Vatican prelate cautious in meeting with Russian patriarch

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Moscow, May. 30, 2008 ( - In a personal message to Russian Orthodox Patriarch Alexei II, Pope Benedict XVI (bio - news) thanked the Russian prelate for his "commitment to fostering relations between Catholics and Orthodox."

The Pope's message welcomed the "growing closeness" between Rome and Moscow, and the "shared desire to promote authentic Christian values and to witness to our Lord in ever deeper communion."

Cardinal Walter Kasper (bio - news), the president of the Pontifical Council for Christian Unity, delivered the Pope's message when he met with Patriarch Alexei in Moscow on May 30. Cardinal Kasper was in Russia for a series of meetings with both Catholic and Orthodox officials.

Pope Benedict said that he appreciated how the Moscow patriarchate "has been increasingly committed to dialogue with other Christians," and expressed his gratitude for "the signs of friendship and trust which your Church and its representatives have demonstrated in various ways."

Cardinal Kasper's meeting with Patriarch Alexei produced no major announcements. The Vatican has deliberately downplayed expectations for the visit, saying that the cardinal traveled to Russia in an effort to learn more about the life of the Russian Orthodox Church.

Although Vatican analysts speculated that Cardinal Kasper might seek to persuade the Moscow patriarchate to rejoin a joint Catholic-Orthodox commission for theological dialogue, there was no official indication that the cardinal had made such a plea, nor any indication that the Russian Orthodox hierarchy would reconsider the adamant stand that led Russian representatives to walk out of the latest commission meeting in Ravenna last October. On the contrary, Patriarch Alexei indicated that theological dialogue "couldn't develop without the world's largest Orthodox Church participating," the Interfax news service reported.

Interfax said that the Russian patriarch expressed concerns to Cardinal Kasper about the activities of the Ukrainian Catholic Church. Orthodox leaders have complained frequently about the vigorous activity of Eastern-rite Catholics in Ukraine since the fall of the Communist regime and the revival of the Catholic hierarchy following years of government repression.

Patriarch Alexei and Cardinal Kasper agreed "in principle" that a meeting between the Pope and the Russian prelate might be arranged in the future. They also agreed that such a meeting should not be staged simply for appearances, but should be the product of a substantive improvement in relations between Rome and Moscow.

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