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EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Metropolitan Hilarion to ZENIT: We Will Continue to Work in the Spirit of Historic Encounter in Havana

September 17, 2019. Top Official of Russian Orthodox Church Speaks to ZENIT at Community of Sant’Egidio ‘Spirit of Assisi’ Encounter in Madrid

“Unfortunately, today we are witnessing an escalation of violence hidden behind religious slogans.” This is the alarm launched in Madrid by Orthodox Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk, of the Patriarchate of Moscow. But “the transfiguration of the surrounding world begins with the transfiguration of the inner world of man,” he added, speaking yesterday in Madrid to the audience of “Peace without borders,” gathering more than 300 leaders and representatives of all world religions, coming from 60 countries.

“Radical groups organize terrorist acts that claim lives of thousands of absolutely innocent victims,” Hilarion decries. “The level of profanation is so great, that terrorists carry out their actions even during church celebrations, giving evidence of what kind of spirit animates them.”

The Chairman of the Moscow Patriarchate’s Department for External Church Relations took part in the 33rd interreligious meeting organized by the Community of Sant’Egidio, in different cities of Europe, to commemorate the historic day of prayer for peace convened in 1986 in Assisi by Pope John Paul II with the leaders of all world religions.

Hilarion represents the Orthodox Patriarchate of Moscow, the largest Church (in terms of the number of faithful) of the Orthodox world.

In an interview with ZENIT on the sidelines of the event in Madrid, Hilarion expressed: “Religious leaders are opinion-leaders, they have influence, they are very influential, too, and we must be together in order to demonstrate our unity in the desire for peace among people.”

Therefore, he came to Madrid, since “the Russian Orthodox Church believes it is very important that representatives of different religions work together for the achievement of peace among people and nations.”

Hilarion gave a speech during the opening ceremony of the meeting, Sept. 15, which continues today and tomorrow with 27 round tables on a wide range of world religious and social, economic, political issues. A solemn closing ceremony is scheduled for tomorrow, Sept. 17, with the signing of a solemn “peace appeal.”

The Russian metropolitan started by quoting a great ascetic of the Russian Orthodox Church, Seraphim of Sarov: “Gain a spirit of peace and thousands around you will be saved.” Therefore, he remarked that “we know of numerous examples in which an attempt has been made to radically transform society and, in reality, have brought violence, hatred and social opposition. They were unsuccessful attempts precisely because, trying to change society, man did not change himself and was moved by the spirit of enmity and not that of peace.”

According to the Metropolitan, “today the dialogue between peoples and religions is increasingly necessary and urgent,” following the example of meekness, charity, forgiveness, offered by so many saints in Christian history, such as Francis of Assisi, who “preached peace to Muslims and related himself lovingly to all Creation.”

Another shining example of service to peace, Hilarion said, “is the Community of Sant’Egidio, which every year organizes this international meeting to create bridges between people belonging to different horizons of thought and culture, to stop the enmity and build a solid and beneficial peace in the world.”

In Russia, he explained, “for several years, a group has been active for humanitarian aid to the Syrian population affected by the war, where Christians of different denominations and also Muslims work side by side. This collaboration becomes a school of peace for all those who participate, because it teaches us to overcome selfishness and open our hearts to others.”

Finally, in his address, Metropolitan Hilarion repeatedly recalled the joint declaration signed by Pope Francis and Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill during their first, historic meeting in Havana, on Feb. 12, 2016: “the attempts to justify criminal actions with religious slogans are absolutely unacceptable”; “differences in the understanding of religious truths must not prevent people of different faiths from living in peace and harmony.”

“What do you hope from these encounters?,” Zenit’s Deborah Castellano Lubov asked Hilarion on the sidelines of the encounter, noting that she also met him recently in the southern Italian city of Bari for the unprecedented ecumenical gesture for the Middle East by Pope Francis and Christian leaders of the Middle East. That event too was organized by the Community of Sant’Egidio.

FEATURE: Pope Francis Visits City of St. Nicholas in Unprecedented Ecumenical Gesture for the Middle East

“Our hope is a peaceful world, peace among nations, peace in many places troubled now by internal conflicts or conflicts between different countries. We have many examples today, here in Madrid, when people spoke about how massive international problems were solved thanks to the goodwill of both sides of the conflicts.”

Finally, with regard to the 2016 encounter in Cuba between Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill, Zenit asked if it would be possible, and when, a new meeting in Moscow.

“I believe that the historic meeting between Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill in Cuba, in 2016, paved the way to a much better understanding. We will continue to work in the spirit of that historical encounter in Havana,” he answered.