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The Pope of consistence

· A Pontificate which has marked a major improvement between Orthodox and Catholics ·

Last 11 February, Pope Benedict XVI's unexpected announcement of his  renunciation of his ministry stunned not only the Catholic Church but all Christendom and public opinion across the world. In his condition of the  progressive deterioration of his strength, which he himself mentioned, the decision to leave the Pontificate cannot but be seen as an act of great courage and exemplary humility.

In this world of ours in which so many who have no power seek spasmodically to grasp it for themselves, and so many who possess it seek at any cost to retain it, the meek voice of the Primate of the largest Christian Church in the world, who says that he freely renounces the exercise of his authority because of his physical weakness and for the good of the Church, is in stark contrast with the current mindset. Once again, Pope Benedict XVI has proven to be consistent with his own line of moral integrity and rejection of compromise.

The Pontificate of Benedict XVI has marked a major improvement in  the relations between Orthodox and Catholics and, in particular, between Rome and the Russian Orthodox Church. The Pope knows Orthodoxy well; his love for tradition makes him close to it. Then it must be said that  personal knowledge also has a positive influence on inter-Church relations. Before he was elected Primate of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Kirill met with Cardinal Ratzinger and subsequently with Pope Benedict XVI four times. I too, after succeeding the current Patriarch as Chairman of the Moscow Patriarchate’s Department for External Church Relations, have been received by the Pope: three times, at a Private Audience. I will always treasure an excellent memory of our conversation and of the Pope himself. I do not believe it can be said that his being a theologian, a man of thought with clear positions often opposed to the prevalent culture, has been to the disadvantage of his being a pastor. Benedict XVI is a meek, understanding man of great humility and wisdom.

Now with his renunciation of the exercise of his ministry, the Pope has given the world a lesson in humility and wisdom. A few days ago in the Russian Church we celebrated the Presentation of Christ in the Temple. How can we forget here the canticle of the wise Simeon, whom our tradition describes as “the one who takes God in his arms” (Simeon Bogopriimec ). “Lord, let your servant now depart in peace, according to your word”. We wish Benedict XVI a long, fruitful and peaceful period in the last stage of his life. As for us, we hope that the positive dynamic in relations between the Russian Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic Church will continue under his Successor.

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