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John Paul II sends greetings during Russian Christmas

Pope John Paul II on Sunday congratulated the Eastern Churches, particularly the Russian Orthodox, which celebrate Christmas on the night of 6 January.

"Some Eastern Churches, such as the Russian Orthodox Church and the venerable Oriental Churches, such as the Coptic, Ethiopian and Armenian, today celebrate the Nativity of Jesus Christ," the Pope said during his midday Angelus address at St. Peter's Square.

"May the celebration of the coming of the Word of God among men be the source of new spiritual vigor, of new strength in him, and of communion among all of us, who acknowledge him as Lord and Savior," he added.

The Pope's mention of the Russian Church was significant. Patriarch Alexy II has been extremely critical of Rome, given the rebirth of Catholic communities in the post-Communist era. This has impeded a papal visit to Moscow.

Rome and Moscow seemed to come closer last week, however. With the approval of Alexy II, the lubileum choir, composed of 35 Russian young women, gave a concert of Russian Orthodox liturgical hymns for the Pope in his private chapel. Nothing like this had ever happened before.

At the end of the concert on New Year's Day, the Holy Father told the singers: "I am happy that you came from Moscow with the blessing of Patriarch Alexy II. I take advantage of this opportunity to send him, through your mediation, a fraternal greeting and best wishes on the nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ."