"It is still very early to talk about a meeting between Pope Francis and Orthodox Patriarch Kirill"
"It is still very early to talk about a meeting between Pope Francis and Orthodox Patriarch Kirill"
Pavel Korobov

MOSCOW - Catholics aren't the only ones who have noted the significance of Pope Francis' name choice.

Bishop Hilarion Alfeyev, Metropolitan of Volokolamsk and head of the Russian Orthodox Church"s Department of External Relations, says the Argentine pontiff's decision to honor Saint Francis of Assisi puts "service to the poor” at the top of the new pope's agenda.

According to Hilarion, such service is a good starting point for the Roman Catholic and Russian Orthodox Churches to find new ways to work together. “We see a large area of possibilities for partnership with the Roman Catholic Church,” he said. “We hope that our relationship as partners will grow under the leadership of this new pontiff.”

“We hope that Francis will give a push to the development of good relations between our churches, continuing a process started by his predecessor,” explained Dimitry Sizonenko, Secretary of the Department of Inter-Christian relations in the Russian Orthodox Church. “Pope Francis has said before that he likes Dostoevsky, and we would like to think that he might also like the spiritual tradition of the Russian Orthodox church.”

People who know the new pope say that the hoped-for warming in the two churches’ relationship is entirely possible. “As the Archbishop of Buenos Aires, Jorge Mario Bergoglio regularly visited Russian Orthodox Churches on Christmas Eve,” said Orthodox Bishop John, the Bishop for South America whose headquarters is located in the Argentinian capital.

He concludes that: “the new pope has a good relationship with Russian Orthodoxy and with Russian Orthodox believers.”

Russian Catholics are also betting that under Pope Francis there will be progress in Catholic-Orthodox relations. Igor Kovalevski, the general secretary of the Russian Conference of Bishops, noted that the newly-elected pope is well-versed in Byzantine Christian traditions since he also led Argentina's community of Greek Catholics, who are in full communion with the pope but have a liturgical tradition that is distinct from Roman Catholics.

"So he knows about the relationship between Orthodox Christianity and Catholicism," says Kovalevski.

Finding neutral ground

According to Igor Baranov, one of the editors of the "Catholic Encyclopedia,” Pope Francis’s stances on social issues like marriage, abortion and euthanasia are similar to the Orthodox Church’s. “Just as the image of St. Francis of Assisi is important in Russian culture, so the image of Pope Francis will become close to Russian spirituality,” Baranov said.

There has been tension between the Russian Orthodox Church and the Catholic Church since the 1990s, when Catholics in Ukraine seized Orthodox churches. For that reason, the two sides say that in spite of the positive predictions, it is still very early to talk about a meeting between Pope Francis and Orthodox Patriarch Kirill.

“A meeting between the new pontiff and the patriarch would probably have to take place on neutral territory and not until Russia is ready for it,” Kovalevski explained.

Orthodox Bishop Hilarion concurs: “I think that a meeting is possible, but its time and place will be largely determined by how quickly we can get over the conflicts that arose in the 1980s and 90s.”

Hilarion also said that Pope Francis has declared on more than one occasion that he feels close to the Orthodox Church and would like to have close contact between the two churches. As the diplomatic representative of the Russian Orthodox Church, Hilarion will have his first meeting with the new pope sometime this week.

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Pro-life and Pro-abortion Rights Protests in Washington

Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

👋 Håfa adai!*

Welcome to Thursday, where new Omicron findings arrive from South Africa, abortion rights are at risk at the U.S. Supreme Court and Tyrannosaurus rex has got some new competition. From Germany, we share the story of a landmark pharmacy turned sex toy museum.

[*Chamorro - Guam]

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🌎  7 THINGS TO KNOW RIGHT NOW

• COVID update: South Africa reports a higher rate of reinfections from the Omicron variant than has been registered with the Beta and Delta variants, though researchers await further findings on the effects of the new strain. Meanwhile, the UK approves the use of a monoclonal therapy, known as sotrovimab, to treat those at high risk of developing severe COVID-19 symptoms.The approval comes as the British pharmaceutical company, GSK, separately announced the treatment has shown to “retain activity” against the Omicron variant. Down under, New Zealand’s reopening, slated for tomorrow is being criticized as posing risks to its under-vaccinated indigenous Maori.

