Pope and Patriarch the Only Path to Peace Between West and Russia?

Religion as the only hope for East and West to shake hands again

A new nationwide poll reveals that most Russians see Western civilisation as useless. The poll was conducted on August 5 among 1,600 Russian citizens over 18.

"Over half of the Russian people (59%) don't see any value in Western civilisation, democracy, and culture. As many as 33% believe they are unsuitable for us, while 26% call them destructive. This thinking had markedly strengthened since 2000 when the pollster said that 35% expressed negative views – 25% believed that the western guidelines are not suitable for us, and 10% saw them as destructive," the pollster said. (Tass link)

According to the published results, the share of those who believe that much can be adopted from Western culture, democracy, and civilisation dropped from 55% in 2000 to 30% in 2022.

However, young Russian people (18-34 years of age) see the West positively and believe Russia needs it or can take a lot of good from it (55% and 50%, respectively). Opposite views dominate among the 35+ age group. Respondents aged 60 and over consider the orientation towards the West as harmful and erroneous (70%). 

At the same time, Americans are showing some of the highest hostility toward the Russian Federation in 40 years, with Russophobia reaching Cold War levels.

Pope and Patriarch the only path to peace between West and Russia?
Demonstrators in front of the parliament in Tbilisi. Photo: AP Photo.

A poll done for ABC News and the Washington Post in February 2022 found that 80% of Americans see Russia as unfriendly or an enemy of the United States.

That's the worst since 1983 when Russia was part of the Soviet Union – although Americans used to refer to the whole region as Russia. That was also the height of the Cold War when nuclear tensions between Russia and the West peaked.

Just 12% of Americans see Russia as a friend of the US, the poll found in February 2022, when Russia began its military operations in Ukraine.

After the US and EU have imposed severe sanctions on Russia and diplomatic ties are at the lowest point ever, there is little hope that commercial trading and diplomacy can bring Russians and Westerns closer together in any foreseeable future. 

Where to find common ground in a situation where the hostility between East and West seems to grow stronger daily? 

It may turn out that religion is the only hope for East and West to shake hands again. 

At his last General Audience, Pope Francis made quite a few people raise their eyebrows when he very clearly condemned the car bomb murder of the 29-year-old Russian philosopher and commentator Darya Dugina. She was the daughter of Alexander Dugin, an anti-Western Russian philosopher who strongly supported Russia's military operations in Ukraine. 

The exact words of Pope Francis were:

"I think of a poor girl blown up by a bomb under her car seat in Moscow. The innocent pay for the war. The innocent."

Some of the first to protest were Dmytro Kuleba, Ukrainian foreign minister and Andrii Yurash, the Ukrainian ambassador to the Holy See. In a tweet, the ambassador said that the Pope's speech was "disappointing" and that one cannot put "the aggressor and the victim" in the same category.

Even though Pope Francis is continuing the long Vatican tradition of not condemning one side in a war, it looks more and more like Pope Francis is determined not to be obedient to the almost mandatory Russophobic narrative of the West. And that naming and shaming Russia is not part of the Pope's diplomatic playbook.

Pope and Patriarch the only path to peace between West and Russia?
Vladimir Putin will visit Italy and the Vatican on July 4, where he will meet with Pope Francis. Photo: AP.

Pope Francis shocked the world in May when he said that NATO was "barking" at Russia's door and may have caused Russia's invasion of Ukraine. In an interview with the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera, Francis said while he might not go as far as saying NATO's presence in nearby countries "provoked" Moscow, it "perhaps facilitated" the invasion. At the same time, the pontiff also offered to meet the Russian president in Moscow.

For months Pope Francis has wanted to meet with Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill, with whom the Pope told Univision that he has "a good relationship". 

The Pope will travel to Kazakhstan from September 13-15 to participate in the VII Congress of Leaders of World and Traditional Religions. Patriarch Kirill is expected to meet Pope Francis at the Congress in Kazakhstan. But during an interview with the Russian agency Ria Novosti, the Russian Orthodox Church's number two, Antonij of Volokolamsk, revealed that Patriarch Kirill would not travel to Kazakhstan in September. 

For relations between Russia and the West to become better and closer again, it may be crucial that the Pope and the Patriarch meet and engage in the dialogue they initiated when they met at the historic meeting between the two religious leaders in Cuba on February 2012 in 2016. The meeting marks the first encounter between a Roman Catholic Pope and a Russian Orthodox patriarch nearly 1,000 years since Eastern Orthodoxy split with Rome. At the meeting, Francis and Kirill spoke on the unity of the Churches in the first millennium and the divergence that marks the past ten centuries and signed a joint declaration.

The only thing that unites Russia and the West is, in fact, its common Christian roots and Christian values. For the same reason, a meeting and a continuous dialogue between the Pope and the Patriarch is the best way for Russia and the West to avoid a full-scale war and the destruction it would bring in the future.

As Bishop Dell'Oro of Karaganda, Kazakhstan, told SIR, the news agency of the Italian bishops' conference, in an interview published July 1:

"It is important for spiritual leaders to affirm that religion is a factor of unity and reconciliation, and therefore it is a responsibility for those who are believers, especially if they are Christians, to recognise – beyond all differences and divisions – that Jesus is the one who unites us at the root."

Given the highly hostile climate between East and West, a heavy responsibility lies upon the Churches and all Christians to pave the path for peace and to save the world from destroying itself by cultivating Christian values that unite the people. 

Main photo: Faust signs a contract with Mephistopheles in blood © globallookpress.com

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