ROME — Pope Francis met Friday morning with the number two man of the Orthodox Patriarchate of Moscow, the Vatican has reported.
His Eminence the Metropolitan Antonij di Volokolamsk, president of the Department of External Affairs of the Patriarchate of Moscow, is the second most powerful leader of the Russian Orthodox Church after Patriarch Kirill, who has been a staunch supporter of Vladimir Putin’s assault on Ukraine.
Pope Francis is expected to meet with Patriarch Kirill next month at a summit of religious leaders in Kazakhstan. Earlier this week, the Vatican released the pontiff’s program for his September 13-15 visit to the country, which centers on his presence at the VII Congress of Leaders of World and Traditional Religions in the capital Nur-Sultan.
The Vatican did not disclose the content of Friday’s conversation between Pope Francis and Metropolitan Antonij but included the meeting in its list of the pope’s official audiences for the day.
Metropolitan Antonij replaced Metropolitan Hilarion in June as president of the Department of External Affairs of the Moscow Patriarchate and visited the Vatican for the first time on Friday.
Friday’s meeting follows a 40-minute video conversation between Pope Francis and the Orthodox Patriarch Kirill, which took place on March 16.
Shortly after that conversation, Francis told Italian media that Patriarch Kirill is harming rather than helping the situation in Ukraine by his support for Putin’s war.
“I spoke to Kirill for 40 minutes via zoom,” the pope said. “He spent the first twenty reading me all the justifications for the war from a notecard in his hand.”
“I listened and told him: I don’t understand anything about this. Brother, we are not state clerics, we cannot use the language of politics, but that of Jesus,” the pope recounted. “We are shepherds of the same holy people of God. For this we must seek ways of peace, to put an end to the firing of weapons.”
“The Patriarch cannot transform himself into Putin’s altar boy,” Francis continued, in a verbal slap to the patriarch’s seeming complicity with the Russian president.
The pope went on to say that he and Kirill had a meeting scheduled in Jerusalem on June 14, but they cancelled it since it could send an “ambiguous signal.”
Later, on April 25, Pope Francis sent a letter of good wishes to Kirill on the occasion of the Easter of the Catholic and Orthodox Churches that follow the Julian calendar.
“May the Holy Spirit,” the pope wrote, “transform our hearts and make us true peacemakers, especially for war-torn Ukraine,” while “we feel all the weight of the suffering of our human family, crushed from violence, war and many injustices.”