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Pope Francis speaks against encroachments on integrity of Russian Church

Only a sisterly dialogue between the two denominations of Christianity is possible, the pope noted

MOSCOW, May 31. /TASS/. Roman Catholic Church speaks in favor of unity of the Russian Orthodox Church in the wake of Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko’s plans to institute an independent local [national] Ukrainian Orthodox Church, Pope Francis I said at a meeting with a group of Russian clerics on Thursday.

The group visiting the Holy See was led by Metropolitan Hilarion, the chief of the department for external church relations.

"I want to confirm most of all in front of you dear brother and before you that the Catholic Church will never allow an attitude of division to be born on its own," Francis I said. "We will never allow it, we do not want it. In Russia, there is only one Patriarch, yours. We will not have another."

He said unification as a method was not acceptable in relations between the Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic Christians at the current stage and only a sisterly dialogue between the two denominations of Christianity was possible.

"The Catholic Church, the Catholic Churches should not interfere in the internal affairs of the Russian Orthodox Church, not even in political matters," the Pontiff went on. "This is my position and the position of the Holy See today. Those who meddle do not obey the Holy See."

At the end of April, the Verkhovna Rada, Ukrainian national parliament, supported President Poroshenko’s appeal to Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople, who has the status of ‘first among equals’ in the structure of Eastern Orthodox Christianity. He asked Bartholomew I, the Ecumenical Patriarch, to grant autocephaly to a ‘united’ Orthodox Church in Ukraine.

The global Orthodox Christian community recognizes only one canonical Orthodox congregation in Ukraine - the Ukrainian Orthodox Church reporting to Moscow Patriarchate.

Operating simultaneously with it are another two organizations, unrecognized by the global Orthodoxy - the Ukrainian Orthodox Church reporting to the so-called Kiev Patriarchate and the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church.

Experts and analysts say, in the meantime, that Poroshenko’s aspirations have received substantial backing from a denomination known as the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, or the Eastern Catholic Church of the Byzantine Rite, which reports to the Vatican.

Earlier this month, Metropolitan Hilarion told the Moscow-based NTV channel that Archbishop Svyatoslav Shevchuk, the spiritual leader of the Ukrainian Greek Catholics, " [… ] repeatedly stated his support of the project for a unified Local Orthodox Church of Ukraine while saying that the unity of this Church should be built on the successor of St Peter, that is, the Pope of Rome.".