Submitted by Israel Shamir via lv.sputniknews
Representatives of public organizations from Europe, Russia and the United States discussed the meeting of the Pope and the President of Russia in Rome, as well as ways of reconciliation in Ukraine
On 16 July, a roundtable discussion on “Religious People’s Diplomacy and its Role in the Dialogue between East and West” was held at the Russia Ecumenica Centre in Rome. It was attended by journalists, experts, representatives of Italian intellectuals, politicians and clergymen from Russia, Italy, Germany, Sweden, Ukraine, the United States and Latvia. The meeting was held with the support of the Institute for Intercultural Communication and was co-organized by Alexey Gotovsky, an expert in the field of communications and journalist of the EWTN channel. The event was also attended by representatives of the Eurasian Center (Moscow).
Before the beginning of the event, the organizers and participants listened to the kind words of greetings and blessings from the Italian-Albanian Catholic Bishop Piana (Sicily), His Eminence Giorgio Demetrio Gallaro. According to him, the theme of unity in diversity is the key to the development of the church in the modern world. The Italian-Albanian Catholic Church has existed in Italy since the 6th century and is one of the oldest Christian communities in the region.
The topic for discussion was the meeting of Pope Francis and Russian President Vladimir Putin. How can this influence the development of dialogue between the West and the East, and can people’s diplomacy reduce tensions between Russia and NATO countries, as well as how can this dialogue help to resolve the conflict in Ukraine? The Ukrainian issue has been constantly arising in the process of discussion, as the conflict in one of the largest countries of the European continent inevitably affects both the political and social relations of neighboring countries.
In his speech, Bundestag deputy Waldemar Gerdt touched upon the topic of the emergence of a new conservative force that will help reform the EU and form a new European platform in Brussels, which will conduct a dialogue with the countries of the East, including Ukraine. Waldemar personally initiated the meeting, within the framework of the Human Rights Commission, with experts from Kyiv, Donetsk and Crimea in the Bundestag of German MPs. The main task was to find constructive solutions. Unfortunately, this meeting faced opposition from the ruling parties. “The discussion on the mechanical return of Crimea to Ukraine will create a new hotbed of conflict. This is the approach of the old liberal structures from the position of power and superiority. Our discussion has shown how the confrontation can be overcome through mutual compromises. One of the presidential candidates proposed to leave these regions alone, start negotiating with them and develop the country.
The press secretary of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, Father Mykola Danilevych, said that Ukraine is divided ideologically, nationally and religiously. “Only the power that has authority in the society can unite the country. Church structures in Ukraine enjoy the trust of 76% of the country’s population. According to our estimates, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church has more than 10 million parishioners, of which about 2.5 million regularly attend church services. In addition, we are a church present throughout the country and unite people of different nationalities, political views and language of communication. In this way, the UOC can be a model, as with all the differences, in one family. What are we doing for this? First of all, we try not to deepen the division. Secondly, we do not talk about political issues in principle, but preach the gospel. We help refugees, take help to the east of the country, we cry with those who cry and rejoice with those who rejoice. Now the political cycle is changing and the representatives of different parties speak more boldly about the need to “sew together in a new way” the country. Another question is that society is not ready for a church to become a mediator. Our church was very much demonized in public opinion, tried to present itself as an enemy of society. We respond to this with deeds of mercy. Ukrainian society is waiting for concrete steps from President Zelensky to establish peace in Donbas, a new inclusive ideology of the country’s development.
Pavel Zarifullin, Head of the Eurasian Center, spoke about the Center’s activities on interethnic and interfaith dialogue. “For a long time we have been engaged in dialogue between Orthodoxy and Islam, Orthodoxy and Buddhism – the main religions in the post-Soviet space. We are thoroughly familiar with the sentiments among the Asian peoples of the former Soviet Union. In Elista, in the largest Buddhist temple, we held a giant conference on “Sacred geography of Eurasia”, and many conferences were held with our Islamic brothers in Central Asia and Afghanistan. But the topic of Russia’s relations with the Western world is perhaps more relevant today than contacts with the countries of the East. What is happening is not being solved in a rational way. There is a need for new methods here, including with the help of people’s diplomacy, which we represent by the forces of our centers. As a political “leader of the East”, Putin’s meeting with the spiritual leader of the West, who is the Pope, is a key one. When I speak to the bishops of Protestant churches, I am told that the Pope is the first person in the spiritual hierarchy of the West in terms of his authority. When politicians cannot agree, spiritual diplomacy comes to the fore. Pope Francis speaks of three main problems that can prevent the church from fulfilling its mission: clericalism, nationalism, and politicking. This is, in my view, a roadmap that can and should also be implemented by grass-roots religious structures, social movements and individual spiritual leaders, not only from the Catholic Church, but from any Christian church.
Journalist Israel Shamir (Sweden) expressed concern about the division of Orthodoxy in Ukraine. In his opinion, the division between the UOC and the PCU, as well as the internal split in the PCU may become a source of discontent, which will indefinitely delay the settlement of the confrontation in this difficult region.
