EU bishops implore Russian Orthodox patriarch to intervene in Ukraine conflict

Cardinal Jean-Claude Hollerich and Patriarch Kirill of Moscow Cardinal Jean-Claude Hollerich and Patriarch Kirill of Moscow. | Daniel Ibáñez/CNA/ via Wikimedia (CC BY 4.0).

The president of the European bishops’ commission has appealed to Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill to intervene for peace in the conflict with Ukraine.

“In these dark moments for humanity, accompanied by intense feelings of hopelessness and fear, many look to you, Your Holiness, as someone who could bring a sign of hope for a peaceful solution to this conflict,” Cardinal Jean-Claude Hollerich said in a March 8 letter to the Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia.

“Sharing Pope Francis’ feelings of anguish and concern repeatedly expressed over the ‘rivers of blood and tears flowing in Ukraine,’” Hollerich said, “I dare to implore your Holiness in the spirit of fraternity: please, address an urgent appeal to Russian authorities to immediately stop the hostilities against the Ukrainian people and to show goodwill for seeking a diplomatic solution to the conflict, based on dialogue, common sense, and respect for international law, while allowing safe humanitarian corridors and unrestricted access to humanitarian assistance.”

Patriarch Kirill is the leader of the Russian Orthodox Church, an autocephalous Eastern Orthodox Church with an estimated 150 million members, accounting for more than half of the world’s Orthodox Christians.

Catholic bishops across Europe have urged Patriarch Kirill to seek an end to Russia’s war with Ukraine. They include the Irish bishops, Poland’s Archbishop Stanisław Gądecki, Germany’s Cardinal Reinhard Marx, and now Hollerich, president of the Commission of the Bishops’ Conferences of the European Union (COMECE).

The Vatican’s secretary of state has also commented on Kirill’s response to the conflict.

Cardinal Pietro Parolin told Italian media this week that recent remarks by the Russian Orthodox Patriarch could make tensions worse.

At the end of an event in Rome on March 9, Parolin said “Kirill’s words do not favor and do not promote an understanding. On the contrary, they risk aggravating spirits even more and going towards an escalation and not resolving the crisis in a peaceful way.”

Kirill had spoken about the conflict in two recent sermons. In the first, he expressed support for separatists in Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region, and in the second, he called Russians and Ukrainians “one people,” accusing the West of giving weapons to Ukraine in order to weaken a too-powerful Russia.

Parolin also cast doubt on March 9 about whether an expected meeting between the patriarch and Pope Francis — their second — would take place this summer as reported in February.

“The question is very complicated, also by the tensions that have existed between the Churches, so at the moment there has been no possibility,” Parolin told journalists.

About a meeting at any point in the future, the cardinal said again, “this situation is complicated. We’ll see.”

In his letter to Kirill, Hollerich referred to the patriarch’s joint declaration with Francis, signed at their first meeting in Havana, Cuba, in 2016.

“In 2016, you jointly deplored with His Holiness Pope Francis ‘the hostility in Ukraine that has already caused many victims, inflicted innumerable wounds on peaceful inhabitants and thrown society into a deep economic and humanitarian crisis,’ urging for action aimed at constructing peace and social solidarity. Please do not let those powerful words go in vain,” the EU bishops’ president said.

He said that the bishops of the European Union were “broken-hearted” listening to the suffering of the people caught in the crosshairs of the “foolishness of war in Ukraine.”

“Thousands — soldiers and civilians alike — have already lost their lives and more than a million people have been displaced or fled their homeland, most of them vulnerable women and children,” he said.

“As violent attacks are hitting Ukraine and its people every day with greater force, the need for humanitarian assistance is growing dramatically by the hour, while diplomatic efforts have remained fruitless so far. Moreover, as words and actions keep escalating, the possibility of a wider European or even global conflict with catastrophic consequences cannot be excluded.”

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“In this time of Lent,” the cardinal concluded, “let us as Christians, proclaiming the same Gospel and praying to the same God, who is the God of peace and not of war, pray and do our utmost to help end this senseless war so that reconciliation and peace may dwell again on the European continent.”

Hollerich, a Jesuit, has been archbishop of Luxembourg since 2011. He received the red hat on Oct. 5, 2019, becoming the first cardinal from Luxembourg, a country with a population of only 626,000, bordering Belgium, France, and Germany.

Last year, the 63-year-old Hollerich was named relator general of the 2023 Synod on Synodality by Pope Francis.

In an interview with local media on March 9, Hollerich denied rumors that he was in the running to succeed Pope Francis as pope.

“I don’t believe it at all, it’s some people’s fantasies,” he told L’essentiel, a daily newspaper in Luxembourg.

“I would be very unhappy in such a position. I am very human, I prefer to read a good book, listen to some music or go out with friends for a good meal. However, a pope no longer has all that,” the cardinal said, adding, “I would not be able to do such a job, I’m not good enough for it.”

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