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Moscow patriarch feels the heat on hoped-for papal visit
    Patriarch Alexis II of Moscow complained on Tuesday that Russian politicians are pressuring him to accept a visit from Pope John Paul II, a trip the Orthodox leader said would not take place until differences between the two Churches are surmounted.
    In statements published by Itar-Tass agency, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church expressed his irritation over political leaders' suggestions that he soften his position.
    The patriarch gave no details, but Russian experts believe he is referring to President Vladimir Putin, Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov and Foreign Affairs Minister Igor Ivanov. All three have had cordial meetings with the Pope and believe his visit would prove Russia's interest in opening to the West.
    None of the three politicians has officially invited the Pontiff to Moscow. But the three have publicly expressed their hope of a rapprochement between Catholic and Orthodox Christians.
    This week, Alexis II renewed his criticisms of June's planned papal trip to Ukraine, a country that is traditionally Orthodox and linked to Moscow. The patriarch described the visit as "inopportune" and added his voice to the appeal of Ukraine's Metropolitan Vladimir, requesting its postponement.
    Alexis II said one reason why he cannot receive the Pope is the so-called "policy of expansion of the Church of Rome in Ukraine, Byelorussia and Kazakhstan."
    The Catholic and Orthodox Churches separated, at the beginning of the last millennium, over theological problems that have since been surmounted, and differing ideas on the application of the primacy of the Bishop of Rome.