Christian Response to Challenges of the Pandemic Discussed at Online-Conference team | 14 February 2021

A conference titled “Church and the Pandemic”, associated with the fifth anniversary of the Havana Meeting between Pope Francis and His Holiness Kirill, Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia, took place online on February 12, 2021, reported the Department for External Church Relations (DECR).

In his report, Metropolitan Hilarion, Chairman of the DECR of the Moscow Patriarchate, noted that the coronavirus pandemic has become a huge and unexpected trial for the entire world. “This global disaster has revealed quite a number of acute international and social imbalances. In order to correct them it is important, as never before, not only to do joint missionary work, but also to engage in joint actions”, he emphasized, “Today we are called to comprehend the challenges we are facing so that in the months to come we could join efforts to help work out adequate solutions of aggravating problems in order to be able to present ways to overcome these problems, which are shared by major Christian Churches.”

The DECR chairman stated that the problems have affected both society and Christian Churches throughout the world. “The dramatic situation last spring and the strict restrictions imposed on any gathering of people demanded that a whole series of measures had to be taken by the Supreme Authority of the Russian Orthodox Church,” the metropolitan said.

He also pointed out that the emergency situation promoted the accelerated mastering of appropriate technologies that had been used on a very small scale before the pandemic. “Certainly, the ‘virtual’ presence at a divine service in no way can replace the real participation in it, primarily, in the sacrament of the Eucharist”, the hierarch emphasized, “However, in those hard conditions, the spread of live streaming services was not only because of the pastoral need and concern for the common good, but also offered the Church certain missionary opportunities. By the example of my Moscow parish I can attest that during the pandemic tens of thousands of people participated in live steaming of worship services – much more than could be even accommodated in the church”.

In his opinion, in such a situation, preaching in a broad sense of the word acquires a special importance presupposing, among other things, the use of media platforms for handing down the Good News and revealing to people the beauty of the liturgy “so that even more people could come to church consciously when the social disaster is overcome.”

The DECR chairman also said that the examples of cooperation in charitable work even in the hardest conditions of closed borders and restricted travel during the pandemic made it possible for us to appreciate the importance of the words of Pope Francis of Rome and Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia, who stated five years ago that “Christian communities undertake notable works in the fields of charitable aid and social development, providing diversified forms of assistance to the needy. Orthodox Christians and Catholics often work side by side. Giving witness to the values of the Gospel, they attest to the existence of the shared spiritual foundations of human co–existence” (Joint Declaration, 14).

“At this stage, our common task is to give a new impetus to the cooperation of our Churches in the area of social service,” Metropolitan Hilarion stressed.

President of the PCPCU Cardinal Kurt Koch underlined in his remarks that, “the following day after the meeting between Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill in Havana, we already decided to mark this event each year to keep alive the memory of its historic importance. We agreed that each time our reflections should be focused on one of the specific points of the Joint Declaration signed by the heads of the two Churches.”

The Catholic hierarch mentioned in particular the psychological problems caused by the forced isolation, such as depression and internal family conflicts, now evident poor state of medical and social spheres in various countries, economic and social challenges that society faces in connection with the coronavirus crisis, such as unemployment and the ever greater gap between the rich and the poor, as well as the restriction of personal freedom which provokes protest among people.

“The pandemic has also affected church life at the basic level. In various countries, the opportunity for celebrations has been either strongly restricted or altogether cancelled during the lockdowns. This fact rises issues of not only political character, such as religious freedom of the faithful, but also those of the pastoral nature: it is necessary to understand whether the faithful get accustomed not to attend divine services or will return to the liturgical life in churches after the pandemic,” the cardinal said.

In his opinion, if Christians, following their faith, seek and find useful answers to the present challenges, they will be able “to make their own contribution to overcoming numerous social, psychological, sanitary, economic and political problems brought by the pandemic”.

A special attention was paid to the pastoral aid to patients with coronavirus at home or in hospitals: “With the blessing of His Holiness Patriarch Kirill, in April 2020 we already compiled and distributed the rules for performing the Sacraments during visits to people with coronavirus to every diocese. We organized a series of webinars for priests, training them for administering sacraments in ‘the red zone’. We have compiled a standard set of requested services and a kit of protection means for each priest and arranged the free dispatch of these kits to dioceses. This aid has already been received in over 100 dioceses,” was said in a report.

“We plan to hold an international online-conference on the experience, usefulness and importance of the service of hospital chaplains in 2021. It will take place on the platform of the Russian Federation Governmental Council for Social Patronage. We expect that representatives of chaplains’ associations in major Christian confessions in various Western countries, representatives of healthcare ministries in other countries, patients’ communities and academic researchers into the work of chaplains will share their experience at the conference,” said Bishop Panteleimon and invited representatives of the Roman Catholic Church to take part in the event.

The participants discussed other pressing issues during the conference.

In conclusion of the online conference, Metropolitan Hilarion thanked the participants for the substantial discussion and expressed hope for the deepening and broadening of the cooperation between the Russian Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic Church in the area of charity and social service after the pandemic.

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