Putin and Pope Francis: a friendship based on a “universal vision”

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by Vladimir Rozanskij

The Russian president will meet the pontiff on 4 July.  This is the fifth time that Putin has gone to the Vatican.  The topic of the interview: the instability of international relations, the crisis in the Middle East, the fate of Syria, the problem of nuclear disarmament, the situation in Iran.  The “tsar” defends the Catholic Church, “attacked by liberal ideologies”.  Vatican neutral towards the Ukrainian problem.  At the same time, the hearing for Ukrainian Greek Catholics.

Moscow (AsiaNews) – On the eve of the visit by Russian President Vladimir Putin to the Vatican, which will take place on Thursday 4 July, one wonders what the true meaning of this meeting is, and why the president of the largest country in the world regularly goes  (it is the fifth time in 20 years) to visit the head of the smallest country in the world, the Vatican.

In an interview with the Russian magazine Ogonek, the Russian ambassador to the Holy See Aleksandr Avdeev, former minister for culture of the Russian government, recalls that the Pope “is the spiritual guide of one billion three hundred million people, who consider the Pope’s word even more important than the political leaders of the various countries: the territorial extension of the Vatican is inversely proportional to its capacity to influence the entire world ”.

According to Avdeev, the agenda of the visit will be as vast as possible: “the instability of international relations, the crisis in the Middle East, the fate of Syria, the problem of nuclear disarmament, the situation in Iran”.

In reality, the dialogue between the president and the Pope promises to be both intense and interesting, “an exchange of philosophical and political views on the world between the leader of Russia and the head of Catholic Christianity”.  This is the true key to understanding the event: that perspective of “universal vision” that makes Russia and the Vatican so sensitive to each other.

The Russian ambassador recalls the cultural exchanges of recent years, exhibitions and conferences, debates between scholars and events for the general public, which showed the harmony between the “spiritual father” of the West and “mother Russia” who wants to represent  the East.  Pope Francis inspires great sympathy in Russia for his own personality, “to whom great progress is needed in mutual relations in recent times”, but above all, states Avdeev, “the time has come when Catholics can no longer solve many problems and open challenges, without taking into account the political logic of Russia and the experience of our Orthodoxy”.

Even in Putin’s recent interview with the Financial Times, reprinted by global press , the Russian president had defended the Catholic Church, “attacked by liberal ideologies”, proposing the aid of “state” Christianity in Russia.  As Avdeev argues, “the Vatican is interested in stability and security in all regions of the world, where the Catholic faithful live”, and interests match those of Russia, starting with Syria and Venezuela.

Regarding the thorny problem of Ukraine, the ambassador recalls that “the Vatican supports the Minsk agreements, distancing itself from any interference in the life of Orthodox communities”.  And this despite the Greek-Catholic uniates who, according to Avdeev, often “contradict the appeals of the Vatican to avoid the politicization of the faith and the ideologization of the flock of the faithful”.

The Vatican’s neutrality regarding the Ukrainian issue, moreover, has been confirmed by an interview given by Cardinal Kurt Koch, president of the Pontifical Council for Christian Unity, to  the Russian agency Tass on June 28 of  for which “the Catholic Church does not  he can recognize a new Church, until it is recognized by the others;  in no way can the Church of Rome be the first, because this would be an interference in the internal conflict between the Orthodox “.  Moreover, observes Koch, “neutrality does not mean indifference: if a part of the body of Christ suffers, all the members suffer”.

In a particular coincidence, on the day of Putin’s visit, the Pope will also receive the leadership of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, along with Kiev’s senior archbishop Svyatoslav Shevchuk.  The Uniates will again submit to Francis the request to obtain the status of “Patriarchal Church” and the title of Patriarch for the same Shevchuk, as indeed they have done for many years;  in the current context, this means further tension towards an independent Ukrainian Church, perhaps with a view to merging with the autocephalous Orthodox Church.  The Pope will have to reassure Putin also in this regard.

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