Pope meets Russian Orthodox number two before meeting with Patriarch According to Reuters

© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Pope Francis leaves after his weekly general audience at the Vatican, August 3, 2022. REUTERS/Remo Casilli

By Philip Pullella

(Reuters) – Pope Francis met Bishop Antonij, the second most powerful leader of the Russian Orthodox Church, on Friday ahead of a summit scheduled for next month with Patriarch Kirill, who supports war in Ukraine.

It was their first meeting since Antonij’s predecessor, Hilarion, was ousted in June in an abrupt decision that revealed discord at the highest levels of the Moscow Patriarchate over the conflict.

The Vatican listed Antonij in official papal appointments but gave no details of what was discussed during the private audience.

The Pope will attend a congress of religious leaders in the Kazakh capital Nur-Sultan on September 13-15, where he said he hopes to meet Kirill.

Bulat Sarsenbayev, head of the Kazakhstan organization hosting the congress, told Astana Times that Kirill confirmed his presence there.

A close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin, Kirill has enthusiastically supported Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which the cardinal sees as a bulwark against a West he sees as decadent.

Kirill’s stance caused a rift with the Vatican and caused an internal rebellion that resulted in several local Orthodox Churches cutting ties with the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC).

Francis, who has called the conflict a “cruel and senseless war of aggression”, had planned to meet with Kirill on June 14 in Jerusalem but was canceled on the advice of Vatican diplomats.

They met once, in Cuba in 2016 – the first meeting between the Pope and a leader of the Russian Orthodox Church since the Great Schism in 1054.

In an interview with Reuters last month, Francis said he wanted to visit Kyiv after returning from Canada on July 30, but also wanted to go to Moscow, preferably first, to promote peace.

Putin has described Moscow’s actions in Ukraine as a “special military operation” aimed at the demilitarization and “denuclearization” of the country. Ukraine and the West have viewed the conflict as a war of gratuitous aggression by Russia.

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