RUSSIA - VATICAN
by Nina Achmatova
The Russian president "strongly" desired encounter with Francis, which will be held on the afternoon of November 25. Ahead of the leader of the Kremlin, Metropolitan Hilarion , number 2 of the Russian Orthodox Patriarchate, will visit the Vatican .
Moscow (AsiaNews) - The Kremlin is still speaking of a visit still at the preparation phase , but by the Holy See Press Office has officially announced that at 5pm November 25, the Russian President, Vladimir Putin, will make his first official visit to Pope Francis. Putin could meet the Pope in Rome in late November , said presidential spokesman Dmitri Peskov , commenting on the news releases of Italian media, and confirmed by the Vatican, on the private audience between the two leaders on November 25 , the eve of the inter-government summit between Italy and Russia , scheduled the next day in Trieste .
The possibility of this meeting is being discussed as part of the preparation for the visit of the President to Italy, on 25 and 26 November," Peskov told Interfax . The audience with the Pope according to some media is "strongly desired" by the Russian president , who at the G20 summit in September in St. Petersburg, had explicitly cited the Vatican among states opposed to an external military attack on Syria , which at the time seemed imminent .
A few days beforehand, Pope Francis had written a letter to the head of the Kremlin , who has always supported a diplomatic and political solution to the Syrian crisis, in which he stressed the concern of the Holy See for the possibility of military intervention as loudly demanded by the United States. Peskov said that "it is still too early" to say whether during the meeting at the Vatican will discuss Bergoglio's letter, but certainly there will be the theme of international efforts to end the Syrian conflict and the situation of Christians in Middle East on the table. Issues which currently unite the Holy See and the Patriarchate of Moscow, for its part committed - both economically and diplomatically - to the protection of this minority in the region.
In a recent interview with AsiaNews the same Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Orthodox Patriarchate , Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk , chairman of the Department for External Relations described work between the two Churches on the theological level as " unsatisfactory ", while at the same time speaking of "effective" work together " on moral values and social issues " , which also includes the defense of traditional values in Europe and the Christian presence in the Middle East. In fact, Hilarion will visit the Vatican ahead of Putin when, on 12 November , he travels to Rome to present the book "Word of God and the word of man," with contributions by the Russian philologist Serghei Averintsev .
The issue of persecuted Christians is not only central to the foreign policy of the Patriarchate , but also that of the Kremlin, increasingly willing to stand as mediator between East and West, calibrating complaints of violence against Christian minorities, with declarations of friendship and support for Muslim leaders. Last month, about 50 thousand Syrian Christians asked for Russian citizenship, with the fear of "being banished from their lands, for the first time since the birth of Christ." The Kremlin has now said it will seriously consider the request. Putin has already had three meetings with the previous Popes : in March 2007, with Benedict XVII and with John Paul II , in June 2000 and November 2003. In February of 2011, it was instead the then head of the Russian state, Dmitri Medvedev, to pay a visit to Pope Ratzinger in the Vatican, two years after the restoration of full diplomatic relations between the two countries.
Hilarion Alfeyev (born Grigoriy Valerievich Alfeyev; 24 July 1966) is a bishop of the Russian Orthodox Church. At present he is the Metropolitan of Volokolamsk, the chairman of the Department of External Church Relations and a permanent member of the Holy Synod of the Patriarchate of Moscow. He is also a noted theologian, church historian and composer and has published books on dogmatic theology, patristics and church history as well as numerous compositions for choir and orchestra.