VATICAN ( -- Patriarch Alexei II, the leader of the Russian Orthodox Church, has indicated that he sees no realistic prospects for an early meeting with Pope John Paul II.

      In his Easter message, the leader of the world's largest Eastern communion said that the tensions between the Holy See and the Moscow Patriarchate are caused by clashes between Catholic and Orthodox believers in Ukraine, the continuing "proselytism" by Catholics in Russia, and the absence of a clear understanding between the two faiths which would resolve these difficulties.

      This year the Eastern churches celebrate Easter Sunday on April 19. The Patriarch traditionally writes an Easter message to his people, reporting on a number of topics including ecumenical relations. When the Reuters news agency questioned the Patriarch on the prospects for a meeting with the Pope, he answered that "the prevailing position in the Orthodox Church is that the ground for such a meeting has not yet been sufficiently prepared."

      In his Easter message Alexei sounded the same theme, saying, "Unless serious and clear progress to resolve these problems is under way, the majority of Orthodox cannot accept a meeting with the Pope." A premature meeting, he added, might tempt Catholics to maintain an approach which he called "aggressive triumphalism," and at the same time mislead Orthodox believers by suggesting-- inaccurately-- that tensions between the two churches had been resolved.

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April 16, 1998 volume 9, no. 74         DAILY CATHOLIC