Catholic and Orthodox leaders sign appeal for mutual forgiveness

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The heads of Russia’s Orthodox church and Poland’s Catholic church signed an appeal Friday to their nations to forgive each other for past historical wrongs.

The signing in Warsaw during the first visit to Poland by Russia’s Patriarch Kirill has been described by the churches as a historical act of reconciliation. The two nations have feuded for centuries and their ties are still marked by distrust.

“We appeal to our believers to ask for the forgiveness of wrongs, injustice and every evil committed against each other,” the document said. “We are certain that this is the first and the most important step toward rebuilding mutual trust, which is a necessary element of a lasting community and full reconciliation between people.”

The document was signed during a ceremony at Warsaw’s Royal Castle by Kirill and Polish Archbishop Jozef Michalik, the Polish church’s highest-ranking leader.

The document mentioned “open enmity, even fighting between our nations” in the past and called for a “brotherly dialogue” in all walks of life.

The sources of bitterness are many, and include Polish resentment over Moscow’s control of Poland during the communist era and its apparent displeasure at seeing Poland reject its influence and join Western institutions like NATO.

Elderly Poles also still talk bitterly about Moscow’s “stab in the back” — the attack from the East by the Soviet Red Army on Sept. 17, 1939, which came less than three weeks after German troops invaded Poland from the West, starting World War II.

They point to the murders of over 20,000 of their officers by Soviet secret police in 1940 in the Katyn forest and other sites. More recently, conspiracy theories smolder after Polish President Lech Kaczynski and 95 others were killed in a 2010 plane crash in Russia — feelings fueled by a sense that the Russians were not fully cooperative in investigating the crash.

Relations between the Orthodox church and Poland’s Catholic church have also been tense.

The Orthodox Church prevented Polish-born Pope John Paul II from making a hoped-for trip to Russia. Among issues causing tensions in recent years are Orthodox accusations that the Vatican has sought converts in traditionally Orthodox areas — charges Rome denies.

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