Russian, Polish Churches Appeal for Reconciliation
August 29, 2012
The first ever visit to Poland by the head of the Russian Orthodox Church has led to a resumption of stalled dialogue between Polish Catholics and religious leaders in Russia. In an unprecedented gesture, Kirill I, the Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia, and senior Polish Church officials signed a joint message to the people of their countries calling for reconciliation, despite the troubled history between the two nations.
For years Polish-born Pope John Paul II made efforts to be allowed to pay a visit to Russia, but to no avail. The Russian Patriarchate feared a revival of Catholicism and accused Catholics of trying to convert Russian Orthodox believers. Nor were there any plans for a visit by Russia’s Patriarch to Poland. It was only after the death of John Paul II and the election of German Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger as his successor, Pope Benedict XVI, that relations between the two Churches improved. A further boost came with the February 2009 election of Kirill I as the successor to Alexy II, who had been opposed to rapprochement with Catholics.
“I can hardly express my great gratitude for having an opportunity to meet the officials of the Polish Orthodox Church and the Catholic Church in Poland,” Patriarch Kirill I said at Warsaw’s international airport on his arrival. “It is my first visit to a Western European country, a country representing Western European culture, after my election as Patriarch of Moscow. This is the first ever visit by a Patriarch of Moscow to Poland.” He added that all difficult issues in the shared history of Poland and Russia could be solved on the basis of the Gospel.
“I would like to bless the Polish people, Polish authorities and Polish state,” he said. “I want to wish all Poles success in life and express the hope that my visit will make a contribution, even if modest, to improving relations between Poland and the countries where the Russian Orthodox Church is present” such as Belarus, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Moldova and Ukraine. “I would like, here at the airport, to greet all Polish people,” he added.
On the first day of his visit, Aug. 16, Kirill I visited the Orthodox Cathedral in Warsaw, where he celebrated a mass.
In the evening, Kirill I met with Polish President Bronisław Komorowski at the Belweder Palace.
The most important document of the visit, a message about reconciliation between the Polish and Russian people, was signed on the second day by Kirill I and Archbishop Józef Michalik, the head of the Polish Episcopal Conference. The venue for the ceremony was the Royal Castle in Warsaw. The message was divided into three parts: an appeal for dialogue and reconciliation, a review of history, and an outline of future tasks regarding the future of Christianity.
The officials of the two Churches said the document was not designed to resolve painful episodes in the history of both nations, but to initiate dialogue. The document also calls on officials from the two nations to ask each other for forgiveness for wrongdoing, injustice and evil deeds.
“The message opens a new chapter in relations between the two Churches, and is a clear sign that they have chosen the road of reconciliation,” President Komorowski said. “We hope that this act will become an important step on the road to rapprochement and intensive dialogue, including between the Polish and Russian people as a whole, a road to dialogue based on truth, goodwill, mutual trust and understanding. We should follow this path together to the benefit of our nations and the world, which—still greatly divided—needs examples of how wrongdoings are forgiven and brotherhood is built together.”
Commenting on the message and the four-day visit by the Russian Patriarch, Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk said, “This is another step on the very difficult road to Polish-Russian reconciliation.”
Asked what had spurred the Churches to sign the document, Archbishop Michalik referred to historic letters of reconciliation sent by Polish Church leaders to German bishops in 1965.
On Aug. 18, Kirill I visited Białystok, where he prayed with believers in St. Nicholas cathedral. The next day, he visited Supraśl, Hajnówka and the Holy Mountain of Grabarka in eastern Poland, where he attended celebrations marking the Orthodox Church’s Feast of the Transfiguration.