The latest visit of Russian President Vladimir Putin to Italy may be of historic significance and pave the way for the start of reconciliation between the Russian Orthodox Church and Roman Catholic Church. President Putin’s visit to Italy and Greece, the main political event of the last week, turned out to be a bit more than just a business trip that went smoothly. Aside from achieving obvious economic results e.g. the signing of a long-awaited Balkan pipeline deal, Putin’s trip to Europe also dispelled a number of seemingly fixed stereotypes.
For example, the opinion shared by many Western political scientists that Russia would inevitably find itself in complete isolation following the Munich speech by Putin became yet another myth. It is obvious that the Italians are more interested in cutting mutually beneficial deals with the Russians rather than debate vague and hypothetical issues relating to Russia-U.S. relations. As the Burgas-Alexandroupolis pipeline deal was signed and sealed in Athens last Thursday, Greece and Bulgaria made clear that they were sensible and independent enough to do business with Russia even though cooperation is being frowned upon by the U.S.
There is yet another subtle implication in Putin’s recent trip to Italy. The implication is religious in nature. On the face of it, a meeting between the Russian president and the Pope looked like a ceremonial occasion. However, it may as well prove to be a historic event. There are indications that President Putin and Pope Benedict XVI discussed the prospects for a meeting between Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia Alexy II and Pope Benedict XVI. The meeting is reported to be within the bounds of possibility.
It is an open secret that the Roman Catholic Church has been pushing for such a meeting for quite awhile. The meeting could symbolize the start of a long-awaited reconciliation process between the two Christian Churches. Establishing friendly relations between the Church of Rome and Russian Orthodox Church is arguably one of the most important and difficult earthly missions of Pope Benedict XVI.
The intentions of the Pope are quite understood. The last several years have seen a continued increase in the role of the Russian Orthodox Church. The Roman Catholic Church seems to be sincerely determined to have good relations with a benevolent partner in lieu of a problem neighbor.
Last week the Roman Catholic Church showed respect yet another time for the Russian Orthodox Church. By decree of the Italian government, a temple in the city of Bari was returned to the Moscow Patriarchate. The move apparently had the “papal blessing”; otherwise it would have never happened.
Patriarch Alexy II has now an opportunity to appreciate the friendly gestures extended by the Roman Catholic Church. He may take one step forward, a step of historic importance. Then the Pope’s hope of meeting with the Patriarch may become a reality in the foreseeable future.
Translated by Guerman Grachev