May 30, 2000
volume 11, no. 100

NEWS for Tuesday, May 30, 2000

VATICAN (CWNews.com)
    Pope John Paul II is ready to travel to Moscow before the end of the year-- if he receives an invitation from Russian Orthodox Patriarch Alexei II.

    Russia's new President Vladimir Putin will visit the Vatican on June 5. He is expected to bring an official invitation from the government of Russia for the Pope to visit that country. Church officials have not excluded the possibility that Putin might also bring a similar message from the Orthodox Patriarch.

    Whether or not it comes from Putin, insiders at the Vatican are anticipating that an invitation from the Russian Orthodox Church could soon be forthcoming. And it is clear that in the absence of such an invitation from the Orthodox, Pope John Paul would not accept an invitation from the Russian government.

    The Holy Father clearly wants to visit Moscow as soon as possible. He regularly reads a Russian-language Bible-- a gift from former Russian President Boris Yeltsin-- in order to maintain his familiarity with that language. And the Pontiff has frequently voiced his hope that the Eastern and Western Christian churches can draw together at the dawn of the 3rd millennium. The Orthodox Church centered in Moscow is by far the world's largest Eastern Christian body.

    However, to date the Pope's efforts to reach out to the Russian Orthodox Church have been frustrated. Twice the Vatican has set up tentative meetings between the Pope and Patriarch Alexei; each time-- in September 1996 and June 1997-- the Russian leader backed away from the plans just before the meeting would have taken place. In each case, the Patriarch cited familiar Orthodox complaints against the Catholic Church: the conflicts between Ukrainian Orthodox and Eastern-rite Catholics, and the efforts by Catholic missionaries to gain converts in traditionally Orthodox lands such as Russia.

    However, in recent months there have been signs of progress on those embattled fronts. A joint Catholic-Orthodox commission has been established to resolve disputes between the two churches in Ukraine. And at a recent conference in Turin, Metropolitan Kirill of Smolensk-- the second-ranking prelate in the Russian Orthodox Church-- announced that "we no longer have any fear of missionaries."

    At that same meeting, Metropolitan Kirill said that a meeting between Pope and Patriarch would be "a fundamental event" and "a new page in Christian history." He added: "We cannot allow the opportunity to escape us."

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