The relationship between the Catholic and Orthodox Churches is very important to Pope Francis, said the president of the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of Christian Unity.
“I think the ecumenical issue and the ecumenical challenge is very close to his heart,” Swiss Cardinal Kurt Koch told CNA on Dec. 13.
From Dec.14-19, Cardinal Koch will travel to Russia to meet with leaders of the Russian Orthodox Church. He will meet with Patriarch Kirill of Moscow as well Metropolitan Hilarion, who is president of the Department of External Church Relations of the Russian Orthodox Church.
“The possibility or the opportunity of a meeting between Pope Francis and his Holiness Kirill” would require “a very good and profound, deep preparation,” the cardinal explained.
“I hope this (trip) can be a little path in the way of preparation.”
Like his predecessor, Benedict XVI, Pope Francis has entered the papacy with personal knowledge of the challenges of ecumenism.
Just as Pope Benedict understood “the ecumenical situation in Germany, with all the churches and ecclesial communities (that) came from the reformation, Pope Francis knows very well the situation in Latin America” where there is “very big growth” of the “Evangelical and Pentecostal communities,” noted Cardinal Koch.
“We must speak today about the ‘pentecostalization’ of Christianity or a ‘fourth form’ of Christianity: Catholic, Orthodox, Protestant and now (a) Pentecostal form of Christianity.”
The cardinal went on to highlight that the pontiff’s experience of ecumenism also includes the eastern Christian Churches.
“As Archbishop of Buenos Aires, Pope Francis was responsible for all the oriental Catholic Churches,” thus “he knows very well also the oriental tradition, and very important for the ecumenical dialogue is the orthodox and the oriental orthodox churches.”
“I think we have a very beautiful continuation between Benedict XVI and Pope Francis, (of) what belongs in the ecumenical issues,” he added.
Cardinal Koch’s itinerary includes attendance at a theology conference on the progress of Catholic-Orthodox dialogue, a visit to the monastery of Alexander Nevsky Lavra, and pastoral meetings with Catholic clergy on the topics of ecumenical dialogue and the Second Vatican Council.
The cardinal will also preside at a celebration of the jubilee of the basilica of St. Catherine of Alexandria in St. Petersburg.