Pope Francis plans to meet with the head of the Russian Orthodox Church Patriarch Kirill, in September n Kazakhstan as many in the world live in hope that the confidante of Vladimir Putin can play a role in getting Moscow to cease its war in Ukraine.
According to Catholic News Service, the Pope confirmed the meeting in an interview aired in the United States on July 11 on Univision, the Spanish-language network.
"We are going to meet in Kazakhstan in September because there is a religious meeting" that both have promised to attend, he said.
It would be just the second face-to-face meeting between Francis and Kirill and the first since Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24.
The invasion was an attack that Francis said had pulled Ukraine into a "cruel and senseless war," The New York Times reported on July 13.
The two religious leaders had spoken by video in March. Still, Kirill spent a good part of that meeting reading prepared remarks that echoed the arguments of Russia's President Vladimir Putin, said the Times.
'PUTIN'S ALTAR BOY'
Francis told an Italian newspaper he had told Kirill that the men were not "clerics of the state" and said the patriarch cannot be "Putin's altar boy."
In the Univision interview aired on July 11, Francis said he shared a "good relationship" with the patriarch.
"It is evident that his position is conditioned by his homeland in some way," Francis said. "Which is not to say that he is an indecent man."
He noted, "God knows each person's moral responsibilities in the depth of their hearts."
In an Easter message to Kirill on April 22, Francis said, "Dear Brother! May the Holy Spirit transform our hearts and make us true peacemakers, especially for war-torn Ukraine, so that the great Easter passage from death to new life in Christ may become a reality for the Ukrainian people, who long for a new dawn that will end the darkness of war."
Although the Vatican has not officially announced the visit, Kazakh authorities said the Pope confirmed his participation at the Congress of World and Traditional Religions during a Zoom meeting in April with President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev.
The interreligious meeting will occur in the capital city, Nur-Sultan, Sept. 14-15.
Francis also commented on the abrupt dismissal of Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk as head of external relations for the Russian Orthodox Church.
In a statement released June 7, the Russian Orthodox Church said the metropolitan was "released from his duties" and appointed administrator of the Diocese of Budapest and Hungary.
The Center for European Policy Analysis (CEPA) reported on July 5 that r Putin had sacked Metropolitan Hilarion, often described as the foreign minister of the Russian Orthodox church and effectively its deputy head.
"Even if you're not an ecclesiastical expert or even just an occasional watcher of the church, this personnel move really matters because the institution is a semi-official arm of the Putin regime," wrote Elisabeth Braw.
"Until his dismissal last month, Hilarion was the church's de facto crown prince. And unlike its current leader, the woodenly pro-regime Patriarch Kirill, Metropolitan Hilarion is an energetic and highly intelligent cleric, a noted theologian, and an accomplished composer," she wrote.
"And while Kirill's steadfast support for the Kremlin's policies seems to be motivated mostly by opportunism, Hilarion has over the years toed the line but in a more independent manner."
Pope Francis told Univision it was "obvious that the war has had a great impact on the Russian church."
"The change in the Ministry of External Relations of the patriarchate shows that there is some sort of issue," he said. "I'm not saying it is a good or bad thing, and I say it with all due respect."