ORTHODOX LEADER SEEKS TALKS-- IF POPE BACKS DOWN

      VATICAN (CWN) -- According to the Orthodox Patriarch of Moscow, Alexei II, talks have resumed toward the goal of setting up a meeting between himself and Pope John Paul II.

      The leader of the Russian Orthodox Church made that disclosure in Moscow during the celebration of an Orthodox feast, according to the Itar-Tass news agency. However, the Patriarch said no such meeting could take place until the Vatican approves a statement condemning the "proselytism" of Catholic communities, especially in Ukraine.

      A planned meeting last year between the Pope and Patriarch Alexei, scheduled to take place on June 21 in Vienna, was canceled because of heavy pressure from the Orthodox synod, which took a hostile stance toward "Catholic proselytism."

      Patriarch Alexei also said that the Pope would not be welcome to visit Russia until the Eastern-rite Catholic churches drop their claims for the restoration of parish properties which were seized by the government during the years of Communist rule, and handed over to the local Orthodox churches.

      Russia's Orthodox Patriarch said on Sunday that if he were to meet with Pope John Paul, the Catholic Church would have to agree to end its evangelistic efforts in his country and only minister to those who are currently Catholic.

      Patriarch Aleksei II said he had already confronted other churches conducting evangelistic efforts in those countries traditionally claimed by the Russian Orthodox Church, including Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus. Russian recently passed laws making it more difficult to register and run new non-Orthodox churches, causing protests from Christians outside the country, but with branches inside it, including the Catholic Church.

      "We will continue preparing for a meeting between the heads of the Russian Orthodox and Roman Catholic Churches," the patriarch told reporters Sunday during a visit to the Greek Embassy in Moscow. "However, we consider it necessary that at this meeting, both sides condemn proselytizing," he said. He added that a planned meeting with the Holy Father in Austria last summer was canceled because of the unsettled matter of Eastern-rite Catholics in Ukraine, who are demanding the return of property seized under Soviet rule.

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March 11, 1998 volume 9, no. 50         DAILY CATHOLIC