Ecumenism: Catholics and Russian Orthodox collaborate to help Christians in the Middle East

by Eva-Maria Kolmann

A delegation from the Moscow Patriarchate visited the international headquarters of the pontifical foundation Aid to the Church in Need over the last few days to discuss further joint aid campaigns in the Middle East.

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.

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Visit of a delegation of the Moscow Patriarchate to ACN Headquarters to discuss common projects in the Middle East to reinforce the common efforts of Catholics and Orthodox to help suffering Christians in the Middle East. Photographer: Eva-Maria Kolmann. Copyright: Aid to the Church in Need.

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, emphasised 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.”

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Meeting on 17.07.2019 - from left to right: Background: Fr. Ioann (Kopeykin), Prorector of the Ss Cyril and Methodius Institute of Post-Graduate Studies of the Moscow Patriarchate, Moscow,
Ekaterina Myazdrikova, executive director of “Poznanie”, a charitable Fond of the Patriarchate of Moscow,  in front, centre: Fr. Stefan (Igumnov), Secretary of the inter-Christian dialogue (Department of External Church Relations of the Patriarchate of Moscow),  Background: Peter Humeniuk, Head of ACN Russia section,  Fr. Martin Barta, ACN, Internation Ecclesiastical Assistant,  Regina Lynch, ACN, Director of the project department. Right, in front: Thomas Heine-Geldern, ACN Executive President. Photographer: Eva-Maria Kolmann. Copyright: Aid to the Church in Need.

Hieromonk Stefan (Igumnov) emphasised 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.”

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Meeting of Pope Francis and Russian-Orthodox Patriarch Kirill. Photographer: Igor Palkin: patriarchia.ru.

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.

In 2018 the Middle East as a whole received AUD $28.6 million from the Pontifcal foundation, Aid to the Church in Need, a quarter of the total aid budget, The great majority of these projects were for the repair and rebuilding of the homes and houses of Christians in Iraq or for emergency survival aid in Syria. (Figures taken from Aid to the Church in Need's 2018 Annual Report.

You can help to support our Catholics and Orthodox brothers and sisters who are suffering in the Middle East by making a doantion below.

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