Paris Cardinal praises Russian Orthodox Church

The archbishop of Paris says he found the Russian Orthodox Church to be a "living and holy Church, strong because of the testimony of its martyrs." Cardinal André Vingt-Trois affirmed this in a communiqué after his trip to Moscow last week. The cardinal was returning the visit made by Orthodox Patriarch Alexy II to Paris last October.

The Paris prelate and his entourage traveled to Moscow "to honor the martyrs of the Orthodox Church during the Soviet period and the action of this Church in post-Communist society," a communiqué from the archdiocese said.

As well, he prayed together with the Catholic community of Moscow and their archbishop, Paolo Pezzi, in the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception.

Cardinal Vingt-Trois said that his encounter with Alexy II was "simple and fraternal" and that the two of them discussed, among other things, "the importance of the transmission of the faith to the youth and the possibility of an exchange of relics" to help the faithful learn about "the treasures of sanctity in the distinct traditions."

The prelate also affirmed the "vitality of the Russian Orthodox Church, seen for example in the numerous reconstructions of churches and monasteries, the number of baptisms of children and adults, and priestly and monastic vocations."

Before departing for Moscow, the cardinal had told L'Osservatore Romano that his trip, like that of other cardinals who have previously gone, helps to "increase relations with the Moscow patriarchate and the ecumenical relations that previously did not exist" in a climate "that has gotten much better compared to 10 or 15 years ago."

"I think I can affirm the desire, the will of Alexy II to enter into a more open relationship with the Catholic Church," Cardinal Vingt-Trois added. "In the progress toward the unity of Christians, the question of trust is fundamental: If there is not mutual trust, unity cannot progress."

Regarding his visit to Solovki, the prelate explained that this ancient monastery "tragically became the first gulag." There, Orthodox bishops, priests and religious were martyred, and Catholics, "who found themselves not only imprisoned as well, but within the same persecution."

"It is very important," the cardinal said, "that relations with the Russian Orthodox Church recognize and manifest this fundamental dimension of martyrdom, of recognizing the 'ecumenical promise' of martyrdom -- [which is] the same, suffered by Orthodox and Catholics."