Orthodox-Catholic conference “To Give a Soul to Europe’ which took place last May in Vienna. I would stress that the Russian and Catholic Churches held an event on such a high level for the first time in the last 15 years. Among important achievements of this conference is the statement adopted by the two sides on the result of its work. It registers the willingness of the two Churches to work together in the modern world for asserting moral values. It is especially important for the Russian Church that this approach should be systematically realized in countries where the Moscow Patriarchate has pastoral responsibilities. It is also positive that the Catholic side has already begun to adhere to this policy in its work in Russia. Thus, the head of the Russian Catholics, Bishop Joseph Vert, has recently supported the initiative to establish the institution of military clergy in the army, while Archbishop Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz has changed to positive his view on teaching rudiments of traditional religions in school. Though Catholics are a small flock in Russia, their attitude to the Russian Orthodox Church is decisive in many ways in assessing the position of the entire Roman Catholic Church.

To be frank, there are still difficult problems involved in the Catholic missionary efforts in the CIS countries. However, there have been some small shifts in this area as well. Later last year, the joint working group for considering problems in relations between the Russian Orthodox and the Roman Catholic Churches resumed its work. That is to say, the mechanism of practical resolution of local conflicts has been activated.

- What challenges of the modern world are common to Christians and other religions and what challenges are not?

- I have already mentioned some negative tendencies faced by modern society. They represent a common challenge to all religions in the world. Each in its place has to deal with them, seeking to make its own contribution to the efforts to overcome them. Certainly, common challenges are apt to rally even those who otherwise would find it difficult to arrive at a common language. What is most desirable is that we should be united by opportunities for joint creative work rather than threats. I believe these opportunities have become ever clearer. First of all it is a concern for strengthening morality in society. Society is lacking morality but does not take any decisive steps to cultivate it in people. It is a common task of religious communities to persuade politicians and public figures that this lack should be addressed most seriously.

- Do you think religious leaders, participants in the Moscow summit, will be able to propose new ways of combating terrorism and extremism which uses religion as a cover?

- Why does extremism find support today, also among the youth? – Because in many countries the secularized society has failed to offer their people any lofty idea of meaning and human activity. Norms of behaviour propagated by the modern mass media and through other public institutions are reduced to consumerism, hedonism, aggression and individualism. It is against this that various extremist trends normally rise and find support among many people. Extremism should be deprived of this soil, not only of their financial and communicational basis. It is in this area that religious leaders can make their contribution to combating terrorism and extremism. But, I repeat, these efforts will help only if society listens to them. Man cannot be saved without him himself, as an old Christian maxim says.

- Is it planned to hold separate talks between Orthodox and Catholic representatives at the Moscow Summit, and if so, what questions will be dealt with?

- The Summit of Religious Leaders is not certainly a screen for dealing with more important problems including those in relations with the Catholic Church. All the aims set by its organizers, that is, the Interreligious Council in Russia, have been clearly stated. Their sincerity could be tested by religious leaders’ representatives at the preparatory conference in May. I should say that even those who had hesitations about the need to come for the Summit changed their mind after that conference. The Summit with its agenda is important in itself. We have enough possibilities for meetings with the Catholics without the Summit. If the leaders of our two Churches have not yet met, it does not mean representatives of our Churches do not meet and talk. At the same time, religious leaders will certainly have bilateral talks on the margins of the Summit. And this is good, though it is not the main goal. I believe there will be such talks with Catholic delegates as well, on very diverse themes.