Pope's Russia TV triumphJOHN PONTIFEX
A broadcast by Pope Benedict XVI on Russian state television has been hailed as a landmark in Orthodox-Catholic relations.
Sources close to the Russian Orthodox Church expressed support for the broadcast and the text of the Pope's address has appeared on Sedmitza, an official website of the Church.
Meantime, the initiative's organisers described receiving “nothing but very positive feedback" from people who saw the programme on the Vesti news channel on Wednesday (16 th April) afternoon and again early the following morning.
Speaking a few days after the broadcast, Peter Humeniuk, Russia expert for Aid to the Church in Need, which funded the initiative, said he was “a little shocked" by the positive reaction to the programme.
Stressing that it was “still early days" since the broadcast, he said: “What we have heard so far is that viewers found Pope Benedict honest and warm. They thought he was a person of great dignity and also enormous sympathy."
Mr Humeniuk, who spearheaded the initiative, said: “Even the enemies of Catholicism were, I think, a bit surprised to see this presentation of the Pope and how sympathetic a person he is."
Timed for release on the Pope's birthday, the broadcast — part of which was in Russian — shows Pope Benedict XVI highlighting the importance of Church unity.
The Pope continues: “Both the Catholic Church and the Russian Orthodox Church are moving in this direction."
He pays tribute to Christians in Russia — both Catholic and Orthodox — describing how over the past 100 years “the shadows of suffering and violence were opposed and overcome by the splendid light of so many martyrs, who perished under the oppression of ferocious persecutions."
Broadcast to about two-thirds of Russia on Wednesday (16 th April) afternoon, the 30-minute programme had huge exposure. Many viewers were from outside Russia with Vesti being described as equivalent to the BBC World Service.
A second, longer version of the broadcast went out on Vesti a few hours later at 1am Moscow time on Thursday (17 th April).
Stressing the significance of the programme's success, the initiative's organisers described how for years the Catholic Church had been criticised in Russia, with particular criticism directed against the papacy.
Relations between Rome and Moscow have developed significantly since 2002, when the Russian Orthodox hierarchy expressed alarm after the creation of four Catholic dioceses in Russia.
Mr Humeniuk underlined the importance of Benedict XVI's personal contribution to the programme, describing how his brilliance as a theologian and a thinker is respected in Moscow and has roots dating back to his involvement in the Second Vatican Council.
Mr Humeniuk added: “The broadcast is the latest in a series of positive signs that suggest that the dialogue between Moscow and Rome is becoming more intensive."The success of the broadcast is likely to increase speculation of a long-awaited meeting between Pope Benedict XVI and Alexei II, the Moscow-based Russian Orthodox Patriarch.
John Pontifex. “Pope's Russia TV triumph." ACN News (April 21, 2008).
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A universal pastoral charity of the Catholic Church, with over 5,000 projects in Eastern Europe and throughout the world, Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) was founded on Christmas Day 1947 to help those suffering or persecuted for their Faith.
Today Aid to the Church in Need is present wherever it is most needed, from the bleak villages of Siberia, to the underground Church in China: seminarians are trained, priests and religious supported, churches and chapels are built and restored, religious programmes are broadcast on radio and television, Bibles and religious literature are printed, refugees are helped the world over. ACN receives no government grants and relies only on the generosity of its supporters. Visit the Aid to the Church in Need (U.K.) web site here, Aid to the Church in Need (Canada here. Donate to ACN in the United States here. Donate to ACN in Canada here.
John Pontifex is head of press and information for Aid to the Church in Need (U.K.).
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