• Supreme Court poised to gut abortion rights: The U.S. Supreme Court signaled a willingness to accept a Republican-backed Mississippi law that would bar abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy, even in cases of rape or incest. A ruling, expected in June, may see millions of women lose abortion access, 50 years after it was recognized as a constitutional right in the landmark Roe v. Wade case.

• Macri charged in Argentine spying case: Argentina’s former president Mauricio Macri has been charged with ordering the secret services to spy on the family members of 44 sailors who died in a navy submarine sinking in 2017. The charge carries a sentence of three to ten years in prison. Macri, now an opposition leader, says the charges are politically motivated.

• WTA suspends China tournaments over Peng Shuai: The Women's Tennis Association (WTA) announced the immediate suspension of all tournaments in China due to concerns about the well-being of Chinese tennis player Peng Shuai, and the safety of other players. Peng disappeared from public view after accusing a top Chinese official of sexual assault.

• Michigan school shooting suspect to be charged as an adult: The 15-year-old student accused of killing four of his classmates and wounding seven other people in a Michigan High School will face charges of terrorism and first-degree murder. Authorities say the suspect had described wanting to attack the school in cellphone videos and a journal.

• Turkey replaces finance minister amid economic turmoil: Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan appointed a strong supporter of his low-interest rate drive, Nureddin Nebati, as Turkey’s new finance minister.

• A battle axe for a tail: Chilean researchers announced the discovery of a newly identified dinosaur species with a completely unique feature from any other creatures that lived at that time: a flat, weaponized tail resembling a battle axe.

🗞️  FRONT PAGE

South Korean daily Joong-ang Ilbo reports on the discovery of five Omicron cases in South Korea. The Asian nation has broken its daily record for overall coronavirus infections for a second day in a row with more than 5,200 new cases. The variant cases were linked to arrivals from Nigeria and prompted the government to tighten border controls.


#️⃣  BY THE NUMBERS

¥10,000

In the northeastern Chinese city of Harbin, a reward of 10,000 yuan ($1,570) will be given to anyone who volunteers to take a COVID-19 test and get a positive result, local authorities announced on Thursday on the social network app WeChat.

📰  STORY OF THE DAY

Why an iconic pharmacy is turning into a sex toy museum

The "New Pharmacy" was famous throughout the St. Pauli district of Hamburg for its history and its long-serving owner. Now the owner’s daughter is transforming it into a museum dedicated to the history of sex toys, linking it with the past "curing" purpose of the shop, reports Eva Eusterhus in German daily Die Welt.

💊 The story begins in autumn 2018, when 83-year-old Regis Genger stood at the counter of her pharmacy and realized that the time had come for her to retire. At least that is the first thing her daughter Anna Genger tells us when we meet, describing the turning point that has also shaped her life and that of her business partner Bianca Müllner. The two women want to create something new here, something that reflects the pharmacy's history and Hamburg's eclectic St. Pauli quarter (it houses both a red light district and the iconic Reeperbahn entertainment area) as well as their own interests.

🚨 Over the last few months, the pharmacy has been transformed into L'Apotheque, a venture that brings together art and business in St. Pauli's red light district. The back rooms will be used for art exhibitions, while the old pharmacy space will house a museum dedicated to the history of sex toys. Genger and Müllner want to show that desire has always existed and that people have always found inventive ways of maximizing pleasure, even in times when self-gratification was seen as unnatural and immoral, as a cause of deformities.

🏩 Genger and Müllner want the museum to show how the history of desire has changed over time. The art exhibitions, which will also center on the themes of physicality and sexuality, are intended to complement the exhibits. They are planning to put on window displays to give passers-by a taste of what is to come, for example, British artist Bronwen Parker-Rhodes's film Lovers, which offers a portrait of sex workers during lockdown.

➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com

📣 VERBATIM

I would never point a gun at anyone and pull a trigger at them. Never.

— U.S. actor Alec Baldwin spoke to ABC News, his first interview since the accident that killed cinematographer Halyna Hutchins on the set of the movie Rust last October. The actor said that although he was holding the gun he didn’t pull the trigger, adding that the bullet “wasn't even supposed to be on the property.”

✍️ Newsletter by Anne-Sophie Goninet and Jane Herbelin

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