Russian Catholics expect more pilgrim exchanges between Moscow and Vatican

The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of the Mother of God in Moscow says

The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of the Mother of God in Moscow is expecting more intense pilgrim exchanges between the Moscow Patriarchate and the Vatican following the recent meeting between Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia and Pope Francis.

"Pilgrim exchanges exist, but I think that they can reach a new level," the archdiocese's press secretary, Priest Kirill Gorbunov, told reporters in Havana on Feb. 14.

He did not rule out that Orthodox and Catholic priests could jointly accompany both churches' groups of pilgrims "in order to show such a stereoscopic vision."

According to the priest, many Orthodox pilgrims who come to Rome "happen to be completely shocked by the fact that the most ancient Christian icons have been safeguarded and worshipped there, including those that had been brought from Byzantine at the time of Iconoclasm, when a large number of icons were destroyed in the Christian East, and have been safeguarded in Rome."

"And this opens one's eyes as to how our traditions are close. Many Orthodox people think veneration of icons is unknown in the Catholic Church, but this is completely not the case. And, certainly, the greatest sanctuaries, for example, the relics of the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul in Rome hold a great value for each Orthodox person as well," the archdiocese's press secretary said.

As an example, the priest also mentioned the ashes of Holy Apostle Saint James in Spain, adding that that, so far, it is not a very well-known route for Orthodox pilgrims, although it has been one of the most important pilgrimage routes in Europe since Medieval Times.

The main idea of the joint declaration signed by Patriarch Kirill and Pope Francis in Havana on Feb. 12 is a call for unity between the churches, he said.

"The churches should strive for total unity, because there is an opinion that this is not needed - they went their separate ways and let it be so, one church has its own territory and the other its own," he noted.

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