The General Minister, José Rodríguez Carballo, OFM, visited the Patriarchate of Moscow from March 21 to 24.
Accompanying the General were the president of the Franciscans’s Russian Federation, Jim Edmiston, OFM, of Sacred Heart Province; the president of th Service for Dialogue of the General Curia, Miguel Vallecillo, OFM; the secretary of the Service for Dialogue, Tecle Vetrali, OFM; and Roland Shakals, OFM, Franciscan pastor in St. Petersburg. General Definitor Finian McGinn, OFM, was supposed to participate, but he was denied entrance into Russia for the visit and had to return to Rome.
The visit was preceded by a visit to the Catholic Archbishop of the Diocese, Bishop Thaddeus Kondrusiewicz, and to the Papal Nuncio in Russia, Bishop Antonio Mennini.
The Franciscan presence in Russia and relationships between the Catholic and Orthodox Churches were spoken about in a truly familial climate during both meetings.
The Franciscan presence in Russia and Kazakhstan is composed of five canonically erected fraternities with 23 solemnly professed Friars.
The meeting with the Patriarch, Alexei II, took place on March 23. The Patriarch, in a climate of cordiality, mentioned that the Franciscan Order “is an ancient Order in these lands, its presence going back to the year 1245.” He also said that collaboration with the Franciscans was “a fraternal collaboration, mainly in the area of spirituality.” He said that in this respect he agreed with continuing the “exchange of visits of Orthodox monks and nuns to Franciscan places, and of Franciscans to Russian monasteries.”
The General Minister, for his part, said that he wished his visit to be a continuation of the one Hermann Schalück, OFM, the then General Minister, had in 1993. The principle objective of the visit, the General affirmed, was the strengthening of the friendly links between the Russian Orthodox Patriarch and the Franciscans, as well as strengthening the exchanges of fraternal visits and reflection between both entities.
The General also reaffirmed the principles which led the Franciscans to resume their presence in Russia after the fall of communism: collaboration with the Orthodox Church, mainly in works of social assistance, and pastoral care, in collaboration with the Catholic hierarchy, of the Catholic communities in the country. The meeting ended with an exchange of gifts between the General Minister and the Patriarch.
The General Minister met for more than an hour with the Metropolitan Kiril of Smolensk, president of the Department of Foreign Affairs of the Patriarchate, in the morning of March 24. This meeting also was very cordial and focused on forms of collaboration. Metropolitan Kiril was the force behind “the exchange of visits” between a Franciscan delegation and an Orthodox delegation in 1994.