The election of Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio to the papacy on Thursday was taken with enthusiasm in the Moscow Patriarchate. Russian Orthodox Church representatives expect that the administrative disagreements between the Churches will be overcome under the new pontiff. And Russian Catholics even express the hope that Pope Francis "will become close to the present Russian spirituality".
The new pontiff is a very authoritative archbishop," the Kommersant cites the head of the foreign policy department of the Russian Orthodox Church, Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk, as saying. Most likely, it is not accidental that he is the first pope who has chosen the name Francis – undoubtedly in honour of Francis of Assisi revered by the Roman Catholic Church, who is seen by Catholics as a model of evangelic poverty, humility and service for the poor. According to HiIarion, service for the poor and the indigent at present is a priority for Christian churches, and the Russian Orthodox Church pays great attention to it. "We see a large field here for cooperation with the Roman Catholic Church," the metropolitan noted. "I hope that under the new pontiff our relations of allies will develop."
"We hope Francis will give an impetus to the development of relations between our Churches, which started under his predecessor," said secretary of the Synod department for foreign church ties and inter-Christian relations Archpriest Dimitry (Sizonenko). "He said that he liked Dostoyevsky. I want to hope that he also likes spiritual traditions of the Russian Orthodox faith.”
People who personally know the new pontiff say that warming in the relations is quite possible. When he was an archbishop of Buenos Aires, Jorge Mario Bergoglio regularly visited an orthodox cathedral on Christmas Eve, bishop John of Caracas and South America, whose chair is in Buenos Aires, told the Kommersant. He believes it indicates that the attitude of the new pope to the Orthodox faith and Orthodox Church members is very good.
Russian Catholics also hope that Orthodox-Catholic relationship under Pope Francis will make substantial progress. The newly-elected pope is familiar with the Byzantine Christian tradition, since he ministered to Greek Catholics in Argentine. So, Orthodox-Catholic relationship is well known to him, said secretary-general of the Conference of Catholic Bishops of Russia Igor Kovalevsky.
According to a member of the editorial board of the Catholic Encyclopedia, Igor Baranov, the position of Orthodox Church members on issues of public morality (marriage, abortions and euthanasia) is close to Pope Francis. As the image of Francis of Assisi was close to Russian literature, the image of Pope Francis will become close to the present Russian spirituality," Baranov believes.
The newspaper recalls that tension in relations between the Vatican and the Moscow Patriarchate emerged in the early 1990s when Greek Catholics in Ukraine seized Orthodox churches. So, despite the positive forecasts, the sides note that it is early for the present to speak about a possible meeting between Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill. "A meeting of the new pontiff and the patriarch is possible in a neutral territory and when Russia will be ready for it," believes Father Igor Kovalevsky. "I think such a meeting is possible, but its time and place will depend on how fast we can overcome the conflicts that occurred in the late 1980s and the early 1990s," Metropolitan Hilarion noted.