Patriarch Kirill I of the Russian Orthodox Church and Roman Catholic Archbishop Jozef Michalik of Przemysl signed in Warsaw on Aug. 17 a statement of reconciliation meant to overcome historical and religious differences and focus on the churches’ common stance on traditional values.
Kirill’s August 16 to 19 visit was the first to Poland by a head of the Russian church.
The document referred to a shared experience of totalitarianism, saying it is something that can bring the nations together.
Although not referred to specifically, relations between the two countries were strained over the 1940 Katyn massacre in southwest Russia in which Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin’s secret police killed thousands of Polish army officers and intelligentsia. At the time, the Soviet government ascribed it to Nazi Germany. In the post-Soviet era, Russia refused to call the Katyn massacre a crime or acknowledge its scale.
The text of the churches’ memorandum called on Russians and Poles to forgive, but not to forget, saying that historians and specialists must continue to search for “un-falsified historic truth.”
“We call on our faithful to ask forgiveness for the hurt they have caused one another, for the injustice and all evil. We believe that this is the first and most important step to the restoration of mutual trust without which there can be neither a strong human community nor true reconciliation,” said the document.
The memorandum has been compared to a 1965 letter sent by Polish bishops to their German counterparts that paved the way for improved relations after the atrocities of the Second World War.
“To forgive means to reject revenge and hatred,” states the memorandum, which adds that Russian and Polish Christians can created a united front against the moral challenges of the secular.
In a greeting to Polish pilgrims at his summer residence at Castel Gandolfo near Rome on Aug. 19, Pope Benedict XVI described the reconciliation statement as “an important event, which gives us hope for the future” and expresses “the desire to cultivate the fraternal union and to collaborate in spreading Gospel values in the world today,” the Vatican website reported.