BY ANNA ARCO AND CAROL GLATZ
THE VATICAN and Russia have announced that they will upgrade diplomatic relations to the highest level.
During a meeting at the Vatican last week Pope Benedict XVI and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev agreed to establish full diplomatic ties between their two countries. Since 1990 they have exchanged diplomatic representatives but without full relations.
The two leaders discussed “the challenges currently facing security and peace” and the international and political situation in the world, according to a written statement released by the Vatican after the meeting. They also discussed “cultural and social questions of mutual interest, such as the value of the family and the contribution believers make to life in Russia”, the Vatican statement said. The private discussions between the two leaders were “cordial”, it said.
In a customary exchange of gifts, the Pope presented Medvedev with a copy of his encyclical Caritas in Veritate (“Charity in Truth”) in Russian. The president gave the Pope 22 volumes of an ency clopedia on the Russian Orthodox Church.
The Holy Father joked: “I will not be able to read all that.” The Russian president said: “We will help you.” The Vatican and the Russian Federation forged high-level official contacts in 1990, a year before the former Soviet Union collapsed. It was the first time the two countries exchanged official representatives since full diplomatic relations had been broken after the Russian revolution of 1917.
The Vatican’s representative in Moscow has had the title of apostolic nuncio and Moscow’s representative to the Vatican has had the title of ambassador since 1990, but the diplomats’ functions have been that of representatives.
The atypical diplomatic status of the two representatives has not had a negative impact on their work as they enjoy normal working ties and diplomatic rights and privileges, according to Pavel Dyukarev, chargé d’affaires at the Russian embassy to the Vatican.
He said that tense relations between the Russian Orthodox and Catholic Churches had been partially responsible for the lack of establishing full diplomatic relations in the past. He said that while Church and state were separate in Russia, “the Church is not separate from society and at the time one had to take this into consideration”.
The diplomat said “it’s true that the [improved] relations between the two churches have facilitated” this political step forward, “but there is no direct link, just an atmosphere that has been marked by closer, friendlier relations”.
Vladimir Putin, Russia’s former president and now prime minister, visited Pope Benedict XVI in 2007. Both men communicated in German. Mr Putin also visited Pope John Paul II twice.
According to Interfax, the Russian newswire, Archbishop Hilarion of Volokolamsk, the Orthodox Church’s chief ecumenical officer, said: “This move on the part of the Russian state deserves nothing but being hailed.” He said there were still problems between the Russian Orthodox and Catholic churches “that need to be solved in a completely different way and by different means, that cannot be solved merely by establishing diplomatic relations”.
He also said a meeting between Patriarch Kirill and the Pope was not impossible.