DAILY CATHOLIC     MONDAY     May 17, 1999     vol. 10, no. 95

from a CATHOLIC perspective

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Statements by Orthodox Theologian Olivier Clement

          ROME, MAY 13 (ZENIT).- Some observers feel John Paul II's trip to Romania has left the door open for a possible trip to Moscow. Vatican spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls, went even further and said that, more than a door, the visit "has opened an avenue to Moscow."

          Olivier Clement, well-known Orthodox theologian in the ecumenical circles of the Patriarchy of Constantinople, spoke about the results of the Holy Father's trip to Romania during an interview with the magazine 'Avvenire.'

    -- After the Pope's trip to Romania what are the possibilities of visiting Moscow?

    OLIVIER CLEMENT: "It is difficult to answer. Relations between the Moscow Patriarchy and that of Bucharest are not good, because of the problem of former Soviet Moldavia, which has won independence; the latter's Church is claimed both by Russia and Romania. But in Bucharest a taboo has been broken. In fact, there was a kind of psychological taboo on the part of the Orthodox against papal visits. This has broken and things went magnificently well, especially with the people. There was a profound spirit of fraternity, people were moved. A door has opened on a psychological barrier which had to be eliminated. And it has been. What has been achieved? It is still too early to know. We must wait and see. The next event is John Paul II's trip to Armenia, which is also important. It is yet another sign which makes other trips possible. But there are many forces at play in different directions; there are very strong conservative forces in Russia whose reaction is unknown. But, undoubtedly, what happened in Romania will be looked at very closely by all Orthodox countries."

    -- Is the difficulty of the Pope's trip to Russia religious or also political?

    OLIVIER CLEMENT: "It's political, psychological and historical. We are at the heart of a very long problem which goes back many centuries, to Uniate policies in Poland and Lithuania, for example, to which the Russian Orthodox reacted with similar if not worse violence against the Poles in the 19th century. The Orthodox have a curious trait: they remember all the evil that has been done to them but easily forget the evil they might have done. But the Russians are capable of extraordinary changes. If the Pope went to Moscow, I think he would be welcomed by the people as well as he was in Romania; popular sensibilities would support him. But at present, with the Serbian crisis, not a few Orthodox believe the West is carrying out a crusade against Orthodoxy as it did in the past."

    -- Does the current war bring the Pope and Moscow's Patriarch closer or does it distance them?

    OLIVIER CLEMENT: "It depends on what the Pope says and what he will say [in future]. He said some beautiful things to the Patriarch of Romania. He made a call for peace. Everything depends on what he will say during the next few days. It is important he not appear as giving a blessing to a NATO crusade because at present the anti-West feeling in Orthodox countries is running high. No doubt the Pope understands this point; he proved this in the case of Iraq. He can also prove it during this crisis, even if it is more difficult."

          As a result of the trip to Bucharest, Moscow is closer, but "not overly so." Clement warned against planning a trip too soon. "This is not taking into consideration the possibility of a surprise, which, in itself, would surprise me a lot." ZE99051302

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May 17, 1999       volume 10, no. 95


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