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Meeting between Pope and Russian Patriarch ‘not yet’ on agenda

There are no plans for a meeting between Pope Benedict XVI and Moscow Patriarch Alexei II but neither church leader has ruled out such an encounter, a top Russian Orthodox church official has said.

"Such a meeting is not yet on the agenda," said Metropolitan Kirill, head of the external relations department of the Moscow Patriarchate, at a 16 June media conference in Paris. "The two churches have a realistic evaluation of the situation. But, as far as I know, neither Patriarch Alexei II nor Pope Benedict XVI exclude the possibility of such a meeting."

Orthodox-Roman Catholic relations have long been tense in Russia over Orthodox allegations that since the end of communism, Catholics have been engaging in ”proselytism”, or seeking to convert traditionally Orthodox believers.

But Metropolitan Kirill said he was pleased with the climate that now exists between Moscow and the Vatican. "We have recently taken some very positive and significant steps," he asserted. He referred to the "positive role" played by Benedict XVI, noting he had met the pontiff immediately after his enthronement in 2005, as well as on 18 March this year.

"He stressed that relationships to Orthodoxy would be one of the priorities of his pontificate," Metropolitan Kirill underlined, saying he was pleased with the way in which theological dialogue with the Catholic Church was continuing.

The Russian church leader appeared more reserved about relationships with Protestant churches, referring to difficulties created by the ordination of women, which is accepted by many Protestant churches, and the issue of homosexuality.

"The ecumenical movement is in crisis," Kirill stated. "This is because 100 years after its birth, the ecumenical movement has still not achieved its goals."

Still, the Russian Orthodox Church intended to remain within the World Council of Churches, which groups mainly Protestant, Anglican and Orthodox denominations, even if "some say that it is necessary to leave", he insisted. "One should not shrink from challenges and difficulties; it is necessary to face them." he explained.

Kirill’s visit to Paris coincided with the publication in French of his book, "The Gospel and Freedom".

(c) Ecumenical News International