Silence and unrest in Moscow over possible Pope Francis visit to Kiev

Welcomed between indifference and mistrust, the evocation by the Pope Francisin early April, from a possible trip to Kiev, the Ukrainian capital, went almost unnoticed in Moscow. “If this visit becomes a reality, the reaction will undoubtedly be to minimize its importance. Neither the Kremlin nor the Patriarch has any interest in talking about it too much…”warns Leonid Sevastyanov who, at the head of the World Union of Old Believers, is a clear observer of the Russian Orthodox elites.

→ READ. War in Ukraine: What Pope Francis and Moscow Patriarch Said on the Phone

The video conference between François and de Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirillon March 16, about theUkraine and the role of pastors promoting peace has hardly been discussed in Russia – however, it could be followed by a physical meeting in June.

minimum obligation

For the visit to Moscow in 2017 of the number two of the Vatican, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, received by the President Vladimir Poutine, the authorities and the televisions in their service were satisfied with the minimal service. Five years later, in a much more tense context, the possible papal trip to Ukraine could suffer the same fate.

→ THE FACTS. Pope’s trip to Kiev is “a possibility”, Francis . confirms

“If Francis makes this beautiful and symbolic visit to Kiev, the majority of Russians who support their army’s action in Ukraine will say that the Vatican actually supports the hostile regime. This will be used to justify their previous criticism of the Pope and Catholics.”regrets Jean-François Thiry, director of the “Library of the Spirit”, a rare place for ecumenical gatherings in Moscow.

Between resentment and jealousy

Behind the indifference, in fact, old suspicions resurface. The Orthodox clergy remain very bitter against the Pope, explaining that the Vatican has long tried to take control of Russia. Officially, the Patriarchate assures: “No more problems with Catholics” but in the churches in Moscow the alleged tendencies of Catholic proselytism are quickly brought up in the discussions.

Until then, François was quite well regarded in Moscow. Especially since the Pope had never said anything obnoxious to Vladimir Putin, who, a regular visitor to the Vatican, took the opportunity to step up his “openness” to the Western world. But Francis’ worldwide popularity makes the Orthodox elite uneasy, a curious mixture of resentment and jealousy towards this Pope who is able to muster crowds far larger and more sincere than those caused by Kirill’s visits.

“If the Pope ever comes to Moscow, he risks attracting more people than our Patriarch. For years everything has been done to prevent his arrival., said an anonymous well-informed source at the Patriarchate. In the churches, the popes regularly reply with the same answer about the movements of Francis: “Catholics make it a big problem. Not We. †

Internal discomfort

Without being an initiator, Vladimir Poutine had orchestrated the meeting between the Pope and the Patriarch on February 12, 2016 in Cuba. A historic gathering for heads of the Catholic Church and of the Russian Orthodox Church, unprecedented since the Council of Florence in 1439. But the differences remain all the more so because, in addition to the historical problems, these personal rivalries are added. The Orthodox hierarchy remains loyal to power, as evidenced by the Patriarch’s declarations of allegiance to the Kremlin and his unwavering support for what Moscow called an understatement “special military operation” in Ukraine.

→ FILE. War in Ukraine and religion, all our articles

Even before the Ukrainian conflict, tensions were palpable within the Russian Orthodox Church, between fundamentalist and liberal movements, with a patriarch stifling any debate. A papal visit to Kiev would add to the unease, but officially the Church does not want to show it.

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