Moscow, September 28, Interfax - Metropolitan Hilarion, the chairman of the Moscow Patriarchate's Department for External Church Relations (DECR), has met with Pope Francis in Vatican and noted the crucial importance of bringing Saint Nicholas' relics to Russia.
In the beginning of the meeting, Metropolitan Hilarion conveyed to the Pope profound gratitude of Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia for bringing the holy relics to Russia in May-July which had happened owing to an agreement reached at a meeting of the heads of two churches in Havana, the DECR website said.
Metropolitan Hilarion told the pope that over 2.3 million people from Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, Moldova and other countries bowed to the holy relics during their stay in Moscow and St. Petersburg. People waited in lines for many hours to visit the relics of the most venerated saint in Russia.
Bringing of St. Nicholas' relics to Russia was the most important event in the history of relations between the Roman Catholic Church and the Russian Orthodox Church, the metropolitan said.
Apart from that, the metropolitan drew the pope's attention to the situation in Ukraine, where three bills are forwarded for the Verkhovnaya Rada's consideration and each of them is aimed at discriminating the canonical Ukrainian Orthodox Church.
The Ukrainian Orthodox Church has the self-management status as part of the Moscow Patriarchate, is independent in administrative terms, but fully maintains devotional ties with the Russian Orthodox Church, the DECR chairman said.
"Efforts of sponsors of two of these bills are aimed at declaring the Ukrainian Orthodox Church a foreign religious organization, activities of which need authorities' special approval, rather than the national church of Ukraine which it is. Another bill is aimed at legalizing illegal takeovers of the canonical church's temples which has already resulted in seizure of over 40 temples," the DECR said.
The parties also discussed the situation in the Middle East. Following the conclusion of the anti-terrorist operation in Syria, a huge amount of work is ahead in order to restore destroyed temples and churches and create conditions for refugees' return to their homes, Metropolitan Hilarion said. The Orthodox and Catholic churches could join their efforts in providing humanitarian assistance to Christians, he said.
Joint work is already underway in this field, the DECR chairman said. In particular, Orthodox Christians and Catholics are working on drawing up a full list of Syrian temples and monasteries damaged or destroyed during the war.