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Ecumenism: Catholics and Russian Orthodox Collaborate to help Christians in Middle East. Delegation from Moscow Patriarchate Visits Aid to the Church in Need
July 23, 2019. On 16 and 17 July, a delegation from the Moscow Patriarchate visited the international headquarters of the pontifical foundation Aid to the Church in Need (ACN). The subject under discussion was the development of further joint projects in Syria and Iraq in response to the appeal made by Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill to their Churches in February 2016 during their historic meeting in Havana. At the heart of their message was, among other things, the collaboration between the two Churches to help Christians in need and particularly those in the Middle East.

The delegation from Moscow was made up of Hieromonk Stefan (Igumnov), secretary of the Moscow Patriarchate’s Department for External Church Relations, Hieromonk Ioann (Kopeikin), pro-rector of Saints Cyril and Methodius Institute of Post-Graduate Studies in Moscow and Ekaterina Myazdrikova, director of the Moscow Patriarchate’s relief fund “Poznanie”, which helps Syrian children seriously injured during explosions.

The pontifical foundation ACN, which has been working to further the dialogue with the Russian Orthodox Church for more than 25 years, launched the first initiatives for Christians in the Middle East together with the Moscow Patriarchate immediately after the meeting of the two Church leaders. The collaboration in this area is to be developed even further now. In this context, Regina Lynch, director of projects at ACN, emphasized that the Catholic and Russian Orthodox Churches had “many joint concerns, the most painful of these being the concern for the Christians in the Middle East and in other countries where Christians are persecuted or oppressed.”

Hieromonk Stefan (Igumnov) emphasized that this collaboration is possible because of the “good and productive relationship with ACN, which has existed for many years” and is based on “genuine trust”. He said, “We are not only partners but friends.” He furthermore pointed out that ACN supported the Moscow Patriarchate in “various stages of its history” but that the possibility of “carrying out joint projects also in other parts of the world was never discussed before.”

He believes that, after the historic meeting between Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill in Havana, the collaboration “reached a new phase”. According to Hieromonk Igumnov, it was “a God-given miracle that we were already in a position to answer the call of our Church leaders two months after their meeting in Havana and take action in Syria.”

Discussions of joint projects will continue. Plans are in place for joint initiatives that serve to give young people in Syria and Iraq a future irrespective of their religious denomination. These joint projects are to be “the direct fruit of the meeting between pope and patriarch”, as the representatives of the Moscow Patriarchate and the ACN foundation declared.