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On Friday, representatives from the Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches, including His Holiness Kirill, Patriarch of Moscow and all Rus and Metropolitan Josef Michalik, President of the Polish Bishops’ Conference, signed a joint message committing to further work toward reconciliation between the Russian and Polish peoples and between the two churches.

Anticipating this historic occasion, Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk, head of the Moscow Patriarchate’s Department of External Church Relations, said,

The stand taken by the Russian Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic Church in Poland on topical issues of today, such as individual morality and social ethics, bioethics, ethics of scientific research and some others, are very close, which makes it possible for the two Churches to develop cooperation, bearing joint witness to the Christian tradition in Europe. I would say the contemporary situation, which European countries have found themselves as a result of secularization, turns this opportunity into urgent necessity.

The Vatican Insider reports that the ceremony

took place in the Royal Castle in Warsaw under the eyes of an official delegation of the Russian Orthodox Church that arrived in Poland … with Kirill. Among prominent figures of the Catholic Church attending the event stood out the cardinal archbishop of Krakow, Stanislaw Dziwisz, who used to be John Paul II’ s personal secretary and the Apostolic Nuncio in Warsaw, Mgr. Celestino Migliore. There were also many members of the Polish government, intellectuals and renowned people of culture. The atmosphere was charged with emotion.

The statement itself calls Russians and Poles, Orthodox and Roman Catholic, to seek forgiveness from one another, saying,

We urge our faithful to ask forgiveness for the wrongs inflicted on each other, injustice and every evil. We believe that this is the first and most important step to rebuild mutual trust, without which [there can be] no lasting human community, no genuine reconciliation.

Commenting on the joint statement, His Holiness Kirill said,

In the Joint Message we testify that sin is the cause of every division including divisions between our two nations. This simple idea should not be just understood but experienced by all those who seek to overcome the sinful strife of this world. Regrettably, in our relations with those around us we search for the guilty ones [i.e. to point blame], which only aggravates misunderstanding and distrust. The Christian tradition has accumulated an age-old experience of holiness which lies in the rejection of sin and in seeking the grace of the Holy Spirit. It is not always that one has enough faith to believe it is possible to live without rendering evil for evil and to find strength to see one’s own shortcoming and to forgive others.

The joint statement expresses hope that this will be an important step away from historic hostility, offering an inheritance of peace to future generations that promotes true cooperation and reconciliation without requiring people to forsake or forget their own national and ecclesial history: “We want to teach young people the love of God, man, and the fatherland and attach it to the spirit of Christian culture, the fruit of which will [be] respect, tolerance and justice.”

Such statements are a welcome step in the right direction for those who pray for all Christians, with Christ himself, “that they may be one” (John 17:11). Let us hope that such important work will continue unimpeded by the circumstances of history and our tragic legacies of sin and division, “to live without rendering evil for evil and to find strength to see one’s own shortcoming and to forgive others” in the spirit of the Gospel call of repentance and hope.