On 12 February 2021 an online conference took place on the theme “The Church and the Pandemic: Challenges and Perspectives” to mark the fifth anniversary of the meeting in Havana between Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia.
The Holy See was represented by Cardinal Kurt Koch, President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, together with some staff members of the Council, and Archbishop Rino Fisichella, President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting New Evangelization.
The Russian Orthodox Church was represented by the President of the Department for External Church Affairs of the Moscow Patriarchate, Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk, together with some staff members of the Department, and Bishop Panteleimon, President of the Synodal Department for Church Charity and Social Service.
In his introduction, Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk affirmed that the pandemic had “brought to light a series of acute worldwide and social inequalities, the resolution of which now requires more than ever not only common witness, but also the joint action of Christians”. He highlighted that “in this phase, our common task is to give new impetus to cooperation among our Churches in the field of social service”.
In his address [IT-RU], Cardinal Koch compared the period of the pandemic to the forty years in the desert of the people of Israel. “The pandemic has made us also return, in a new way, to the time of the desert, a time in which we experience the same reactions of the people of Israel […]. In a similar way, we too can hope and pray that the crisis of the pandemic may become a time of conversion for us, in which we turn anew to God as the lover of life”. According to Cardinal Koch, in turning to faith Christians are able to seek and to find “useful responses to the pandemic” so that they may be able to offer their contribution to “overcoming the many social, psychological, medical, economic and political challenges of the pandemic”. He also observed that “the pandemic urges us to look at life and faith with new eyes and to learn much in this process”.
The Moscow Patriarchate then presented the report of the President of the Synodal Department for Church Charity and Social Service, Bishop Panteleimon of Orekhovo-Zuevsky, read by Hieromonk Panteleimon (Aleshin). The text focused on the assistance offered by the Church to the needy during the pandemic. Particular attention was dedicated to the theme of the pastoral care of patients affected by the coronavirus, either at home or in hospital.
In his presentation [IT-RU], Archbishop Rino Fisichella noted that “the world is facing an immense health, economic, existential and spiritual challenge that has had few precedents in the last centuries. We can affirm that the greater part of our people has responded with a great sense of responsibility, demonstrating a creativity that is rarely encountered”. He also called attention to the fact that in the face of the current difficult circumstances, Christians needed to “raise their voices to the proclamation of the hope of the Resurrection of Christ. One cannot yield in the face of suffering, pain and death because they have been overcome by the force of life arising from Christ’s resurrection”.
Discussion was also dedicated to current issues relating to our relations. At the end of the conference, Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk thanked the participants for the fruitful discussion and expressed the hope of deepening and extending cooperation between the Russian Orthodox Church and the Catholic Church in the fields of social and charitable service after the pandemic.