Pope Francis and the primate of the Orthodox Church of the Czech Lands and Slovakia, His Beatitude Metropolitan Rastislav, will meet for the first time later this week, the Vatican announced Wednesday.
The meeting will take place May 11, the first visit between the pope and the Orthodox archbishop, who was elected primate, or the head, of the Czech and Slovak Orthodox Church in January 2014. Details of the visit have not been made available.
During his May 9-12 trip to Rome, Rastislav will meet with the president of the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of Christian Unity, Cardinal Kurt Koch, and will celebrate Divine Liturgy at the tomb of St. Cyril in the Roman minor Basilica of St. Clement.
The Orthodox Church of the Czech Lands and Slovakia is an Eastern Orthodox Church whose territory covers the countries of Slovakia and the Czech Republic. It is one of 14 self-governing Orthodox Churches originating in the Byzantine tradition, which was brought to the area through the evangelization of Sts. Cyril and Methodius.
Sts. Cyril and Methodius are sometimes called the “Apostles of the Slavs” for their tireless work in spreading the Gospel throughout Eastern Europe in the 9th century.
Such was their influence in Church history, through their evangelization efforts, that the late Pope John Paul II named the two brothers the patron saints of Europe, along with 5th century monastic leader St. Benedict.
Cyril and Methodius are venerated by both the Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox. The common veneration of saints has been one of the tools Pope Francis uses to foster ecumenical relations with the Eastern Orthodox Churches.
One example of this “ecumenism of saints” took place last year, when relics of St. Philip and St. Nicholas were transported to Turkey and Russia, from Italy. They were exposed for the veneration of Orthodox Christians from the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople and the Patriarchate of Moscow.
On his return from accompanying the relic of St. Nicholas to Russia, Bari’s Archbishop Francesco Cacucci said that the translation of the relic was “already an ecumenical dialogue,” as Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill of Moscow had said many times.
“When ecumenism does not involve only the top ranks of Churches or theologians, but rather involves the people of God, then it is possible to move forward.”
The archbishop explained that, for Pope Francis, the veneration of relics is “an essential part of the path toward the re-establishment of full communion among all Christians.”
“The common veneration of saints helps us to look at ecumenical dialogue with a light of hope,” he said.