Holy Father Pope Francis met Russian Orthodox Metropolitan, Hilarion, who has been a regular visitor to the Vatican in the recent years, heads the department for the external church relations, who came to thank His Holiness Pope Francis for the recent loan of the relics of the 4th century Saint Nicholas of Myra. The Orthodox leader highlighted the main issues discussed in his meeting with the Pope, which included the ongoing tensions in Ukraine as well as joint efforts to support Christians in the Middle East.

As reported by Vatican radio, the Orthodox leader remarked that “For many decades, relations between Catholics and Orthodox developed out of sight of ordinary people in Russia and the first event which came to attention was the historic meeting of Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill in February last year, but the first event in which the people participated was the veneration of the relics.” Further, he added, “Orthodox Church has created a working group with Catholics to provide humanitarian assistance to Christians in the Middle East, in particular, to catalogue the churches, monasteries and shrines that have been destroyed during the war in Syria.”

The discussion in the meeting also included various issues like the religious freedom in Russia, the tensions mounting up in Ukraine. Russian Metropolitan Hilarion reminded that the first step for the progress in relations between Orthodox and Greek Catholics in Ukraine must be for each religious confession to abstain from aggressive rhetoric.