ON-Lion Letter
Pope Benedict XVI underlined the mutual interests of the Roman Catholic and Russian Orthodox churches, and the need for ecumenical cooperation in Europe, in a brief address in May after a concert of Russian music in Vatican City.  The Pope spoke after a performance by the Russian National Orchestra, a gift of Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill I to honor the Pope on His birthday and the fifth anniversary of His election. 

The concert capped two days of meetings and a conference that focused on "Russian culture and spirituality in the Vatican."  The last piece on the musical program was "The Song of Ascent," composed by Hilarion Alfeyev, otherwise known as Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk, chairman of the Russian Orthodox Church's Department for External Church Relations.

Echoing a theme that Russian Orthodox leaders have frequently explored, the Pope called for all Christians, Catholic and Orthodox, to work together to restore European appreciation for its Christian cultural heritage.  He affirmed that this heritage is still alive in both East and West and "must inspire a new humanism, a new season of authentic human progress, to respond effectively to the numerous and at times crucial challenges that our Christian communities and our societies must face, beginning with secularization, which not only leads to doing without God and his plan, but which ends by denying human dignity itself, in a society regulated solely by egotistical interests.

"Let us make Europe breathe with its two lungs again," the Pope urged.

In a personal message read at the concert, Patriarch Kirill characterized it as an "event of great importance" in the history of cultural exchanges between the Catholic and Russian Orthodox Churches. 

Metropolitan Hilarion said at the concert, "Today, both of us see the importance of promoting Christian values in society.  We cannot reduce our relations to just the unresolved theological questions."  Earlier in the week, Hilarion said, "Personally, I hope that sooner or later the meeting that many are awaiting between the Pope and the Patriarch of Moscow will take place."

The concert was organized by the St. Gregory the Theologian Foundation, which is substantially supported by The Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation in Milwaukee.

(Catholic News Service photo/Paul Haring)
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