ACN President: “Another milestone in the Catholic-Orthodox dialogue”
On the second anniversary (Monday, 12 Feb.) of the historic meeting between Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill of Moscow, the president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, Cardinal Kurt Koch, and Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk, chairman of the Moscow Patriarchate department for external church relations, met in Vienna. A delegation from the pontifical foundation Aid to the Church in Need, which has been promoting the dialogue between the Catholic and Russian Orthodox churches for 25 years, also attended the meeting and presented a documentary work of the extent of the damage and sacrifice of Christians in Syria that was the outcome of a collaborative effort between Catholics and Orthodox.
Vienna 14 Feb. 2018 – Baron Johannes Heereman, executive president of the pontifical foundation Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), considers the meeting in Vienna between Cardinal Koch and Metropolitan Hilarion to be “another milestone” in the dialogue between the Roman Catholic and Russian Orthodox churches. The meeting took place on the second anniversary of the historic meeting between Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill. A delegation from ACN was also in attendance. The main focus was the situation of Christians in the Middle East and a joint response of the Catholic and Orthodox churches to the persecution of Christians in this region and in other parts of the world.
ACN has been promoting the dialogue between the Catholic and Russian Orthodox churches for more than a quarter century now. “For us, this anniversary is not the celebration of a historic event, but one stage of the journey to a joint future,” President Heereman responded when asked to comment on the event. He was impressed by the fact that both Metropolitan Hilarion and Cardinal Koch had remarked that Christians were not being persecuted today because they were members of a particular denomination, “but simply because they are Christians. The churches are not divided in this shared area of suffering.” Cardinal Koch emphasised that the unity of the church has already been realised in the saints. The cardinal talked about the “alarming phenomenon” of Christians leaving the Middle East, which has made it necessary to help Christians remain in their homeland.
Helping Christians remain in their homeland
“This is also one of the main concerns of ACN,” President Heereman explained. In his speech, the cardinal highlighted the aid provided by ACN in the Middle East: between 2011 and 2017, ACN approved 35.7 million euros in aid for Iraq, over 21 million euros for Syria. Metropolitan Hilarion emphasised that the Russian Orthodox church had also fallen victim to persecution during the last century and would now like to help persecuted Christians in cooperation with the Catholic church. The metropolitan considers the persecution of Christians to be the “most important challenge” for the churches in this day and age.
Metropolitan Hilarion praised the effectiveness of the cooperation of the two churches in this area, which has helped move today’s persecution of Christians into the media’s focus with unprecedented intensity. He also emphasised the word “genocide” was first applied to the suffering of the Christians in the Middle East during the meeting between pope and patriarch.
New ways in which ACN is collaborating with the Russian Orthodox church were also presented at the summit. Inspired by the joint declaration that Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill signed two years ago, a working group was established of representatives of the Catholic church and Russian Orthodox church as well as experts from the international pastoral charity ACN. The meeting in Vienna set the stage for the first official appearance of the ecumenical working group.
“On the one hand, the cooperation is about providing aid to Christians in the Middle East and, on the other hand, promoting joint Christian values, especially for the protection of human life and the traditional Christian family – both urgent issues of our times,” Peter Humeniuk, head of ACN’s Russian section, said. He explained that both churches are in agreement in these areas, “Many initiatives attest to the fruitfulness of this work.” ACN President Heereman now presented the work of the ecumenical group and spoke of a “promising sign of the intensification and stabilisation of the collaboration.”
A booklet published by ACN was presented in Vienna as a further achievement. On the one hand, the booklet describes the aid efforts of ACN in Syria and, on the other hand, it gives a preliminary overview of the churches in Syria that were destroyed during the war. Cardinal Koch and Metropolitan Hilarion, who each wrote a preface for the publication, both expressed their thanks to ACN. All of the local Christian churches collaborated on this documentary work. The booklet also provides statistics on the number of Christians who were abducted or killed and the number of private homes owned by Christians that were destroyed. According to ACN President Heereman, this booklet is special because it is “the result of a collaborative effort between Catholics, Orthodox and ACN. The ecumenism of martyrs is realised in a mutual concern for the future of Christianity in the Middle East.”
The booklet is part of a large-scale investigation that provides a record of the damage sustained by the church buildings of all local denominations during the war in Syria. The documentary work will continue in preparation for the rebuilding efforts.