25 November 2013, 21:11

Putin's visit to improve relationships between Catholic and Orthodox Church - expert

Putin's visit to improve relationships between Catholic and Orthodox Church - expert

Russian President Vladimir Putin is in Rome on Monday for a two-day visit. He is meeting Pope Francis and the Vatican Secretary of State Pietro Parolin, as well as Italian President Giorgio Napolitano and Prime Minister Enrico Letta. The agenda of the meetings will be dominated by the Syrian crisis. This is going to be Mr. Putin's first meeting with Pope Francis and the third one with the head of the Roman Catholic Church since 2000. In an exclusive interview for the Voice of Russia Leo Goretti, a Dr in Contemporary Italian History from the University of Reading, shares his opinion on the upcoming meeting and talks about the current relations between Russia and Vatican.

Although Mr. Putin and Pope Francis will not discuss the relations between the churches, can we still view this visit as part of preparations for the meeting between the pontiff and the head of the Russian church?

I think that obviously the meeting is very important for the relationship between Russia and Vatican. As you point out, it is not possible to say that the aim of this meeting is to prepare a visit of Pope Francis to Russia. therein fact, there is a precedent when in 1989 Mikhail Gorbachev invited Pope John Paul II to Moscow but actually because of the opposition of the Patriarch of Moscow, the Pope couldn’t in the end visit Russia. So, I guess that only the Patriarch of Moscow Kirill can actually decide whether or not to meet Pope Francis but there is no doubt that the Pope is very interested in improving the relationship with the Orthodox Church; no longer than 10 days ago the Metropolitan Hilarion, which is the sort of foreign minister of the Eastern Orthodox Church was in Rome to talk to Pope Francis. So, I guess indeed this meeting is another step towards improving the relationship between the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church but obviously it is an issue for the Patriarch of Moscow and the Pope to decide when and where to meet. In fact, there is also an issue of where they could meet, whether in Moscow or in a third neutral country, someone is speaking of Vienna. Basically that is what we can say at this stage about a meeting between the Patriarch of Moscow and the Pope.

What achievements have been made in the field of Russia-Italy cooperation since Moscow and the Vatican established diplomatic ties in 2011?

An important point is that I guess we must keep separate the relationship between Moscow and the Vatican and between Moscow and Italy, especially after the election of the Pope Francis I, who is a Pope, who is less active in Italian politics than his predecessors. Having said that I think that the meeting between the Italian government and Russian government is a very important one, there will be no fewer than 21 Ministers attending the meeting. Italy is one of the most important commercial partners for Russia, the 5th partner in the world and the second in the EU after Germany. So, obviously there is a lot at stake at this meeting, not just energy policy, gas and oil input, which is going to be obviously an important topic but also other kind of commercial and cultural cooperation. Italy is indeed very interested in developing a strong relationship in terms of tourism with Russia. For example, in 2011 in Russia there was a year of Italian culture; more and more Russian people are visiting Italy and more and more Italian people are moving to Moscow to study, to work, to do business. So, I think that this part of the meeting of Italian government and the Russian government is really going to be about improving even more what is a blossoming relationship and a very fruitful one for both countries.

Pope Francis has different opinion on a wide range of political and social issues- comparing to his predecessors. Do you think this will have its impact on diplomatic or political cooperation between Italy and Russia?

I think again this is something, which is going to be about the relationship between Vatican and the Catholic Church and Russia more than Italy and Russia. And I think that when Pope Francis the First was elected, he said something very important, very indicative – “I am a Pope who comes from the other side of the world” because he is the first non-European pope in history and we need to bear this in mind. Pope Francis is not an Italian pope, he is not a European pope, as Pope John Paul the Second or Pope Benedict were. He is a pope coming from South America and obviously this has huge political implications in terms of his world view, his attention to the political situation beyond Europe;this also explains why he was so interested and involved in Syrian crisis, why he decided to appeal to Vladimir Putin directly in September. So, I think the key issue here is that with an Argentinean pope what we are going to see is a Vatican which is going to be much more interested in global politics, far beyond the borders of Italy and obviously Russia is a very important, key political actor. The relationship between Pope and the Russian president and Russia as a state goes far beyond Europe, trying to cooperate on the global stage.

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