An international ecumenical conference with prominent attendees was held on 12 February in Moscow to celebrate the third anniversary of the historic meeting between Pope Francis and Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill, which took place on 12 February 2016 in the Cuban capital of Havana.

The event was hosted by the chairman of the Department of External Church Relations of the Moscow Patriarchate, Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk. The Vatican was represented by the President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, Cardinal Kurt Koch, and the President of the Pontifical Academy for Life, Archbishop Vincenzio Paglia. The conference was attended by further dignitaries of both churches, including the Apostolic Nuncio to the Russian Federation, and international experts.

The theme of the conference was “Death and Dying in a Technological Society”, with a special focus on the issue of euthanasia. Each year, the anniversary of the meeting in Havana is celebrated by an event dedicated to one of the issues that were included in the joint declaration of the two church leaders as challenges that both churches are facing and for which a joint solution needs to be found.

The pontifical foundation Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) was represented at the conference by the head of the organisation’s Russia section, Peter Humeniuk. ACN has been working to establish a dialogue between the Catholic and Russian Orthodox churches for over 25 years and, in response to the joint declaration of the pope and patriarch, has founded an ecumenical working group to “realise the closer cooperation between the two churches that both church leaders have called for,” explained Humeniuk, who is himself a member of the working group. “It is imperative that the document does not remain merely a piece of paper, but is put into practice in real life. After all, these are the crucial questions of our time that we urgently require an answer for. For this reason, we are supporting ecumenical initiatives that, for example, address the protection of human life from conception to natural death and provide pastoral care for people with addiction or with psychological disorders or assistance for mothers in crisis situations. We are also looking for ways to work together to help persecuted Christians in the Middle East,” Humeniuk continued.

One of the speakers at the conference in Moscow was Archpriest orthodox Aleksandr Tkachenko, the founder and head of a children’s hospice project that was initiated in 2003 in the eparchy of Saint Petersburg. ACN has supported the project from the very beginning; it provides palliative, pedagogical and pastoral care to terminally ill children and assistance for their family members. During the conference, Archpriest Tkachenko publicly thanked ACN for its support.