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The Next Step in Catholic-Orthodox Dialogue

Interview With Vatican's Representative in Moscow

MOSCOW, APRIL 17, 2006 (Zenit) - The World Summit of Religious Leaders, to be held here in July, shows promise for the future of Catholic-Orthodox dialogue, says the Holy See official representative in Moscow.

Archbishop Antonio Mennini, in an interview with Interfax-religion, spoke about the Vatican's interest in the upcoming congress, and other topics concerning the Catholic Church in Russia.

Q: What was the Vatican's response to the initiative to hold a World Summit of Religious Leaders in Moscow? Who will represent the Holy See at this forum?

Archbishop Mennini: It was with great and well-deserved interest that the Holy See responded to the Russian Orthodox Church's initiative to convene a World Summit of Religious Leaders early this July with the declared aim to strengthen considerably the cooperation between traditional religions and express their position on urgent issues facing the world today.

The Catholic Church leaders have always appreciated proposals for dialogue and cooperation in overcoming the major problems of humanity today, and have normally taken a direct and active part in realizing such initiatives.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, speaking of his support for the initiative of His Holiness Alexy II, said that "in today's times I consider it important to strengthen moral and spiritual values common to all confessions. Faith in good and justice, mercy and love of peace are basic affirmations of all the world religions."

For me it remains only to join the opinion expressed by the Russian leader. It is also noteworthy that in recent months there have been repeated statements by high-ranking representatives of the Russian Orthodox Church speaking positively of closeness in Orthodox and Catholic positions on most of the challenges brought by modern times. These statements give a special hope for fruitful cooperation during the forthcoming forum.

With regard to the personal composition of the delegation to represent the Holy See and Benedict XVI at it, I can say nothing specific, since it has not been formed and approved as yet.

But I can already state now that it will be a high-level representation. I am also pleased to remind you that during the Millennium of the Baptism of Russia celebration, the official delegation of the Holy See was one of the most representative.

Q: The idea of introduction of Basic Orthodox culture to the secondary school curriculum and the institution of an army chaplaincy have been discussed widely in recent weeks in Russia. Does the Catholic Church share the Russian Orthodox Church's concern over the lack of both in Russia?

Archbishop Mennini: The Catholic Church throughout the world has always used any opportunity for pastoral care of various groups of people.

First and foremost is certainly the promotion of adequate education on the basis of Christian faith and moral values proclaimed by the Gospel. Christian education in school and pastoral service in the army is a long tradition in the Catholic Church. Therefore, we cannot but sympathize with the plans to develop both in Russia.

Certainly, this service should not be coercive. ... If appropriate, I would like to express the wish that this work should be well considered and prepared by the Church so that any manipulation of political and ideological nature could be avoided.

I am convinced, though, that the leaders of the appropriate structures in the Russian Orthodox Church are well aware of the situation. It remains only to wish them God's help and every success on this difficult but important path.

Q: Do you think the reproaches made by the U.S. Congress for Russia's alleged failure to observe religious freedoms are justified?

Archbishop Mennini: Unfortunately, I am not aware of any specific facts prompting the U.S. Congress to make this kind of reproach. Therefore, it is easier for me to base my answer on what I know not through hearsay.

I am delighted to testify that the current Russian legislation provides for a real opportunity for the communities and structures of the Catholic Church in Russia to exist normally and to develop.

The parishes, schools and monastic communities work without any restrictions from outside, and the Catholic charities carry out their service without any obstructions. The Catholic Church, just as other religious organizations, uses tax and other benefits.

Certainly, there are some difficulties -- in provinces as a rule -- which come from an insufficient experience of life in a law-governed society.

At the same time, I would like to emphasize that the existing mechanism of resolving conflict situations makes it possible to reach a desired and lawful result almost in any case without resorting to harsh public accusations, which normally give only temporary advantages, but do not help in any way to build reliable partnership relations.

Q: What would you like to wish to the Russian Catholics? What is their mission toward Russia and the West?

Archbishop Mennini: I would like to wish to the Russian Catholics first of all to build their spiritual, public, professional and family life on the basis of the Gospel and Church teaching. I wish to my brothers and sisters in faith, just as to my Orthodox brothers and sisters, to seek the most important thing with the confidence that the rest will be given to them.

It is my profound conviction that if a Christian community ensures an appropriate education for its members, then sooner or later it will produce from its midst those who are capable of lofty public and professional service.

A good Christian, whether Catholic or Orthodox, is always a good citizen of his country -- and a faithful son of his people not only willing to, but also capable of, working for its well-being at the place where the Lord set him up.

My experience of the present Russian reality allows me to hope that the Catholic communities may, together with other Christians, bear witness to the truth before the world which needs it more than ever.

Q: What do you think of the decision of the Moscow authorities to ban the holding of a "gay parade" in the capital city?

Archbishop Mennini: I think it is a wise decision. Complying with all the arguments dictated by Christian faith against such public actions, I would like to point out what is essential and indisputable to any reasonable person: Such a manifestation would certainly lead to an aggravated tension in Russian society and possibly even to violence, which is inadmissible in any case.

Q: In mid-March the Vatican came out as a sponsor of the conference in the pontifical university that treated the Crusades as a war with a "noble goal" to return the Holy Land to Christendom. However, as is known, Pope John Paul II described those crusades as "a mistake of the Church." Can a reassessment of the crusades be expected to be made in the nearest future?

Archbishop Mennini: It seems to me that it is inappropriate to make conclusions on the basis of an opinion expressed by one of the participants in the conference, not knowing either the precise formulation of the theme discussed or the character of arguments given.

It appears that in this case we face, not for the first time, alas, an attempt to make a sensation of what is not such in the least.

To my mind, what was said about the justified intentions that guided initiators of the crusade movement -- such as protection of holy places from profanation and defense of the Christian population from non-Christian violence -- cannot in any way deny the fact that in reality there were deplorable distortions of the original noble design.

Indeed, this happened not only in the history of Crusades. The regret that Pope John Paul II expressed concerning deplorable mistakes made during the Fourth Crusade -- as a reminder, the same judgment was made by Pope Innocent III as far back as the 13th century -- does not in any way deny the fact that among the participants in the crusade movement there were, along with adventurers, those who were guided by the noblest motives.

Q: What is your attitude to screening of "The Da Vinci Code" by Dan Brown?

Archbishop Mennini: This is exactly a clear case of search for a false sensation, already mentioned, aimed against the Church and Christianity to discredit them.

The stir around the book and its screening, unfortunately, is indicative of the state of society not in the best way. There is nothing to be added to it, except that the harm brought by such "cultural events" would be considerably lesser if the mass media did not have a hand in it.

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