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Russian Orthodox patriarch talks of a meeting with pope

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  • Bill Samsonoff
    http://www.iht.com/articles/2007/10/01/news/church.php Russian Orthodox patriarch talks of a meeting with pope By Stephen Castle and Ian Fisher Monday, October
    Message 1 of 1 , Oct 1, 2007

      Russian Orthodox patriarch talks of a meeting with pope
      By Stephen Castle and Ian Fisher
      Monday, October 1, 2007

      PARIS: The slow rapprochement between the Russian
      Orthodox Church and the Vatican - separated for
      almost a thousand years - gathered momentum
      Monday as Russia's spiritual leader called for an
      alliance to promote Christian social values.

      At the start of a visit to France, Patriarch
      Alexy II, head of the Russian Orthodox Church,
      also predicted that a meeting with the pope might
      take place within two years. The two churches
      must cooperate to combat the rise of same sex
      marriages and "propaganda in favor of euthanasia
      and abortion," the patriarch said in an interview
      with the daily Le Figaro, adding that he had "the
      same approach" to Europe's lack of spiritual values as Pope Benedict XVI.

      The comments underline a thaw in relations
      between two churches and a growing willingness to
      promote common causes, even though the Russian
      Orthodox Church objects to the activities of
      Roman Catholic missionaries in Russia and former Soviet Republics.

      Relations have improved notably since the death
      of Pope John Paul II who was regarded with
      suspicion by the Russian Orthodox hierarchy.

      However, the patriarch's brand of moral
      conservatism could provoke criticism Tuesday in
      Strasbourg when he addresses the Parliamentary
      Assembly of the Council of Europe, a body
      dedicated to upholding civil and human rights, including nondiscrimination.

      His brief address to the assembly will focus on
      human rights and ethical values. Critics have
      accused him of being too close to the Russian government.

      Stanislav Belkovsky, head of the National
      Strategy Institute, a Russian research
      organization, said the patriarch traveled as "a
      direct representative of the Kremlin," and the
      Russian daily Kommersant suggested Tuesday that
      the visit aimed to counter European criticism of
      Russian human rights practices.

      The patriarch will also meet with the Catholic
      Bishops' Conference and President Nicolas
      Sarkozy. In his interview in Le Figaro, Alexy
      said that, in terms of a meeting with Pope
      Benedict XVI, he excluded "nothing." It could
      happen, "perhaps not in a month but in a year or two."

      Hans-Gert Pöttering, president of the European
      Parliament and a practicing Roman Catholic,
      described the visit to France and meeting with
      Sarkozy as "highly significant at the current
      time," adding, "We need this dialogue if we are
      to avoid a "clash of civilizations."

      Despite the positive message from the patriarch,
      obstacles could still prevent a meeting with the
      pope. Archpriest Vsevolod Chaplin, deputy
      chairman of the Department for External Church
      Relations of the Moscow Patriarchate, underlined
      the problems of "missionary activities among some
      people belonging to the Catholic Church in Russia
      and some Greek Catholics in some parts of Ukraine, Belarus and Kazakhstan."

      "Some activities of certain parts of the Roman
      Catholic Church hurt deeply," he said in an
      interview by telephone, "and there are those who
      say the Vatican puts forward one hand for shaking
      hands and the other to hit us. To avoid this
      impression it is important to solve the problems
      in sincere and concrete dialogue."

      Nevertheless analysts point to a steady improvement in relations.

      "The Vatican's relationship with the Russian
      Orthodox Church was not going to be easily
      improved under John Paul II," said Father Leonid
      Kishkovsky, director of external affairs for the Orthodox Church in America.

      Under Benedict, the Russian Orthodox Church has
      been more willing to stress areas of convergence
      with the Roman Catholic Church because "they see
      it as giving them a more resonant voice in a
      Europe that is highly secular," Kishkovsky said.

      Benedict visited Ecumenical Patriarch
      Bartholomew, spiritual head of the world's 220
      million Orthodox, in Istanbul last year.

      Anatoly Krasikov, head of the Center for
      Socio-Religious Studies at the Russian Academy of
      Sciences, said he did not rule out the
      possibility of a meeting between Benedict and Alexy.

      "I think that sooner or later this meeting must
      occur," he said. "There is more understanding
      between both churches." Still, he added, "there
      is much that still divides Catholics and the Orthodox."

      The Reverend Ronald Roberson, an expert on the
      Orthodox with the United States Conference of
      Catholic Bishops, said the patriarch's comments
      were significant as it apparently was the first
      time he had mentioned any concrete time for a meeting with the pope.

      "That's an important step forward," Roberson
      said. "They have never been saying that. They
      have been saying we can't meet until we have
      progress on those certain issues. So if he's
      talking about a meeting in a certain period of
      time, that is something that is quite new."

      Like his predecessor, Benedict has made a closer
      union with the world's Orthodox, themselves
      divided into 14 self-ruling churches, a central
      goal of his papacy. His first trip outside of
      Rome was to Bari, in southern Italy, a city
      important to Orthodox and Catholic alike and so
      considered a bridge between them, and talks
      between theological experts on both sides
      restarted last year after six years of dormancy.

      Ian Fisher reported from Rome and Michael
      Schwirtz contributed reporting from Moscow.
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