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Russian Patriarch meets with new Papal envoy

Russian Orthodox Patriarch Alexy II received the Vatican's new envoy to Moscow on Thursday, raising hopes of a possible end to a dispute between two major branches of Christianity that has prevented Pope John Paul II from fulfilling his dream of a visit to Russia.

"I would like to carry greetings from the pope to your holiness and convey his utmost respect," Archbishop Antonio Mennini told Alexy at the start of their meeting at the patriarch's official residence.

Alexy said he hoped Mennini's presence would help mend ties.

"Now the two churches' relations leave a lot to be desired," he said.

The meeting was not reported in the Russian media, although they usually follow the Orthodox Church head's activities closely. Photographers and television camera operators were permitted to record the beginning of the meeting but were then asked to leave after the prelates' exchange of pleasantries.

Earlier last week, Russia's ambassador to the Holy See indicated that the government hoped that the Russian Orthodox and Catholic hierarchies could smooth over their differences, allowing for John Paul's long-desired trip to Russia.

President Vladimir Putin, too, has indicated that he would favor a papal visit, but said that it would be dependent on the two churches' resolving their conflict.

"A visit by the pope to Moscow is not only possible but necessary," Ambassador Vitaly Litvin was quoted as saying by the Vremya Novostei newspaper.

He said the Catholic Church was welcome to send replacements for five foreign-born priests who have been banned from Russia, and claimed that their expulsions had nothing to do with religion.

Moscow Times

Cardinal Kasper sees ecumenical progress with Orthodox churches (21/2/03)
Pope Decries Expulsion of Catholics from Russia (Catholic News Service 13/1/03)
New Vatican envoy to Russia says he hopes relations will normalize (Catholic News Service)
Pope looks to improve Orthodox ties (14/10/02)
Cardinal Kasper sees new hope for ecumenical relations (14/6/02)
Rallies in Russian cities protest spread of Catholicism (29/4/02)
Cardinal Kasper Evaluates Progress and Concerns of Ecumenism (Zenit)
Ukrainians pursue mediator role: Papal candidate seeks reunion between East, West (Canadian Catholic News)

24 Feb 2003