Catholic journalist Aleksey Gotovskiy (EWTN channel) stressed that everyone wants a dialogue, but few people are ready to take responsibility for it. “As a Russian Catholic, I can say that such a dialogue of cultures is constantly taking place inside me. Besides the leaders of the East or the spiritual West, there is also such a reality as the European Union, which also offers its project for the countries of the former Soviet Union. This becomes a separate essential factor in the formation of a complex structure of dialogue. What perspective can the West offer in light of the fact that emigration flows in the Baltic States and Ukraine already threaten the very existence of the states? Everyone wants a dialogue, we have heard it from the UGCC Metropolitan Svyatoslav Shevchuk and UOC spokesman Mykola Danilevych. But one of the obstacles to its development is the crisis of leadership. We see that in the Orthodox world the leadership of Constantinople did not take place”.
Father Pavel Levushkan, a priest and ecumenist, shared optimism about the prospects for dialogue to reduce tensions in the world and Europe. “What can the West and the East unite? The same dialogue. As long as there is a confrontation between two geopolitical projects, the conditional “Russian world” and the conditional “European project” – until then, the human being still needs to choose his internal identity. “Am I Russian or European? The result of a deep dialogue, the need for which all come to the fore, should be reconciliation. Political leaders and regimes are changing, but spiritual unity in its depth remains. Relations between Russia and Europe have not always been bright and often accompanied by destructive wars. But Russia itself, as we know it, has been shaped with the participation of Europeans and within the framework of the European cultural paradigm. The entire European civilization is based on such a discussion. We remember the history of the Reformation, in the framework of which the communication of Protestants and Catholics was built first on the language of ultimatums and anathema, and it was only in the 20th century that we came to the need to listen to each other and start talking. This culminated in a meeting between Pope Francis and the leaders of the World Lutheran Federation in Uppsala. For the sake of peace and the prevention of World War III, Russia and the European Union need to learn to listen and hear each other, to find a language that can describe a common map of the world and to find a way, the result of which should be synergy in the democratic path based on universal values.
In his speech on the Internet bridge, Michael Jones (USA), a Catholic TV presenter and famous commentator, said that “American, European, Ukrainian and Russian Christians have a unifying beginning – Logos. Christ will help to overcome all the differences that arise from Christianophobic forces.
Father Jeff Langan, a member of Opus Dei, a man close to the Vatican and a philosophy professor at Harvard University, spoke about the political importance of the communication between Pope Francis and Vladimir Putin. “This is the third time that Pope Francis and Putin have met, and Pope Francis met with Putin, the first secular leader of the world, after his election to the throne of St. Peter. Based on my conversations with the people in the Vatican, I believe that the meeting with Putin marks the decision of the papal throne to stop favoritism towards the United States. If the U.S. was the Vatican’s favorite in the 70-90s, Pope Francis wants to change this. The meeting focused on Syria and Ukraine, but more on Syria. Regarding Ukraine, the Pope called on Ukrainian bishops to stop participating in the conflict. The church should remain neutral in interstate conflicts. If there is a conflict between Russia and Ukraine, the church should respect the sovereignty of all countries and be outside the conflict. According to Father Jeff, the Pope and the Vatican believe that the CIA is behind the war in Syria and Ukraine, it is a kind of proxy war. He does not want the church to participate in any way and wants to lead the church out of active participation in such conflicts.
Father Sergio Merkantzin, the founder and head of the Russia Ecumenica Center, who was a pioneer of ecumenical dialogue with churches in the USSR, spoke about the difficulties that any such initiatives inevitably face. “The guests of our center were outstanding Soviet intellectuals, such as A. Sakharov, A. Tarkovsky, Latvian dissident and founder of the ecumenical movement Sandr Riga. We are glad to welcome the participants of the round table, especially since the topic under consideration is a key one for the future of Europe. Now the situation is complicated by the attitude of Constantinople and Moscow. Orthodox churches are very divided among themselves, some orthodox churches want even to leave dialogue with Bartholomew. The situation, in my opinion, is difficult, but it is important to remain optimistic and do what we can.
The result of the round table was a common understanding of the fact that the issues of interstate and intra-state conflicts should be resolved through dialogue and spiritual diplomacy. Political diplomacy has ceased to bear fruit. In his address to the bishops of the Greek Catholic Church, the Pope stressed that Christians should be reconciled and hopeful, rather than being trapped in barren politics and nationalism.
All participants recognized that traditional and canonical denominations can become active carriers of such a message of hope. For Europe, they are the Roman Catholic Church and traditional Protestants, and for Ukraine, Greek Catholics and the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, recognized throughout the world and active throughout the country.
It was decided on the importance of such meetings and established the organizing committee of the summit “Diplomacy of the Spirit”, which is proposed to be held in Rome by the end of 2019.